Well, the snow has melted and the drab greens and browns of winter have returned. The welcome exception is the bright yellow blooms that now decorate the spiky gorse bushes in Hoo Wood. A week of snow seems to have encouraged bulbs to push their shoots above-ground, gorse buds to break open, and elder leaves sprout. The growing season appears in a hurry to get started. The bluebell shoots are already visible.
I am eager to begin my fox watching earlier this year. Last year, I left it a little late last year, so I am keeping my beady eye on the north marsh vixen at the moment. January is the peak of the fox mating season. I think the vixen is using the same den a last year, and I have located the dog fox’s lie-up close by. He keeps close to the vixen, as she is only in season for three days. The cubs will be born 50 to 53 days after mating, so the north marsh vixen will be delivering sometime in March. The dog fox will be hard-pressed during April, hunting food for himself and the vixen during her confinement underground.
The cubs will make their first appearance above-ground in April. Hopefully, I will be there to record the event, but I am unlikely to be that fortunate. I will spend many evenings, and many hours, sitting fully camouflaged and motionless on my hard wood plank seat, in a tree overlooking the den. I hope the weather will be dry and warm.
I am looking forward to watching the vixen and the dog bring in their kills, leaving them a few feet, and later a few metres, from the den entrance. The cubs are tempted further and further from den by the lure of food. They will soon be able to predict the return of their parents and will often be outside the den, waiting for their meal to arrive. The cubs will play with the kill, throwing it repeatedly into the air, play-fighting and stealing it from each other. If anything disturbs them, all the cubs, perhaps six, will retreat underground in a flash. The bravest cub will creep from the den to have a look around and sniff the air. If everything appears quiet, the other cubs will follow in quick succession.
In June, the vixen will leave the cubs in the den, whilst she helps the dog with the hunting. This is the best month to see the cubs playing above-ground.