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!