Tuesday 30 December 2008

Calloo Callay!

Cold, cold day today. Garden seething with birds. They are enjoying the pond which might be the only bit of open water in tha area - the birds are actually queueing for their baths! The blackbird splashes pleasurably, throwing water around. Meanwhile, a large sparrow waits on the edge of the stone sink. Soon he gets his turn but is buzzed in the water by an impatient greenfinch.

There is plenty of food available to distract those who can't get into the water. I see coal tits, blue tits, greenfinches, robins. On my terrace, a small red-brown whirr of movement is Jenny Wren.

I watch all this, delighted, from my kitchen window. Through the screen of bushes which shelters the lower quarter, a slide of movemrt catches my eye. It is a large fox, coming over the wall from Cassidy's. Entranced, I watch as the brown-red form slides down the wall and turns right, towards the shrubbery, and pauses: only the tail can be seen, held out horizontal, foxy-orange with the white of the tip extending upwards, like an old dog's chin. Grizzled,in fact.

Thrilled, I quickly place some Christmas leftovers in a bowl and hastily put the food in the traditional fox-feeding spot beside the pond. Too much for Cleo the cat, sorry, birds!
Then I went in for an afternoon nap. And when I got up an hour later the food was all gone!

Hurrah hurray calloo callay! The boys are back in town!

Monday 29 December 2008


On Christmas Eve, as I was shopping for groceries in Blackrock, I received a text message from a friend, the Education Officer of the Irish Wildlife Trust. It said, paraphrased:
Are you bored with shopping? Then come down to the Liffey quays, between Queen St and the Park. I'm watching an otter, happily playing in the water!
I couldn't get there, but I'm happy for the otter and my friend and the lucky few who got to see an otter at play, in broad daylight in a crowded city!

Same day - my husband was walking down the tree-lined avenue that leads to the N11 and a grey squirrel ran across the road in front of him. They're everywhere...

Today I saw 4 blackbirds in my garden; that is to say, two were dark brown, the ladies.
One of them was in or on the pond, pecking disconsolately at the thick sheet of ice. I went out with a bowl of water and they scattered. Later they were back, fighting among themselves when not tossing over dead leaves, as they do.

The dead fox is being gradually covered with leaves, some blown over, some thrown on by me. It merges imperceptibly with the earth. My hope is that by Spring, I won't have to look at a skeleton!

Wednesday 24 December 2008

A very merry Christmas!

Season's greetings to all who read here!
Sorry there hasn't been any new post for a month - there simply haven't been any sightings at all. Or soundings.
I was chatting to a neighbour yesterday who agreed with me that the distinctive sound of foxes barking at night has not been heard. It used to be quite a feature of life around here - the winter shrieking of vulpine courtship. And this is right spot on in mating season. But the tawny fellow-tenants have gone quiet.
Sometimes I have ugly daydreams in which I imagine that some evil-spirited citizen is poisoning them all. And it is true that there was an outbreakof animal poisoning a couple of years ago in which several people, including ourselves, lost beloved pets. It was never explained, but I did think that perhaps someone was laying poison for foxes. Even putting out rat poison might be the cause, if cats or foxes would eat poisoned meat.
Let us hope it is nothing of the sort, but only caution and stealth!
A very happy Christmas to all!

Monday 24 November 2008


Cats are bad for wildlife: I wish we didn't have one, for that reason, even though I'm a cat-lover and my husband thrives on them. The one we have is only being "minded" for a friend who is between homes at the moment. She's sweet, very feminine and feline, (the cat, I mean. The friend is female but human!)
But since we've had her there's been less and less to see in the garden. Apart from mice, I ought to say: Cleo does keep her end of the traditional bargain and has caught a couple. But birds are much fewer.
I was watching a pair of bullfinches the other day. They are so vividly coloured, they stood out like party balloons in the dull garden, feeding from the seeding heads of great willowherb. I watched them with pleasure but it was the only good wildlife observation for a week.
No frogs, dead fox, few birds. This may not all be Cleo's fault of course, but she can't be helping. She was reared as an outdoor cat and still likes to spend the nights outdoors, wreaking who knows what havoc.
Anyway, early next year we must move house for a couple of months while some building work is done on our kitchen so I don't know what will become of Cleo: hopefully her owner will have found a new house by then and can take her back.

