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.