Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Roaming the Badger Belt

Over the last few years of camera trapping projects in the Santa Cruz Mountains, I've had the pleasure of getting to know a local character that few in San Mateo County have seen, or even seem to know roams their parks and preserves.

A tenacious, oft-snarling carnivore that digs its terrified prey right out of their subterranean homes.

And that is also occasionally mistaken for a lost footstool.

Yes, that's right - the American Badger.

badger
Badger or footstool?

badger
Oh - it moved, must be a badger

They roam the interconnected grasslands and adjoining open woodlands of the Santa Cruz Mountains in San Mateo County, from Half Moon Bay to Pescadero and Ano Nuevo Point, and up and over Skyline Boulevard near Windy Hill and Russian Ridge.

badger belt
Aerial of the grassland "badger belt" of San Mateo County

And my roaming and camera trapping has overlapped with the home ranges of a handful or two.

But I'm not the first. Post-Grinnell, one of the finest research projects on badgers in the Bay Area was done by Chris Lay, the gregarious Director of UC Santa Cruz's Norris Center for Natural History, as part of his Masters in Biology from San Jose State University.

Chris Lay, SJSU - The status of the American Badger in the San Francisco Bay Area (2008)

I found it immensely useful, and often felt I like was walking in Chris' footsteps.

badger
Badger walking a scurry zone

Why are badgers seldom seen? Like mountain lions, badgers are mainly nocturnal, have large home ranges (thousands of acres), live in low densities (a male and a few females will overlap), and mostly live life alone and on the leg - moving frequently to hunt the constantly-replenishing rodents of the connected grasslands of their range.

Making tracking and camera trapping two of the better ways to understand how they might be living on a piece of land.

badger dig
Badger digs with my size 13 boot for size comparison

badger
The digger - in fog

 badger
Badger on the hunt with nose to the ground

Along with ground squirrels and gophers, badgers also eat crickets, grasshoppers, beetles, mice, and even rabbits that they often catch when the animals move into their old dead-end burrows.

badger
Badger hoping to get lucky by checking an old burrow

badger
Inspecting a cam trap

A badger's "badge" is the white stripe up the center of their face. As you can see in these photos, it can be a useful character to help distinguish individuals. Like a tiger's stripes or leopard's spots.

badger

badger

badger

badger

Here's what badger butt looks like. Such a funny after-thought of a tail.

badger
Badger butt and tail

As mentioned, badgers are sometimes mistaken for footstools. So, if you see a footstool crossing the road, please don't hit it. And I wouldn't recommend putting your feet up on it either.

badger

====
References:
==========

20 comments:

  1. In six plus California decades, have only ever seen badger holes ... never the critter himself. Thank you for these great pictures.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great to find badgers this morning! I like them. I know they're mainly nocturnal yet I've seen quite a few over the years--including one crossing a road. My favorite was a badger cruising along and investigating the top of rim rock while i was looking for rare plants nearby. btw, to me they look like self-propelled giant bedroom slippers.

    ReplyDelete
  3. That ended up being quite a few badger pictures. Congrats man. That little one is pretty cute. Glad to see a healthy population.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Great to see all the unique badge markings. Still waiting to see or camera trap a live badger myself. Unfortunately, I've seen two dead ones. Impressive claws on them even when they have died.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Nice photos; wish we had such interesting animals here, just not enough native grassland habitat.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I love the photo of the Badger on the slope during the day with his nose to the ground.

    ReplyDelete
  7. How do you tell a badger dig from a coyote dig?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey John. There are several tells to look for in differentiating a coyote (dog) dig from a badger dig. Coyotes dig dog-paddle style, so the dirt bib generally goes straight back from the hole. They also don't have big claws like a badger, so the dirt that comes out is usually in small chunks. Badgers dig to their sides, so the bib will be more sprayed. They also have huge claws that allow them to dig out large clods, rocks and like, and you can often see their claw marks on the sides of the inside of the burrow/dig. The badger holes will tend to be bigger, deeper too (esp. when they go underground), whereas a coyote dig will typically be about as deep as its head. Last, the # of digs in an area is a good clue as well. Badgers are all about digging, so where you find 1 dig you'll usually find many others nearby.

      Delete
    2. Thanks. I'll be looking for those signs next time I'm out.

      Delete
  8. Awesome photos and information. Like many of the others, still waiting to see a badger in the Bay Area. I was lucky enough, long ago, to see one at night in Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Will be sharing this via @sfbaywildlife.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi, I tried to leave a comment earlier, but this format is a little new for me. Thanks to Ameet for sharing the link to this blog post with me. I sent an email to randomtruth at the designated address.

      These photos reflect a young badger, I estimate about 1 year of age. This carries with it a few additional considerations. The primary prey for badgers in the South Bay is ground squirrels - and in the North Bay, along with the South Bay where available pocket gophers and meadow voles. This little badger moving along and being photographed through a camera trap is in the process of surviving on its own. The first year of life into year two, based on my experience, is critical for development of digging/foraging skills and ranging safely. The range reflected on your map seems a little large (the ranges for badgers these days are much less than published in prior texts - e.g., the largest range in the entirety of Sonoma County is 8 miles), but that would appear to be an ideal possible range if all lands were connected and there was an ability to range in that way. More likely to be 4 miles or thereabouts. Susan Kirks, Naturalist, susankirks@sbcglobal.net, 707-241-5548

      Delete
    2. Thanks Ameet, Susan.

      Ameet, seeing badgers in San Mateo County and the Santa Cruz Mtns is tough. There aren't big, open, flat areas, the grasses tend to be tall, and the badgers tend to be thinly distributed and quite nocturnal. In my experience, the best place to see badgers in CA is the Carrizo Plain, where you can see long distances with binocs on gray days. Plus, you can see kit foxes too. :)

      Susan, as mentioned in my email, this blog post is pretty light on data, but these photos are from multiple properties across that "badger belt," and include 4-5 different badgers that were documented during formal surveys. The badger location data has been submitted to the CNDDB if you want to look it up.

      Delete
    3. Thanks for the reminder about Carrizo Plain - it has been on the to do list but will really try and make it this year. Kit Fox is high on the wish list too!

      Delete
    4. No prob Ameet. Hit the side roads off Soda Lake Road, like Bitterwater, and you may also see Pronghorn. And look for Tule Elk on the hills above the big soda lake.

      Delete
    5. Thanks for the reference to CNDDB (and for submitting that) - will definitely review. My primary focus has been in the North Bay of the Bay Area, documenting habitat and species sightings. The open grasslands of South Sonoma County and West Sonoma County, Sonoma coast and similarly Marin County and Marin Coast are longstanding habitat areas - and 3 wildlife corridors. Enjoyed our email exchange thus far as well. When I receive reports of sightings from the East Bay, I may pass them along, in the hope this info may be useful for your effort.

      Delete
  9. After 35 years living in the Santa Cruz Mtns the only badger I've ever seen in the wild was out in Idaho. Thanks for these!

    ReplyDelete
  10. These are really wonderful photos. Last summer, I tried to camera trap badgers in the sand plains of central Wisconsin. I put the cameras at several sites with fresh badger tracks and dens and left them for about 3 months. All I got out of it were a few really fuzzy night time photos. I think the trigger speed of my cameras was too slow. You've inspired me to try again, though, this year with better cameras.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Would appreciate learning of your results, Janet. Kudos for a renewed effort.
    susankirks@sbcglobal.net (Naturalist - Badger)

    ReplyDelete

Please leave a comment, thought or question at any time.