A Fox’s Journey

The sea can be like an enormous stage, across which the meteorological events of the day play out.

Facing east, the curtain comes up each morning with magnificent sunrises, and moonrises mark the final act:

The February snow moon arising in a purple sky as we emerged from the Zetland Arms pub down on the beach one evening

A fox in the light of the full February moon:

There has been an influx of foxes passing through the meadows these last couple of weeks. This is normal for the the time of year but there do seem to be more than usual. It makes sense that young foxes need to disperse away from their parents’ territories which won’t have the food to support them all, and to avoid inbreeding. Peak fox dispersal is apparently November and December but in our experience it is now that most come through.

Dispersal is a risky time and, heartbreakingly, many of them are in a bit of a state and affected by mange:

This next fox with a truncated tail has stayed for a while. Perhaps the meadows can give him safe sanctuary:

What happened to cause this fox to lose the fur around his right eye?

As the young foxes disperse to look for a new place to settle, they are moving through unfamiliar ground and are at much greater risk of getting injured or run over. I am certainly seeing a lot of dead foxes at the side of the local roads at the moment.

They will also be passing through territories already held by dominant animals who are willing to fight to defend them.

For several years now, the meadows have been the territory of the One-eyed Vixen and her mate. In my last post, I reported that her handsome mate had been injured – perhaps this was as a result of fighting with one of the dispersing foxes:

The dominant dog fox in the meadows with an injury to the side of his face and a closed left eye

Thankfully he is looking much better now:

Foxes mate for life and I think this will be the fourth year that the One-eyed Vixen and her mate have raised a family in the meadows. Unfortunately they both have mange at the moment but I am four weeks into their treatment with arsen sulphur and hope that it will be successful once more. The One-eyed Vixen catches mange every winter and I wonder whether it is being brought in by the dispersing foxes.

How the One-eyed Vixen looks at the moment.
The mange medicine is sprinkled onto honey sandwiches and goes out at dusk. Both these foxes are always waiting for my arrival and so are very easy to treat

Foxes only breed once a year and mating occurs in January or early February. I can tell you for certain that it occurred here on Friday 10th February:

The One-eyed Vixen and her mate

Gestation is fifty-three days and so the cubs will be born around 4th April.

Over the winter, I have been having a bit of a skirmish with a rat who has tunnelled under my defences and systematically eaten all the tulip bulbs in the allotment:

The entrance to a network of underground tunnels. The tunnels reach under the chicken wire and come up at the bulbs from below

I have been so impressed to discover what she is capable of, whilst at the same time wishing she wouldn’t:

Although normally closed, we have been leaving the gate into the allotment open to see if nature will take its course. This week we saw that our rat problem might just get sorted out for us without having to do anything further:

Foxes definitely take rats when they can, as this photo from 2021 shows:

But it is rabbits that seem to be a fox’s prey of choice:

Rabbits in the meadows this week
A wren, one of the few birds to defend a winter territory in the UK, investigates the diggings around the rat hole
The resident pair of badgers indulging in some anal rubbing this week. Badger cubs are born around now – I wonder if there are some tiny cubs tucked away underground?

On two nights this week, there has been a woodcock up on the strip. Although there are woodcock in the wood, they are very unusual in the meadows:

The group of yellowhammer visiting the scattered seed on the strip is now up to at least eight birds:

Six yellowhammer here. They are not calling ‘a little bit of bread and no cheese’ yet, but the skylarks have already started their joyous song above the neighbouring farmers field
Yellowhammer are one of the more colourful of British birds and its a joy to see them here

Stock dove displaying their metallic neck patches and their kind black eyes:

Kestrels haven’t been much in evidence this winter but here is one, having a bath:

Frogs are only just starting to gear up in this part of the country (they start earlier in the southwest) and no spawn has yet been laid. However, I did find this startlingly yellow-green frog out in the open one morning. I presume it is a female with her large midriff, although I forgot to check her thumbs as I picked her up and moved her somewhere safer:

Over in the wood the new pond has started to be used by small birds such as these blue tits and great tit…..

… bigger birds….

Jays are such enthusiastic bathers
A pair of blackbirds
Redwing and fieldfare, with two blue tits

…and a very large bird indeed. This heron is a new species for the wood.

Elsewhere in the wood:

A sparrowhawk visits a different pond
A bouquet of pheasants. There are several collective nouns for pheasants – a bevy, a nye, a covey – but I like bouquet the best myself
A marsh tit with its black goatee
This is quite some snout
Redwing are late winter visitors to the wood before moving north to breed
I am not sure if mistle thrush are just winter visitors or if they stay on to breed in the wood

I finish with the Spade Oak nature reserve in Buckinghamshire, a water-filled gravel pit which is sometimes swathed in the aromas of its neighbouring sewage works. But it is a wild space in the Thames Valley that is much loved by its local birders and I have been going there for years now with a friend. We have become familiar with the rhythm of the place and always enjoy the heronry at this time of year:

The thriving heronry on one of the islands in the lake. Sixteen pairs of heron are nesting in the reserve this year

When we visited this week, the birds were busy building their nests and were flying in with sticks:

Coming in over the tern rafts

They can look like flying dinosaurs:

Or gawky ballerinas up on tiptoe:

Sometimes the sticks were carefully dunked in the water first:

Several pairs of great crested grebes nest on the reserve as well and we have seen them perform their wonderful weed dances here in the past. This week the birds were calling and it seemed like the time to dance was getting close, but was not yet quite here:

The trees around the lake are often full of interesting small birds. We saw siskin, goldcrest and this treecreeper with its needle-like beak:

But the herons were the undisputed stars of the show this time:

The biggest heronry in the country is at Northward Hill RSPB reserve near Rochester, in our home county of Kent. Here, a hundred and fifty pairs of heron nest in trees overlooking the North Kent marshes. We have never been to this reserve before but now plan to visit soon, before the trees leaf up and hide the nests.

One thought on “A Fox’s Journey

  1. You must get very fond of the foxes. At least the fox couple are easyish to treat for mange, but it must seem demoralising that it returns every year.
    I saw a picture of a Bouquet of Pheasants in a pub over the wknd. 🙂

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