The one that got away.
31st July 2012: The marsh is slowing down! It’s haymaking time! Large, round black polythene wrapped hay bales are scattered around two of the Marsh farm fields. The tenant farmer’s field is uncut at the moment, but it won’t be long before the baler’s in here too. To be honest, I won’t be sorry to see this field cut and baled; the long grass hides far too much and I am bored with it.
Twelve herons lifted off the south pool as I approached this morning. They always see me first. It was pouring with rain, and I was wearing a green waterproof cape – it didn’t make any difference, though, they still spotted me a long way from the pool. The two marsh swans where there too, as were half a dozen mallards. The marsh water levels have been unusually high lately, and sluice boards have been lowered to bring the level down enough to help prevent the rushes and aquatic plants taking over. The lower water level is probably the reason why the herons were there today: being able to wade further out in the pool.
I see the marsh foxes regularly; they look healthy enough. I haven’t seen the foxes swim, but they do roam through the boggy areas. Even though the water level has been lowered, it is easy for me to end up with my wellies full or water if I am not paying attention. Fortunately, I have not yet fallen in one of the many bogs and doused my cameras; there would be tears then, I can tell you.
I witnessed an unusual event last week. I stood well hidden in amongst bushes watching a buzzard circling above Marsh Farm field. It swooped down in the far corner, close to the orchid field fence. With its wings spread across the grass, it despatching some small animal or other. Another buzzard flew in with an angry screaming seagull close on its tail. The buzzard landed smartly in the grass stubble, to the left of large hay bale, whilst the seagull collided with the bale. It tumbled into the grass, got to its feet, shook itself, and flew off croaking. Anyway, this isn’t the unusual event I am trying to relate here. I lowered my binoculars just in time to see the marsh dog fox creeping through a gap in the hedge, no more than eight feet away from me. He’s the one I have followed all over the marsh for the last three years, on and off. He moved at a slow, but deliberate stalking pace. He lowered himself close to the ground and crawled to the edge of a large sprawl of three feet high brambles. He stopped and dropped to the ground; his head pushed forward in a classic fox on the hunt pose. Scanning the beach, I spotted a big old grizzly rabbit grazing on the sparse grass – thirty feet from the fox’s position.
Now this is the thing about watching wild animals in a semi-rural environment: most of the time there isn’t much to see. The animals are aware of me long before I have any chance of seeing them, which is why it’s a good idea to move about slowly and quietly. What is about to happen to this fox is rarely seen – a first for me. I was fortunate to be hidden in the bushes, watching something else, otherwise I would have been totally unaware of what was about to unfold.
Twenty feet to my right, leaning against a fence, was my daysack, containing my cameras. I had stopped to pack away my 7D camera and 500 mm lens, just before I noticed the buzzard circling and moved into the hedge to watch it. I wondered now if I could risk nipping out of my hiding place to retrieve a camera. I decided against it and awaited developments. I watched, and I waited!
The rabbit moved from one position to another, totally unperturbed and unaware of the danger that lurked close by. I scanned the area with my binoculars, but there wasn’t any sign of the fox. I knew he would be hiding in the undergrowth, awaiting his chance to grab a free lunch. The rabbit moved further from the edge of the bramble bank. I guessed the fox would stay hidden until the rabbit was within striking range.
Blissfully unaware that its life could end within seconds, the rabbit began to edge slowly towards the bramble bank and the hidden fox. I could feel my heart quicken as I watched. Any second now, I thought. I was afraid to blink in case I missed the kill. Mind you, the rabbit didn’t get to its jumbo size by being stupid.
Boosh! The fox makes his move; a little too soon, I thought. The rabbit didn’t move; the fox hesitated, then launched himself full pelt at the rabbit. I couldn’t believe what happened next! The rabbit, who was now side-on to the rapidly approaching fox and a foot from its jaws, performed a perfect back flip and then another one. The fox sped past, skidded to a halt and turned to face his intended prey. The fox and the rabbit were around twelve feet from each other. The fox stood and stared at the rabbit. The rabbit hopped, hopped again, and began grazing. The fox sniffed the ground and moved slowly a few feet further away from the rabbit, apparently having lost all interest. I’ve seen the old dog behave this way before. The fox now walks in a slow arc, not looking at the rabbit, appearing more interesting in inspecting the ground. The rabbit watches the fox continuously whilst grazing. As the fox moves further along its arc, the rabbit keeps its body side-on to the fox. Now and again, the rabbit stands on its hind legs and stares at the fox for a few seconds, weighing up the situation, before continuing with its grazing.
The fox stops, his nose still close to the ground, and takes a sneaky look at the rabbit. The fox now turns his backside to the rabbit and moves ever so gingerly backwards. The rabbit, seeing this, becomes still and rigid. Finally, the fox does a smart 180 degrees turn and launches himself at the rabbit. The rabbit waits until the last second and does his back flip thing again. This time, wily fox has picked a fight with a real ninja rabbit! The rabbit hops, with surprising speed, in a wide circle around the fox, who then turns and gives chase. Not a chance matey! The big bunny knows exactly what it’s doing and darts down the hole that Dom thought was a fox’s den. The fox tries to follow but comes to a bone jarring halt as he finds out the hard way that he is a big ol’ fox and not a big ol’ rabbit. . . .
I have a new respect for big rabbits; they have attained their impressive size through guile and regular ninja practice sessions! Ha ha!