WARNING! This post contains graphic sexual content involving an old dog and a foxy lady.
Washed out greens and browns are the colours of Wilden Marsh at the moment. Kingfishers dart up and down the river and grey wagtails zoom about. There are tits galore, ducks by the dozen, flapping moorhens, calling buzzards circling on thermals, bellowing cattle and grazing horses all around me. Muntjac deer are mooching about. The marsh foxes are restlessly prowling about: January is the height of their breeding season. I hear the occasional squawk of a heron, and the crunching sounds of my wellies breaking through frozen puddles, pools, ditches and ponds. The whooshing wings of a low flying swan remind me that these are sights and sounds to gladden my heart on a cold and sunny marsh morning in early January. What I have to look forward to is the build-up to the growing season and a time of bright colours and plenty.
I’m wandering the marsh looking at future grazing for the cattle. New grass is growing in the flooded wood and southern riverside pastures. The Tenant Farmer’s Field has absorbed most of the recently deposited cow pats. It will be a month or two before the Rhombus Field is dry enough to graze safely. The cattle have been busy in the northern pastures, the Swamp and the Northern Corridor, leaving only the toughest rushes and reeds that only starving cattle and Wayne and Waynetta (our two belted Galloway cattle) are prepared to eat. I intend rotating the herd through these compartments again throughout January. The Northern Pasture will be kept as emergency dry grazing, in case of marsh floods again over the next three months.
January is usually the month of unrest within the fox family – not only is it the peak of the mating season, but also the peak dispersal season too. Cubs that were born last year, now adults, will be seen as a threat to the breeding rights and the available food supply of their parents. Any sub-adults who have failed to disperse will usually be continually chased away. Many of the sub-adults will actually leave of their own accord in search of a territory and a mate of their own. The resident dog fox and vixen will be actively defending the territory against intruders, both physically and vocally. They do this by barking and urinating and defecating along the borders of their territory.
As I mentioned above, January is breeding time for the marsh foxes. The dog fox is restless and prowling about keeping tabs on the south marsh vixen, as she is only receptive for a period of about three days. The dog fox is making sure that he is close at hand. The vixen will give the dog a hard time, sometimes aggressively. When she is ready she flirts with him – no surprise there. The dog fox won’t need telling twice; he’ll grab her from behind with his front legs and begin mating. The dog fox’s penis is not totally erect until he has actually entered the vagina, when it becomes completely erect and its base begins to swell. Also, the vixen’s vagina will constrict. This swelling and constriction will cause the pair to lock together, commonly called the ‘tie’. When the dog fox ejaculates he attempts to dismount, but they will be locked together. He will bring one of his back legs over the vixen’s back and there they stand, back to back, for the duration of the tie, possible for hours. Through instinct the vixen will start to prepare an earth prior to giving birth; in a town environment it’s likely the chosen place will be under a garden shed. In the countryside she might make use of a disused rabbit warren or a badger’s sett.