Tuesday 18 November 2008

The cycles of nature

Autumn leaves have turned to gold. The garden has gone quiet. I haven't posted anything for nearly two months. And for why? Been no foxes, that's why.
Cross my heart, I've seen a fox out behind the houses exactly once in the last month: a distant glimpse of one in the next-door garden, stalking away, swishing a full tail on a chilly dusk. I couldn't see if it was one of the regulars, perhaps a pale spot on the hip was a patch of mange?
Last week, driving home late at night, saw one crossing the street further down. And that's been it.
Where have all the flowers gone? (Mournful music...)
Until yesterday.
Down the garden I went with my tub of peelings for the compost bin. And what a pleasant change to see a bit of bright sunshine on a nice mild day. I hopped up on the log-pile to have a squint into Martin's: sometimes you can spot a sleepy fox having a snooze in a corner from this vantage point. Alas, nothing but an autumnal, overgrown garden.
This is the spot where I sometimes toss a few tidbits over the wall, if there is something tasty left over in the kitchen. A few drops of mange medicine are sprinkled on top of, say, a beef bone.
Seized by sudden curiosity, I scrambled to the very top of the slippy heap and peered directly downwards, into the lee of the wall. Really, I wanted to see if the food had gone or was just lying around attracting rats. But I saw nothing except brownish and amber leaves. I looked again and at last realised what I was seeing. A dead fox lay, almost covered with brown leaves, perfectly camouflaged. Right beside where the food must have landed.
The poor thing lay as if resting on its belly, head turned to left. Leaves had drifted around. It was a perfect tableau of life extinguished returning to the earth. By spring it will have vanished.
Taken aback, and upset, I hopped down and considered. Smallish fox - but, then, they always look small close up. Rich amber-to-bronze fur. Full tail, no tag visible. What should I do?
If I jumped down to inspect, and my neighbour looked out and spotted me, she'd have conniption fits about burglars and probably a heart attack. If I went and asked her, she might get all twittery and make a fuss. You see, she doesn't know that I watch her back garden so closely, though I have mentioned it to her of course. But she still could get self-conscious, since she used to be very garden-proud and now can't manage it.
It began to rain soon after, so there would be no post-mortem
This morning, though, having slept on the question, I woke up sure that I had to identify the fox just for the completion of this record, if nothing else. And felt confident that the sprawling bushes would hide me completely. So straight after breakfast, down I went with a long stick. After a bit of hauling logs and huffing and puffing, I was discreetly over the wall and hidden from view under the dark bell of a massive macrocarpa. Sadly I inspected the little corpse, and began to scrape away leaves.
But the poor thing must have been there for weeks. It was intermingled, embedded. I hadn't the heart, or nerve, to turn it over so I don't even know what sex it was (Did we ever, with a fox!)
It was like the one I spotted that twilight evening: possibly a seasonal newcomer. Could have been Ragtip or Roisin. Not Halftail. Too dark for Sandy.
So well did the colour blend with the autumn leaves, so kindly did the underside begin to become soft earth, that I did not continue my explorations, but climbed back over my wall. I had, at least, bidden farewell to a creature that I had in some measure sponsored in its life.

Wednesday 24 September 2008

New kid on the block

I've been watching this kid. A couple of weeks now. How do I know it's a new kid?
He, or she, is sandy brown,much paler than any of the foxes we had this summer. The tail tag is different from any of them too - not ragged, or rounded, or absent.
The throat is very dark, like the Halftail/Ragtip group and rather unlike most of the foxes we have watched for a decade.
This kid behaves differently, too.
Only yesterday I was watching from the bedroom with binoculars and he noticed me. Out of mischief, I opened the window and instead of ignoring this as familiar foxes would have done, he gazed up in alarm and scampered away behind the shed! Our previous tenants would never have done that. This guy is much shyer, or not used to the local regime as yet.
Sandy, as I shall now call him, is clearly the one who has been feeding in my garden. He is often accompanied by another, redder fox who sleeps in the garden at the same time though not with him. I'm guessing that this is still Roisin, looks just like her. I'm also tempted to wonder if Sandy, and not Ragtip, was the target of the "seductive urination" or whatever it was, see second-last post.
What has happened to Halftail? To Ragtip? We may never know. This happens every year and I have become as matter-of-fact about it as the foxes are. Autumn is the time of dispersal, of empire-building. It is also the time of roadkill, lots of corpses on the nearby N11.
We will see what the next season brings.

Wednesday 17 September 2008

Secret Service

It has been too long since I posted anything here. Truth to tell, there hasn't been much foxy action - weather too wet! Sometimes I have seen a grumpy-looking ball of amber fur disconsolate under the big macrocarpa tree, and once a sleeping fox on a rare sunny sunset.
So I was getting pretty disconsolate myself, and then I went out this morning, first fine sunny morning for a long time. And nearly skidded on a coiled pile of fox droppings on the stone steps under my pear tree, just where a person would stand on coming out into the garden. Lucky I didn't slip!
This means two things: One, some fox is checking the compost bucket outside the back door, a traditional spot for them to investigate in spite of me putting on lids and covers! And, Two, some fox is marking territory right here in my garden, in spite of the cat we are currently babysitting.
This was cheering news and there was better to follow. A trail has been formed from the bottom of the garden to the frog pond in the lawn, just where I leave the old frying-pan for feeding foxes!
So someone is checking nightly even though we never see them. But certainly little Cleo the cat couldn't have worn the grass so much, and in fact I've never seen her walk that particular track in the garden.
So I'm quite consoled now, knowing that the foxes have not deserted us.

Thursday 21 August 2008

Pee is for partiality

We haven't been seeing much of our foxy friends in the gardens because of the really rotten weather. It's been one of the worst summers I remember, rain every day. That's unusual in Dublin which is often very dry. Dwellers in other parts of the country may be more resigned to it -(in places where it rains most days anyway) but I hate it. And foxes hate it too.

I don't know where they go in the wet, but it's certainly never out in the open. I guess they must go into the underground dens or deep under bushes or sheds.
One result of this has been that I've slightly lost touch with them, which explains why I was not absolutely sure, yesterday, if the fox I was watching was really Roisin.

