The fox saw me first!
(Click on images to enlarge)
13th March 2012: My mind was not in the right place this evening. Standing with my back against the bushes that grow along this section of the River Severn, I stared across the north pasture. I was waiting for the marsh fox to push its way under the lagoon field fence. This is one of my favourite watching places. Hoo Wood stretches in a north to south direction, in the near distance, forming the eastern ridge of the Lower Stour Valley. The evening sun highlights the newly leafed young willow trees of the withy wood that hide Wilden Lane from view and offers refuge to many of the north marsh wild animals.
There are a couple of shallow secluded ponds hidden in the withy wood – these dry up towards the end of summer. The tall bull rushes, flag iris and many other wild plants make it a very attractive temporary habitat where moorhens, coots, mallards, mandarin ducks and teal socialise and mate. The withy wood is also a favourite night-time haunt of badgers and muntjac deer. The marsh foxes regularly wind their way through the densely packed trees many times throughout the night. There are a few dry islands in the wood, but it is very boggy in there and a definite wellington boot wearing area.
The tall rough grasses that border the withy wood are home to jack snipe, in the winter; snipe and woodcock, all year round; pheasants and various other birds during the nesting season.
The wet ground conditions amongst the rough tall grasses, adjacent to the withy wood, are perfect for rare sedges, marsh orchids, and too many other wild plants and insects to mention in this post. I’ll just say that this is a very productive area of the marsh.
Anyway, this evening I was waiting in the north pasture for the marsh fox to appear. The reason I say that my mind was not in the right place this evening, is that I had pre-empted where the fox would enter the pasture: something the inexperience fox stalker does.
I wasn’t wearing my fox camouflage kit either, which was a mistake. Apart from this, I was doing all the right things. I was standing very close to trees and bushes, but not too close that the branches might rustle against my clothing. I was in the bushes’ shadows, so my own shadow wouldn’t be seen by the fox: shadows exaggerate the smallest movement. The breeze was in my face, so the fox wouldn’t pick up my scent, and I was standing stock still.
The fox surprised me by emerging from around the side of the bushes I was standing against! No more than three or four meters away from me. The fox immediately looked me straight in the eyes and ran off towards the corridor to the tenant farmer’s field. If I had had at least my head net on, the fox might not have seen me. I might have made some really good close-up images of the red dog. Muttering under my breath, I decided that my dealings with this fox were not yet over for this evening.
I carry most of my camouflage kit in the day rucksack that I always carry when I am marshing. The only excuse for not wearing the camouflage is laziness.
At the tenant farmer’s field gate, I saw the fox lurking at the far southern end of the field. Its nose was close to the ground and its rear end pointing towards me. I opened and closed the seven-bar steel gate without a sound, and walked slowly along the river bank to position myself closer to the fox. I sat down with my back against a tree stump, and considered what to do next. Basically, I had three options: wait for the fox to make its way towards to me, but it might decide to move off in the opposite direction; crawl towards the fox, through the stinging nettles – sometimes when I do this, the fox sees my wallaby hat and trots towards me to investigate. Finally, I might be able to bring the fox closer with a wounded rabbit call.
The fox was very busy sniffing and pawing the ground; it appeared fully focused on what it was doing. I have seen this behaviour before and immediately started scanning the area through binoculars. As I thought, there was a cock pheasant hiding in the grass very close to the fox.
The cock pheasant watched the fox getting closer and closer; he could have flown away, but he just lowered his neck closer to the ground and waited. The fox knew that the bird was there, it would fall to the ground now and again and lift its head high enough to catch a glimpse of the pheasant. I watched the fox put its various tactics to work, trying to close the distance between it and the pheasant. The fox decided to turn his back on the bird for some reason. It had done this when trying to catch a goose a couple of weeks ago.The pheasant saw the back end of the fox as an opportunity to escape. It ran off towards the orchid field. The fox, well aware that the pheasant had beaten it, trotted off in the same direction.