I had spent the morning driving around the northern tier of Yellowstone National Park; no activity at the Slough wolf den, and Lamar Valley was quiet, with all the wildlife being spotting-scope distance away. I spotted some bighorn ewes near Specimen Ridge on my way to Hayden Valley. In Hayden, I saw western grebes (new to me!), red-headed ducks, golden eyes, common mergansers, and a great blue heron and bison, of course.
On my way back over Dunraven Pass, I spotted a cinnamon black bear grazing along the side of the road. That was a great wildlife experience, a good sighting, and an excellent photographic opportunity. I’m energized, but I’ve been up since 5 am. I decided to head back to the Slough Creek Campground, where I’d heard badgers had recently been seen, to catch a nap.
I’d been looking for a badger for years at home and on various travels. I had followed up on some good tips before, and I still had never seen one in the wild. I wasn’t optimistic, but it seemed a good place for a midday break.
As I rounded the corner into the parking lot, I saw a couple of groups with cameras at their sides tailgating. I parked and asked someone if they were there for the badger. She confirmed and showed me the mounds of dirt partially obscured by the sage that marked the entrances to the den.
She then remarked that a midday appearance of these nocturnal weasels was unlikely, but she was hanging out just the same. I agreed, returned to my car, and dozed for a half hour. I sat up and started journaling, undecided about what my next move would be. It’s 2:30 pm, and despite the thermometer reading in the 60°s, the afternoon sun is hot! It’s not a good time for wildlife activity (except for bison, bison are always around).
Then everyone is up, cameras to their eyes. Two badger kits are out! First, there are only glimpses of a golden, furry back among the grasses. I thought they’d be darker. Then they move over to one of the dirt mounds – slightly raised and cleared of vegetation – and wrestle like puppies! They are biting each other and rolling around without a care.
The mom makes a brief appearance. The differences between her and the cubs are subtle, her nose is longer, and her darker facial stripes are slightly wider. These cubs are probably 3-4 months old. They first leave the den at 8-10 weeks when they are weaned and will stay with their mother until fall.
Mom settles flat on top of the burrow mound, looking like a tortoise, while the kits continue to wrestle and play around her with occasional breaks for digging. They are always digging in the same spot on the back side of the mound where I cannot see. Is it chores (den maintenance)? Play? Life skills work?
An afternoon storm popped over on the mountain behind us with thunder and lightning. Under the blue skies at the badger den, the mom had left some time ago. The kits were still moving about the grass with random appearances back at the dirt hill. And then all was quiet. They dissolved into the grass moving toward the woods.
ONE HOUR of badger kit play mid-afternoon! Absolutely amazing.
There’s a photographer here who is car-camping in a rooftop tent. He’s putting in the time. Early this morning, the mom raided a ground squirrel nest and brought back two squirrels for her kits. She returned to the scene to retrieve two more squirrels for her family. And finally, one last trip for the last two. Bonanza! That mom is feeding her kids well.
Yesterday, not far from here, the photographers saw a coyote and badger hunting together. It’s a rarely observed but well-known behavior, this cooperative hunting. Nature is amazing!
If you’re interested in purchasing or licensing any images you see here, please email me: SNewenham at exploringnaturephotos.com, and I’ll make it happen.
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