For lack of a better idea for an article, I have decided to talk write about an encounter I had over the Summer holidays that stands out prominently in my mind. This happened on September 12th (it was a long summer holiday, as university didn’t start for another two weeks), at Dundreggan Estate in Inverness-shire, when I was doing a week’s volunteering with Trees for Life. I haven’t included an image, as I don’t want to spoil it to anyone before they read it. With any luck, the writing should be able to create an image by itself. I hope you enjoy this piece.
It must have been around 1 PM. I had been sitting in the hide, on a bare wooden bench, for at least three hours, and I was getting colder by the minute.
My goal was to find the creature, whatever it was, that had been taking the peanuts I had been putting out for the past two nights. Deep down, I was certain it was a pine marten, and I was prepared to sit it out all night to catch a glimpse of this Highlands specialty, which had eluded me all my life.
By now, however, I was seriously questioning my plan. But every time I convinced myself it was time to go back to bed, some noise in the adjacent forest would bring my attention back briefly.
The forest at night was full of sounds. I could hear red deer, not roaring but rather giving off a high-pitched squeal. At one point there was a mighty thrashing sound- a chase was afoot. In the foliage, creatures were scampering and scurrying, and some of them, I was sure, were definitely bigger than mice or voles. And what’s more, I could hear some of them chillingly close to the hide. The culprit was there, I was sure. But every time I heard the noises come really close, my head-torch revealed nothing, and both the peanuts on the wall and on the ground remained uneaten whenever I checked them.
The rain kept coming and going, and when it came it hammered on the metal roof of the hide, making me feel under siege, and even more lonely. Even worse was when the raindrops slid off the roof and hit the already-soaked ground. The result was a pitter-pat sound that suggested phantom footsteps, adding to my numbness and loneliness an eerie sense of being watched. My mind soon began playing tricks with me, making me think that an odd-shaped stone on the wall was something living.
Still I sat in the hide, wishing I had brought a book and trying my hardest not to look at my phone.
That was when I heard the snuffling.
Yes, there was a snuffling creature; it was just by the wall, and coming closer. A loud, gruff sound, which I recognised at once, even though I had only read about it and never actually heard it. And when the creature poked its head out of the shadows, it was indeed a badger!
For me, this was truly incredible: there aren’t any major badger setts in Perthshire, where I live, and so until then I’d never seen one. I had gone out to look for one elusive predator, and had ended up finding another.
He came forward a little bit more, bringing the rest of his body into view. For a minute or two, he munched on the peanuts, happily huffing and grunting while he did so. Only when I flashed my torch in his direction did he suddenly bolt off, back into the forest. But what a truly memorable few minutes it was.
After this encounter, I spent another hour and a half in the hide seeing nothing, before, cold and tired, I decided to go back to bed.
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