Is it a fox den?
(Click on image to enlarge)
The beach is populated by rabbits, and they are digging like mad things all over it at the moment.
On Tuesday I received an email from Dom, who is carrying out a marsh bird survey. She reported the appearance of a large hole in the beach. Could this be a fox den, she asked? Dom kindly provided photographs of the hole, too.
It was Thursday evening before I had time to have a look. It turned out to be a rabbit hole. By the time I arrived on the scene, I think every animal on the reserve had come to look down the hole, including a couple of dogs: a spaniel and a Labrador, I think. I am sure that the marsh cattle would have had a look too, but they are not allowed on the beach.
I was curious, looking at the small amount of spoil around the hole, just how far did the hole progress underground? I knelt and looked deep into the hole with my torch, but I really couldn’t see much at all.
I reached into the hole, feeling around the walls as my hand went deeper. I stretched my arm further. My head was as far down the entrance as it was possible to go. With my fingers stretched to their maximum, I touched something furry, and then something else: something that felt like a wet nose. I wriggled further into the hole. Sand dribbled into my ears, eyes and mouth. I was spitting sand! I managed to stretch my fingers that little bit further in the hope of grabbing hold of whatever it was hiding, deep down, in that hole.
The furry thing with the wet nose must have moved, because I couldn’t feel it. I was trying to strain and stretch my fingers still further, when something sharp clamped down hard on one of my fingers, sending an electric shock along my forearm to my elbow. Ouch! I screamed. I yanked my arm out of that hole in double-quick time. Clamped firmly to one of my fingers, was a …
Well … if you think that I would be stupid enough to place my bare hand deep down into a hole that appeared from nowhere in the middle of the night, you are very much mistaken. 😉 What I actually did was put a goatskin glove on my hand, before putting it in that rabbit hole. My arm went down as far as I could stretch it. I couldn’t find a chamber. There was only a roughly parallel tunnel. I pulled my arm out, found a 3 feet length of curved and hardened bramble and put my hand, with the bramble in it, down the hole. The end of the bramble didn’t come up against any resistance, so I am pretty certain that this particular hole links to a rabbit warren under a large nearby bramble bush.
The entrance to this hole is larger than one might expect, due to the digging rabbit constantly having to remove sand that is continually dribbling down from the spoil heap and falling from the walls of the tunnel.
The roof of the warren is strengthened by the roots of the brambles growing above. Living in a hole dug into sand is not a brilliant idea, even when it is enhanced by the binding effect of the bramble roots. The doe is hampered by the need to continually compact the sand walls of the tunnels and her living chamber to help prevent her home from collapsing. She does this with her paws.
Rabbits don’t dig their warren under a bramble bush solely to help prevent the roof falling in; it also puts a stop to the marsh fox making an unannounced entrance from above.