I lookd out of my bedroom window into Martin's garden, and was just in time to see two foxes arriving, sitting down in mid-lawn, stretching: this was about 4.30 pm.
One of them, Ragtip, lay down; but the other was playful and pranced around him. This is cubbish behavior, but it looked like Roisin to me: smaller, redder, with round white tag. This one licked Ragtip on his ears, then turned her back and crouched very near him. You would have thought she was peeing but very close to him. She played around some more and nuzzled his nose, open-mouth greeting him as foxes do.

Ragtip was not much interested in all this interaction and moved to his favourite spot behind a tussock. She followed, trying to stir up a game. She did more grooming, actually licking inside his ears! Then she turned around again and this time I had the binocs on them: she peed abundantly on Ragtip's bronzy haunch. I clearly saw the stream of urine flowing down his fur.
Roisin had been marking grass and outlying bushes etc but I've never seen this before; foxes' urine usually means "this turf is mine". Ragtip did not react to it, by the way: he did not lick the spot or shake himself, but sleepily ignored her.

I am at a loss to understand the incident; why would Roisin twice urinate on the dominant dog-fox in this family group? I've never seen this either between parents and cubs or mated couples.

Several explanations are possible: one is, of course, that I misidentified either or even both. I haven't seen the foxes close up for a while. Maybe Halftail's tail has grown back and is now a narrow, sketchy tail with thin tip. (Don't think so!)

Maybe the smaller one was not Roisin but a large, well-grown male cub from this year's litter.
More possible, but out of the blue, if so.

Maybe they are who they appeared to be and are showing intimate fox behaviour; it's just new to me.

Certainly this is a time of year when younger foxes stretch their wings so to speak: Roisin may have been saying, in effect, "I've been a maiden aunt for one season, but I'll be wanting more next year".
Halftail, this year's working mother, was absent from yesterday's incident and hasn't been seen for a while: the sub-vixen may be now making her bid for the queenship.

I dunno, but it's all very intriguing.

Tuesday 5 August 2008


Hello, all my faithful readers! I'm back on duty after a spell of annual leave. We had a very nice holiday in England, thank you, and saw plenty of interesting wildlife: though, oddly, no foxes!
Sad to see the annual death roll of young badgers by the roadside.

Best was seeing birds of prey - one I think was a Hobby - above the South Downs. Also bats in a barn. Also another big bird of prey that shrieked.

This puzzled us: why on earth would this fearsome hunter spoil the element of surprise and alert every little bird and mouse for miles around?

My husband took photographs but we have yet to identify it.

Back home, there is little to report on the vulpine scene. We've seen all three lying drunk with slumber, any warm day. Over the last week in the cooler weather, Halftail has been seen less and Roisin a lot more. Hmm, the annual reshuffle in fox family dynamics!

An example occurred last night: we were taking an evening stroll around the park and admiring a stunning sunset. We paused on seeing a young fox coming towards us, but it didn't hesitate: it stopped only fifteen feet away and looked at us enquiringly. If we'd been carrying anything tasty with a strong smell, I'm sure it would have begged from our hands! We hadn't any treats, so Cub pootled around, pawing for insects etc. and then wandered off into the woods.

That's one adolescent almost ready to leave home, but is being very tame really safe? Lots of us love the foxes, but some people hate them. Nature must take its course.

Friday 27 June 2008

Amazing orchids

They are the most fascinating, the sexiest flowers in the world. Lovely, pouting prima donnas with very special requirements.

Four species of orchids grow on a small patch of grassland right here in my parish. All four are in flower right now.

They are: Common spotted orchid,(dactylorhiza fuchsii)

Bee orchid, (ophrys apifera)

Pyramidal orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis)

and Twayblade (Listera ovata)

This patch of land is part of the grounds surrounding the Catholic church and National School in Mount Merrion. It is carefully maintained by wild-life conscious citizens. Every year in late June an Orchid Walk is held to share with the general public the extraordinary beauty and diversity of limestone grassland: this one little plot surviving in the midst of a suburban wasteland of ryegrass and ornamentals and noxious weeds.

Species-diverse grassland is one of the most colourful and beautiful of all our ecosystems.
Self-heal, bird's-foot trefoil, oxeye daisy, knapweed, white and red clover, hawkweeds, fairy flax, - the list goes on. My heart lifts up when I spot a patch of it. Long may it last!

Wednesday 25 June 2008

Bird dogs

Nice summer afternoon, today about half past four. Halftail slumped on the neighbour's lawn, quite near the house, much closer than usual to me and my binocs. In front of her, a cocky magpie, stalking up and down, jerking its chin up, challenging. Halftail watches, alert but not on standby: it is as though she waits to see what this conceited creature will do next. I watched this show for a while, but I've seen it before and I was very tired and sleepy. I went off for a much-needed nap, just like any sensible fox would do.

An hour late, Halftail had fallen back to a favourite perch on top of a pile of grass-clippings, - a young haystack, really; must be warm and soft. Over on our side the garden, two magpies jerked and chattered, apparently showing each other insect places around a flower planter.

I've often watched magpies interacting with foxes. It's ten years ago now since we began to see foxes regularly in our own and neighbouring gardens, and the very first summer was when I saw magpies mobbing a fox. It was about seven o clock on a June morning and my attention had been caught by the fierce Gattling-gun chatter. Looking out, I saw the dog fox pursued by a crowd of magpies: more sat on branches of trees nearby, making loud noise; the ringleaders fluttered above him as he walked down towards the breeding earth. Every now and again, a braver young buck would flutter down and aim a peck at the tail end. Really, you'd think they had heard of the expression "a kick up the arse".

