Saturday 11 April 2009

Wildlife watching in Offaly

Carl stood on the canal bank, fishing. Behind him, lower, was the cottage. On the opposite bank, fields sloped upwards to the road. All was quiet in that remote spot.
Carl turned away, pausing in his work: he needed more ground bait from the picnic table in the cottage garden.
Returning up the bank to the waterside, he heard a sizeable splash.
"Hmm, that's a good-size fish for me to catch", he thought.
Resuming his rod, he gazed at the water: but the surface was undisturbed. Then greatly to his surprise an animal climbed out of the water on the far side: it scrambled up the bank, shook itself, paused and looked back at the amazed Carl, and trotted away up the slope along the western hedgerow. Was it an otter? The first, likeliest guess? No. A dog? No. A mink, a stoat? No.
It was a fox. Definitely, unmistakeably. Carl is from South Dublin: he knows foxes well.
In fact, at the cottage, foxes are rarely seen. The few previous sightings were both in the area of that self-same western hedge of the opposite field - evidently a traditional track.
Could the fox have been swimming to catch fish? I've never heard of this! Though Carl reports that fish are scarce this year. And foxes are known to eat dead fish on the seashore.
Perhaps the fox routinely hunts on this side the canal, and prefers to take a shortcut home, instead of a 2-kilometre walk via the bridge.
Maybe the fox only checks out our side when people are about, because there may be food scraps in the compost, or bait.
Maybe he was hiding, taken by surprise, waiting his chance to get clear: I've seen foxes do this, they are very collected.
By the way, there is no other inhabited house nearby on our side: no henhouse or animal feed, no dustbins. Plenty of birds in our trees, and some mice and rats no doubt. One other holiday cottage, some cattle, troughs, rushes and boggy fields.
We have seen, over the years, rabbits and hares, and sheep. There are ducks and moorhens, herons and swans on the canal. So I suppose an enterprising fox could arrange to feed a young family, if he was willing to take a swim! At this time of year, there may well be cubs underground in the care of their mother. Papa fox must forage for them all.
Still, it was a very unusual sighting: and I am very pleased to record it here!

No comments: