Saturday 17 November 2007

The Scattering

It's been a month since I posted and in all that time I've only seen two brief glimpses of my foxes out the back. One was about 18 days ago, on a fine afternoon, (a perfect fox day), just a bundle which I couldn't identify. S/he soon went away, too cool these days for outdoor sleeping.
The other sighting was just yesterday; about 9 o clock in the morning. As I went down the garden with my cup of coffee I heard a scuffling of footsteps and spotted orange fur making a getaway across the back wall into Jackson's. Could have been a marmalade cat but cats usually stand their ground, and there isn't a ginger one in the neighbourhood anyway. I think a fox.
I've had just one sighting out in the street, one evening after dark: Tipless furtively sliding through a hedge onto the footpath. His thick, blunt tail with no trace of white is very distinctive. yet what a contrast, this Tipless who was so brazen and relaxed in my neighbour's garden only a month ago.

It is a very different story out in the wider streets. We still do see plenty of foxes as we drive at night-around eleven seems a favourite hour-but we see far more dead bodies on the motorway.

All summer, the young cubs born last spring have been getting bigger and braver. Many litters are still together. Winter is approaching and the stronger animals will be claiming territories and mating soon. The young ones must disperse to find homes of their own.

What happens to these young foxes? I'm afraid that a goodly percentage of them - at least a quarter, maybe even half - don't make it past their first dual carriageway. They may well survive the quiet suburban streets in the dead of night -but there are a lot of foxes there and stiff competition for the best breeding earths, sleepover spots and food supplies.

Down on the N11 and on the motorway, there's carnage. I can't help noticing, as I drive, how many of the pathetic bodies are young ones who never even finished one year on Earth.
I am, however, realistic: without this ruthless annual weeding-out, numbers would rapidly soar. Then there would be the consequence of overcrowding: the spread of horrible, destructive mange. And foxes fighting each other, and householders laying poison.

In the meantime, what of the young wanderers? They will need to be astute, and brave, and lucky. Wow, there's natural selection in action! The ones who make it across the dual carriageways and motorways will have to find a territory which is either vacant or which they can occupy by brute force (males) or blandishment (females).
Young dog foxes will exhibit the signs of adolescence found in all mammalian males: a hostile attitude and a readiness to square up to the dominant male. They may be able to wrest a patch from an older male by fighting. Meanwhile, the resident males who have a good piece of turf are standing by ready to repel intruders.

The ladies have the same challenges but may handle them differently because they have different options. (But let's not be too anthropomorphic: both sexes travel and hunt and fight and seduce)

All of them are looking for mates, except perhaps the stay-at-home sisters. The males, having won a patch of turf, want a vixen to share it with. The vixens do the same but some may just find a willing male already available and walk into a good home. Vixens, and dogs, who are staying on, will have to fight off invasion by the young and hungry of both sexes.

Small wonder that the fox world becomes so cagey at this time of year: we know they are there but they are as wary and cautious as the gangs of an American city and keep their heads well down: when they must hunt or patrol borders, they do it with an almost supernatural stealth, slipping silently from shadow to shadow.

And the daytime sightings that are a joy of summer are gone for the next few months!

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