Mr Fox was a bit annoyed and rattled, so to speak, but not on the run: he did get out of the way pretty smartly, probably by going underground.

Later that summer, I managed to peep behind the shed and saw many magpie feathers, aming many others. We had seen cubs play with feathers - they love toys! And I had seen foxes, on two occasions, aim a swipe at a bird, one even jumping high with outstretched paws like a cat. They never had a hope, of course.

One of my sons saw a fox walking down our suburban street on the footpath, one evening in broad daylight: a dead magpie carried in it's jaws as it jumped the front gate and onto a party wall, and so into the Martins back garden, presumably to feed the cubs. I'm guessing that that's where the feathers come from: roadkill!

So the strutting show-off magpies might have saved their posturing. A fox won't really catch a healthy magpie, but it won't turn down a dead one. Halftail wasn't scared!

Saturday 7 June 2008

CSI Offaly

Nothing much to say on the suburban fox scene...we see them all the time, snoozing peacefully in the fine weather. Every night one of them will check the feeding station in my garden, finding something about every second night. At times we hear noises of yelping and scrabbling - maybe those cubs do come out at night, if they exist...(pout!)

We had some different nature study last weekend, down in the country.

you may recall that I got some replacement frogspawn from a bucket that had been left outside the cottage. (That batch of spawn, too, is all gone)

Well, the bucket had been left in situ, and now become all green and slimy. So I went to empty it out as we were cutting grass and tidying up, etc. It smelt quite rank and rotten. I poured it into a basin and was a bit shocked when the body of a dead mouse poured over the rim. Poor little thing, I thought, fell in headfirst and couldn't climb out! I tossed the tiny body far away into the shrubbery and carried on. Oh, no! Another one! Just went to get a drink, I suppose, and two drownings! Musing on the tragedy, I continued and now what's this? Skeletal bones? The unmistakeably hand-like outline was quickly followed by the pale and swollen body of a dead frog.

No wonder the water smelt rotten. Bucket of Death, indeed!

Yet, what had caused this carnage? I didn't think that frogs could drown. Or that they couldn't jump out of a bucket in which they had spawned. Here at home, our frog seems to live underwater in the pond for much of the time, stirring it up in agitation if we disturb it too much. (Well, it floats at water level, fixing us with a beady eye.)

And the mice: Why would they climb up a steep slope and dive headfirst into a bucket, when there is a stream a few yards away and a canal a few yards more? with sloping banks and grass to grip, etc?

It all got cleaned up anyway, but I am sobered by the contemplation of that slaughterhouse of slime!

Better be careful next winter to leave nothing out except maybe a shallow pan with sloping sides.

Saturday 24 May 2008

Where are they?

Just chatting with Mary Martin last week, we were exchanging remarks with the gardeners who are still working at the next house over, a large corner site. Someone mentioned the foxes, and one of the gardeners piped up: "And there are cubs as well! We saw them last week, didn't we, Jim?" And the other chap described how they had heard sounds like dogs whimpering one morning about half-eleven, and had propped a ladder against the wall to look over, and had seen maybe six cubs! And Mary herself chimed in, that she had seen cubs too, five or six of them.

So where are they? I've set my clock for 5.30 a.m. just to look for cubs, and seen none. We've all stared out upstairs windows and over walls, and seen none.

Even as I write, all three adult foxes are sprawled in blissful sleep on the lawn next door, soaking up the sunshine in a row like some Riviera beach. There's nothing to suggest that the family has "moved house", as foxes are sometimes wont to do, moving a litter to a new location.

Last night I did think I heard a little chattering at the bottom of the garden. I'd love to see them, though.

Friday 16 May 2008

Hasty Update

Was away last weekend and had a busy week, so I haven't kept this up to date with the latest.

Anyway, all three adult foxes are now regularly seen. All three look well, and they have been seen several times sprawled out in a neat row like sucking piglets, soaking up the sun in Martin's Riviera! Hers is a very large, secluded, walled, overgrown, south-and-west-facing garden.

The one I call Roisin has grown a bit. The official informations claim that foxes reach adult height in their first year, but I really disagree on the basis of many years' observations. We have often seen a smallish fox in the springtime - often, as in this case, an ancillary female - and as the year goes on, this yearling fills out and acquires an adult strength and build, and a little height and breadth.

Roisin is now an exceedingly handsome vixen, amber coloured, pure white cheeks, and a lovely white snowball tail tag.

It has been beautiful hot weather: in London last weekend, it was burn-your-arm scalding. Our foxes look peaceful and healthy. I'm still feeding them, of course, and adding mange drops to the food.

Until next time!

Sunday 4 May 2008


It has been a beautiful, sunny day in Dublin. Growth is lush in garden and park and the barbecue season has begun.

If there's one thing foxes love, it's a sunny spot for a snooze, and so it was today. A brown bundle could be seen beside the yellow privet, and I took it to be Halftail. Great was my surprise, and pleasure, to observe, when it got up and walked off, my old friend Ragtip! He strolled away towards the den area, and what's this? behind the spot where he had lain, another fox still lay, curled up in a cosy heap. After a few minutes, this one also got up, and it still wasn't Halftail, but a smallish, coppery fox with a perfect tail, round white tag.

Well, well, well! Ragtip and Roisin, still on the territory, and both headed for the den area! Our three adult foxes still on the job!

I'm amused at the coincidence (after yesterday's report) and delighted to see them.

Saturday 3 May 2008

Teasing Teasels

Don't bother planting teasels in your garden. Some books reccomend this for attracting goldfinches, who are said to enjoy the seeds. I have never seen a singkle goldfinch, or any other bird, on any teasel. Even the option of spraying the seedheads gold for Christmas soon palls, they are very prickly. They spread like wildfire and their only wildlife benefit is the little pool of rainwater that forms at the bases of the leaves. Because of their biennial habit, new rosettes of prickly leaves are always popping up. They are a snare and a delusion, don't bother with teasels.

Wild Garden

First, some good news from our country estate: we found frogspawn there, in an old bucket full of stagnant green water. Took a jamjar-full, and have put this into our two little sinks here at the home station. Now crossing our fingers!
And continuing the theme: this morning, mooching moodily around the garden, missing my cigarettes, I heard a splashing and there was a large frog in the terrace pond! As big as my closed fist, and healthy looking, not bleached or blackened or reddened. He or she hovered at the water surface, opening and shutting little eyes, while a few bubbles rose to the surface. Do frogs fart?

While I watched, I muttered: Be careful! Two dead frogs found in this garden since the spring began! Get under a leaf and stay still when foxes are about! And then, interrupting the reverie, a large queen wasp emerged from the weeds and I beat a hasty retreat; (I have a strong wasp allergy, potentially very dangerous)
She flew gracefully around the water, sometimes swooping, but did not stoop to drink as I have sometimes seen wasps do.

Perhaps this large lady was acting as a bodyguard to the frog! I just hope she does not pick a nesting site too close to us.

Back upstairs to housework and happened to look out, and what do you think? There was Halftail, alert, in Martin's back garden, scratching as usual. The tail is no worse, at least, and the general condition of fur looks better. Had a good look at her. The bib is really very dark, mottled grey and black. Even the fur on her back is very dark, and she is a large, stocky animal, (as foxes go).

Ragtip, her presumptive mate, hasn't been seen for ages. But Halftail cannot be the smallish, orange-furred one that I regularly put up as it sleeps on the ground near Jackson's shed. Probably the presumed auntie, Roisin, but some of these ascriptions are necessarily tentative! Roisin could be a male, the father, possibly.

If there were any cubs under that shed, we would expect to start seeing them around now; but we must set our alarm clock to wake very early!

Our own garden shed now has almost a young tunnel leading under it.

Things are happening in the garden, but not before our eyes, or to our timetable. Life teaches humility, does it not?

Monday 28 April 2008

holding pattern

I haven't posted anything new lately because there hasn't been much to see. During last week's fine weather I spotted Halftail several times sleeping curled up on my neighbour's lawn, in a sunny spot, as foxes love to do. I also saw her crouch to mark with urine and droppings. It is still possible to find a fox almost any day by quietly leaning over the back wall into Jacksons: and there has been considerable digging-out under our shed.

Gloomiest news is that the frogspawn is absolutely all gone from the pond. I'm sorry now that I didn't put netting over it, but the birds love to bathe and drink...it's hard to know what's best.

We gaze out at dusk and early morning for good fox sightings, hoping for cubs, but there has been nothing. The year advances and the evenings lengthen, summer will soon be here!

Tuesday 22 April 2008

Ban blood sports

Just a quick link to an organisation that is committed to protecting foxes, as well as other animals, from barbaric practices that are not sporting at all!
I'll post the proper link later.

Thursday 10 April 2008


Over the last week, several times we have seen foxes asleep next door: but just a coiled-up heap of fur, so nothing much to be learned!
Last night, I put food out about 8 o'clock: and by 8.15 Halftail was sliding up the garden to feed, taking it a little way out of sight, then returning for more. I'm glad it's her getting it, because it was well sprinkled with mange drops.

Regular readers will remember how last year I was puzzled by the make-up of a fox family group that were seen here often that Autumn. Yesterday I heard from a friend that a relation of hers in this area has video footage of cubs playing last summer, very close to here. I'd love to see this as it should cast some light on the roles of Tipless, Pointer at al.

This morning at breakfast time, a fox passed through my garden but couldn't see which one. A little later, going down to deposit stuff in compost heap, I noticed a flash of bronze fur in Jackson's: peering over the wall, a smallish fox rose to its feet and moved slowly out of sight.

They certainly are staying very close to the area - there must be cubs!

Thursday 3 April 2008


Yesterday afternoon, Ragtip snoozing on M's lawn. I went down garden and looked across the wall between us. He lifted head and stared coolly back at me, from about 50 feet away, then slowly got up and walked off. I was sorry for disturbing him but justified, as I was tossing in some ends of cake dosed with medicine!

I had a look in older posts from last year to try and see if any of these foxes were on a 2nd year with us. Very hard to say, except that last Autumn's king-of-the-ring, Tipless, is certainly not among those present.

Ragtip may very well be the stocky male that we called Broadhead, has that chunky build, and the tail-tag is now just more ragged and tattered.

Neither of the other foxes matches the descriptions from last year;

Watching TV

New programme on RTE on Tuesday evening - "Living the Wildlife" with Colin Stafford Johnson. The very first animal featured, in the very first episode, was the fox! Just on the edge of Dublin city!

Beautiful photography and some remarkable footage of a tame fox begging for food, and even nosing into Colin's camper van!

The footage of parent foxes with cubs was absolutely classic, just as we have seen them here dozens of times.

I felt pleased to hear even a "proper wildlife expert" admit, like me, that it is extremely difficult to sex a fox by eye alone. And to note the careful, attentive parenting that adults give cubs.

Here is the web address and you can watch the episode by clicking on "watch this episode" in the page.


I'm really looking forward to seeing this programme every Tuesday!

Tuesday 1 April 2008

Captured on camera


Thanks very much to Fee who snapped a fox with her camera-phone; not just any old fox either but one of our group, asleep on a shed roof in a garden which I can clearly see is the one across my back wall which I have called Jackson's in these annals.
Until a few years ago, that was a quiet garden, with a little shed in the corner, which is still there. Now however there is also a swing-cum-climbing-frame, little trikes and the squeals of children at play! What sang-froid that fox was showing, to sleep on the shed roof in broad daylight and to breed very close by!

Unfortunately the resolution of the photo is not sharp enough to reproduce here, and in any case the location is quite clearly identifiable and the occupants might not care for that.

On Monday evening my husband got out his big camera and managed to catch one shot showing both foxes together. it is worth mentioning here that although they were sleeping near each other, then waking one by one, yawning, stretching etc. we did not see these two interact or communicate directly.

Yet some fox couples are very affectionate. I think it was last year that a couple went on billing and cooing and sleeping together for months. Of course they didn't have cubs, so they had more time to spend together!

Will try to post that photo anyway, if we can get the blogger thing to do it.

Mr and Mrs?

Yesterday, late afternoon. I had been watching Halftail in the afternoon, scratching and trying to rest. So scratchy did it look that I ran to supply some bread and honey well sprinkled with mange drops, and containing homoeopathic pills as well.
By half-past six there were two foxes sleeping about 10 feet apart.
One was Halftail, and I had a good stare trying to verify sex. Little to see but there is a lot of fluffed-up, tufty fur around the base of tail, (from all the scratching no doubt) so I could have been mistaken in thinking it was male. No genitalia and no nipples to be seen; but I'm starting to think female.
The other was equally hard to spot; except for tail-tag which was not a nice white half-moon but a pointed,scraggy end. Sleeping near the vixen in March is strongly suggestive of a dog fox. So, who's the little one with the pretty tail? The aunties are often rather shy and retiring.
Sometimes I don't get the relationships in a fox family group sorted out at all!
For now, though, I'm going to assume Halftail, vixen, probably mother: Ragtip, the dad, perhaps formerly Bigboy tho' tail seems wrong. And lastly, Roisin, from her deep red colour and modest size.
Now I must go back and compare these with last year's foxes to see who survived the winter.

Sunday 30 March 2008

Roaming in the Gloaming

Yesterday evening, at sunset, very dim. Delighted to see Half-tail scrabbling and gnawing next door. Not glad about the mange, of course, just the fox!
Things have been eerily quiet lately. In previous years we learned to expect a very low profile at this time of year, it's cubbing time.
I cautiously opened bedroom window and did not spook it off. Poor fox, so itchy! I have been dosing mange medicine in the nightly food but it hasn't begun to work. Reason for anxiety is, the dens become infested with mange mites and the cubs catch it and eventually pass it on.
In the deep dusk, a fox is expertly camouflaged on dried-out brownish grass. Half-tail scrabbled about and came and went a little and then mooched away down the near path towards the old den area, in the corner backing on to our garden shed!
I continued to watch with my trusty binocs in hand, because i could hear rustlings in the bushes, and scuffling, and alarm calls from blackbirds.
When foxes first became numerous around here, about 10 years ago, magpies would alarm loudly, but they don't anymore. Some birds still do, but it's more usually a cat that sets them off. I was hoping that it was not a case of tiny new cubs and prowling cat, a dangerous mixture.
Glad that Half-tail had seemed to be going home, I was surprised by what happened next. A second fox appeared on MY side of the wall, moving rapidly up the garden towards me. A babysitter going off duty, or an intruder seen off? hard to say, because in the almost-dark I couldn't ID reliably, except for a smooth round tail with rounded white tag. Seemed a bit smaller than I remember Bigboy, though hard to say at teat angle.
Straight up the garden, small detour to feeding-dish(empty) and to the terrace pond. I watched from above, barely fifteen feet away! Fox paused as if to drink then wriggled iunder the rose-bush to the other side of pond, just where the frogspawn is!
Then quickly down the garden again, clearing minor obstacles with a beautiful easy leap.
Vanished, then reappeared in Martins. Quick check in front of their kitchen window - she feeds them too- then swiftly out the front along the well-known foxes' passage, and out of sight.
All this is absolutely classic fox behaviour! My guess is that there are cubs, that they are in the old den area, very secluded. That Half-tail is the mother snatching a few rare moments off duty and the other one - Bigboy?- is the male who keeps a watchful eye nearby, and forages for the vixen and himself. The businesslike patrol of borders and feeding-sites was spot-on. And so is the recent radio-silence in the garden.
If the second fox tonight was not Bigboy, it could be a related female, often found in fox groups doing just what this one was -babysitting and foraging.
Now we need to keep a close but very discreet look, and supply plenty of mange medicine.

Later on Sunday morning: In the interests of completeness, I checked the pond. Well, what do you think? Was the precious spawn gone? No, indeed! In fact, there is a new clump floating in the middle!
So, foxy was looking not for spawn but for frogs! Grrr!

Monday 24 March 2008

Watching and wondering

Last Thursday: I'm planting potatoes in a corner of the garden, trying a method I have used in the school garden: planting in old car tyres. (It does work!)
I found a curiously shaped object lying on the steps. On closer inspection, it turned out to be the dried-out, swollen body of a dead frog. The head was missing and there was a faint fishy smell.

I remember that two years ago I found a dead frog in the garden at about the same time of year, but don't know why. That time, it was lying on the path beside the clothes-line and I was consumed with horror at the thought that I might have stepped on it. After all the troulble I've gone to, to introduce frogs over the years.
This years casualty - did a fox get it? a cat? How long ago? the little flippers were dried, black and crackly.

Anyway, I'm sad for the dead frog but glad that they managed to breed at least twice.
Good Friday. Half-tail spotted in Martins. I strained my eyes to try and get a definite sex, but the creature was being as coy as a Disney heroine. Now it lay down, facing away, scratching. Then stood up, turned around, crouched facing me...but just behind a clump of dandelions. Then moved to a new pose, spreading out to groom belly...with a slender tree screening the mid-section!

I watched for about a quarter of an hour with binoculars, but it was modesty itself. I had to laugh!

More seriously, two foxes are using that garden regularly this week. Are they a couple? Some screaming at night as usual.

Monday 17 March 2008

Where the wild things are

Morning stroll around the garden. What's this? More frogspawn! A nice new clump of tiny globules at the edge.

So they're still at it! Hmmm, what's this? Oh no, mess under the sole of my shoe. Looks familiar, too. Big Boy has been here, still suffering from his tummy upset. Only four feet from the little pond, get away from that spawn, you brute!

A blackbird is splashing and spraying in the other pond.

I called my husband to get some photographs, perhaps to use in next year's Spring issue.
"I love it when the wild creatures really use the garden" he remarked as we returned to the kitchen. Yes, I do too.
Beannachtai na Feile Padraig!

Friday 14 March 2008

New tenant?

Thursday morning, 13th. About half past eight in the morning. Big Boy again. This time I had the binocs on him (or possibly her, still not conclusive) and was able to watch as s/he crouched on M's upper lawn to extrude a veritable mound of steaming faeces. Softer and paler than normal, I hope our foxes aren't catching tummy upsets!

Action continues in the pond as well: my husband was taking photographs of pondweed for a wildlife magazine and reported splashing and bubbles! The frogspawn is srill there, though I know foxes do eat it. Perhaps they haven't yet found the spawn, though they certainly polish off the dinner-leavings that are their nightly portion.

We have heard barking and shrieking on several nights lately. I do wonder if any of the foxes we have seen are pregnant females. None has looked pregnant or lactating, but this is just the right time of year for having cubs. I did check Big Boy by eye for any signs of being Big Girl, but it's notoriously hard to tell, and I should know!
Often the clearest sign you'll get is the silhouette of a row of active nipples. It's still possible, so fingers crossed!

Monday 10 March 2008

More Foxwatching

Last saturday evening, as I returned home from a neighbour's house, a fox dashed out of the garden just across the road and hurried into Martin's front gate. I presume onto her garden wall and along it into her back garden, a traditional route.
Couldn't ID in the dark but glad to see continuing action.

Then today, this afternoon at about 4 o'clock, saw one in Martin's garden that I hadn't seen before: a large, stocky, deep amber-red fox, very handsome, maybe a two-year-old. It sprayed in the lower lawn, walked up to the big conifer, rubbed bum on ground, and went out of sight. I wouldn't mind betting there's a good breeding earth behind that big tree where I know there are some outhouses.

This lad had some white high on face near eyes. Neat bib, a bit speckled with black. Feet all equally black to elbows, with dirty white parts. Tail long and luxuriant with scraggy white tuft. The usual slightly mangy patches on flanks which he scratched and gnawed at. Pretty sure it's a male, thought I saw the tackle as he raised his tail.

Name; Big Boy. This is getting interesting!

Monday 3 March 2008

Something New at last

But it's not foxes. It's frogspawn, hurray!

It was on Tuesday, the 3rd of March, exactly four weeks after the last entry: pottering around the garden in the morning, I had a look in the little garden ponds (old Belfast sinks) and what do you think? In the terrace one, dark and very cold, a clump of frogspawn!

Am absurdly delighted, thrilled skinny in fact. This means that the foxes did not manage to catch and eat my carefully-tended frogs last Autumn.

Because you will recall, gentle reader, that one of my early posts described watching a fox juggle a small dangly object like a cat playing with a mouse. Exactly like, in fact. And I haven't seen a trace of any frog in the garden from that day to this.

That was Tuesday morning and I was very pleased. Just imagine my delight, that same afternoon, to see a fox in the next-door garden! Scratching under a tree in the lower lawn.

I couldn't tell if this was one I'd seen before: here's the best description I can manage (he didn't stay long)

Face: white in curve around nose area but not very high on cheeks.
Chest: plenty of grey and black blotching scattered over bib.
Legs: black to elbow only, on all 4 legs.
Sex: I think male, from a bare glimpse as he walked away: not sure
Tail: most distinctive, sadly: the outer half is bald from mange. It's a half-bootlace tail.
Name: Halftail?

Now I must get busier in the garden. That fox must be treated for mange with some homeopathic stuff I get from Derbyshire Fox Rescue, see link to their website below.

I've used this before and it seems to work. Ah, I've spent many hours researching foxes and mange! Must do a long post about it one of these days...
Secondly, if foxes are about again, I had better protect the frogspawn with a bit of netting or similar, because foxes eat spawn.
But if I do that, it may obstruct the pond from the at-least-two frogs that must be still around and using it for breeding...maybe wait a while.

Well, well! Lots to think about and plan. What a good, springlike, day!

MORE, two days later.

Thursday morning. I can hardly believe this myself. On my usual after-breakfast mooch, I checked the two little ponds of course: The main one full of cress as usual and now I look into the terrace one and what do I see? or hear rather: splashing! and fluttering!
Of course I approached to have a look and could clearly see a frog's foot, turning over, now a frog's head...what is going on?
I may have gone too close because the half-head I could see froze, and glared, then vanished from sight underwater. Foolishly perhaps, I pulled away a spray of ivy overhanging that corner - because really it had looked as if the frog was struggling to get out - anyway no more was seen.
Could this have been the famous frogs in amplexus? Really it was so kind of tangled up that I couldn't see for sure, but it was certainly moving in an unusual posture, and splashing. And I think there is some new spawn; it looked smaller, beside the previous clump.

Wow, not only have the frogs survived but I almost saw them mating!
And there may be a new fox!
I had been moping a little because of trying to give up cigarettes. But now I'm cheered up no end!

Sunday 10 February 2008

Signs of Spring

Ash Wednesday, and I was not having a very good day. First to the osteopath, left a bit more mobile but very tender. Then to the dentist, discover a recent tooth casualty cannot be saved. Then got boxed in a parking space in front of Blackrock Town Hall. (Never park there!) Home with my dear, supportive husband, groggy and emotional.

Getting ready for a well-deserved nap, looked out at window, and saw a fox! About 3 o'clock in the afternoon, a pleasant dry day. Out it walked from Martins overgrown corner and crossed the lawn. I only had a chance to register a big white snowball of a tail tip on a stocky, biggish fox, and stamp my foot and call "Fox!" to summon my husband from downstairs. Alas, fox did not pause but walked away out of sight down to the old den corner.

Couldn't tell the sex, or if it was the same one I spotted last week crossing the road late one evening by the laneway. (Tail tip looks right, though) Some time later, glancing out again, I saw it passing back along the fox-path, now completely overgrown so I could barely see, but I know the signs.

There has been an increase of night noises, yikkering and yelping, sometimes sounding like two voices: and the food left out reliably vanishes. All this is encouraging, but I don't see any of the affectionate company-keeping that we saw in other years between mated couples. And there have been many fine warm afternoons when you'd be likely to find sunbathing foxes having their afternoon snooze, and especially if the vixen is pregnant as she usually is at this time.

Wednesday's visitor had not so much the air of a landlord, as of a local sussing out possible boltholes. But it was my first daytime sighting for a long time and it lifted my sad spirits wonderfully. We may see cubs yet.

Tuesday 29 January 2008

Just three screams

Last night I was lying wakeful and heard a fox's scream, then some high-pitched yelping. Then a triple scream, like a triple bark but very yelpy.
I looked out window, nothing to see. Sigh.
If I was a fox I wouldn't den in any of the surrounding gardens because of the noise and drilling. Big sigh. I hope we don't have another year without cubs!

Saturday 26 January 2008

Slim Pickings

Landscape gardeners and builders have been busy at a neighbours house. In the garden just two houses away a large concrete outbuilding was being demolished last week and the air echoed with drilling as barrowloads of rubble were trundled out to a huge skip. Large bushes and small trees were piled on too.

Foxes must have used that garden because it is the next one after my next-door-neighbour: but they made themselves very scarce while the disturbance went on. Once we heard a loud screaming at night, but saw nothing. Just tonight, about 10 o'clock, a fox ran across our path as we drove in, just the other end of this road. It was quite short-legged, plenty of white on front legs, and a big white snowball of a tail tip. I did not recognise this individual animal.

At least something or someone is still eating the occasional dinner leftovers that I put out at night. Last night's offering was bits and ends of raw offal, liver and kidney, from making the haggis for Burns Night celebrations. A nice feast for a wild dog!

The building work seems to be over for the moment so maybe we will see some action one of these days.

Tuesday 8 January 2008

A little night music.

I guess things are hotting up on the mating scene. About five nights ago we were woken up by a fox's scream about 5 a.m. I ran to the window but could only see a neighbour's motion-sensor lights coming on. Nothing very unusual about any of that.

Two nights later, one of my sons was woken by screaming and scuffling. Fox courtship seems to include a lot of chasing, I've seen them race pell-mell through bushes and around streets. Never could figure out who was chasing who, or why. Pursuing a coy female? seeing off a rival?

Lastly, night before last, my husband heard "yikkering", a sort of clicking or tapping noise that foxes make. It's more typically a cubs, or talking-to-cubs, sound, but you can hear it any time. There are no cubs yet of course, this is mating season. If the vixen gets pregnant now, she will give birth in the spring, say late March or April.

So there, our nights are musical with foxes again after the long silence.