6th March 2012: What else is happening on the marsh this month, Mike, apart from badgers and foxes giving birth to their cubs? Well, there will be plenty of things happening on the marsh this month. One particularly spectacular event, I think so anyway, is the mating of common toads. There were a few toads in the North Pond last weekend, but shortly the pond will be overflowing with them; in fact, it will be bubbling with toads – it will be mayhem down there!
There are two types of toads native to the UK: Common and Natterjack. The Natterjack toad is found mainly in the coastal dunes of East Anglia and in the North West of England. It was formerly common on southern heathlands. Its numbers are declining, and it is now protected by law. The two species are easily distinguished by a prominent yellow line down the back of the Natterjack toad.
The toad is not the prettiest creature on the marsh, but it must be one of the ugliest. Now we all know that beauty is only skin deep and that beautiful people live amazing lives; well so do toads! I am not sure how they spend their days, but having warty skin, horizontally slit eyes, very strange legs and a bite-sized body, must make for an interesting life. Toads have jumped about for around 250 million years: they must be doing something right.
I believe that witches have developed an affinity with toads, and have done strange things with them – cruel things! If they are not pulling toes from toads, or eyes from newts, they are adopting them as familiars. I wonder if any of the blog followers are witches, and whether they can throw any light on the subject.
This blog’s resident wizard, Richard, says: One of the reasons witches may have favoured toads is the secretion they exhude from their warts when agitated – it is poisonous, and in low doses can be hallucinogenic, We know that witches made potions out of poisonous plants such as henbane and belladonna, to help induce shamanisic trances, and I think they may have used toad poison as well (the active ingredient is called bufotenin, I think.
“Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork, and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg, and howlet’s wing,–
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.”
What are the differences between frogs and toads?
Frogs have slimy, wet, and smooth skin and spend most of their time in or around water. Toads usually have a dry, warty-looking skin and spend most of their time living on land. Their hind legs are shorter than frogs, and they crawl rather than hop. Toads have glands behind their eyes that secrete a poison.
4th March 2012: What will be happening in and around the marsh badgers’ setts during March? Well … the first thing to note is that the marsh badgers’ cubs will be born this month, if they haven’t been born already. Usually monogamous, the boars might mate with the same sows for life. A sow will, typically, give birth to between one and five cubs at a time. In large setts, dominant sows have been known to kill the cubs of subordinate sows, to help ensure the survival of their own offspring. More than 50% of cubs are sired by boars from different family groups.
Badgers are powerful animals, but they have a docile nature; if threatened, though, they can be extremely vicious. Their only predator is man. People needn’t be afraid of badgers, but it is wise to give them a wide berth. Wounded badgers should not be approached, but they must be reported to the local badger group, or to the police, as soon as possible.
Badgers are highly sociable and incredibly tolerant creatures that excavate and live in complex underground sett systems, which are passed from one generation to the next. Badgers are clean living animals, regularly replacing bedding materials and ensuring that any loose materials are removed from the sett. Living in family groups averaging six adults, although groups of twenty plus have been recorded, they will even tolerate foxes living in redundant chambers within their sett.
Some people will already be aware that badgers eat worms, slugs, snails, and roots, and may be surprised to learn that they will also eat mice, moles, rats, ducklings, fish, reptiles and most other small animals. Badgers dig young rabbits out of their holes, pulling them inside out, eating the meat and leaving the rest of the carcass with its skin attached. Kills are eaten on the spot and are not carried back to the sett. It is said that a badger will kill and eat lambs, Chickens, game birds and hedgehogs – usually in sheer desperation, if food is scarce during February and March. Badgers are very effective predators and foragers.
When faced with particularly hard winters, badgers might spend November to March asleep in their setts. This is not hibernation because their metabolic rate is not depressed, but they are fueled during this sleep period by fat reserves built-up during late summer. They will emerge in March. Before starting their winter sleep, the badger will block their sett entrances and exits with dead branches and leaves.
4th March 2012: The marsh vixen will be holed-up in her den for around ten days this month, giving birth to her cubs. The dog will bring food to the den for her. After the confinement, they will be increasingly busy hunting for themselves and the cubs. This is the time when I expect to have the opportunity of seeing and photographing the foxes more regularly, as they scour the marsh for food, by day and by night. They will find time to relax together, though, and I hope to see them frolicking in the pasture on warm evenings. If I am fortunate, they will take their R & R time when I am imitating a tree or bush near by, dressed in my ghillie jacket and a Realtree face mask, with my camera at the ready.
2nd March 2012: It is almost the end of my first week of spring. I noticed a few cherry trees in full bloom whilst driving through Kidderminster early this evening.
The wood and the marsh are slowly coming to life. Walking through Hoo Wood this morning I came across tufts of badger hair strewn across a track, evidence of a badger brawl. In the early evening darkness, I heard pecking sounds coming from inside a dead, rotting and bracket fungus covered silver birch tree. I guess the sounds were made by a woodpecker working the night shift.
A fox sensed a mole moving below ground in the north pasture. It ran repeatedly between two mole hills, with its nose close to the ground, presumably attempting to locate the mole as it moved underground. Suddenly, the fox began leaping in the air and landing heavily on its front paws. I guessed it was trying to collapse the mole’s tunnel. In between each leaping session, the fox stood motionless, watching the ground and listening intently. I assumed it was waiting for the mole to clear the fallen earth from its tunnel. I watched this episode develop through binoculars. There was further leaping, listening and motionless watching. The fox slowly backed away, again with its nose close to the ground, before turning and running in a wide semi-circle to an attack position above the mole hill. The seconds passed until the fox finally leapt high into the air. As it landed, it pushed its snout deep into the mole hill and extracted the mole. What a wonderful spectacle.
I received the following comment this morning from mymatejoechip, on a subject close to my heart. I think it is a very worthy comment about foxes eating mammals in Australia. I hope mymatejoechip doesn’t mind my featuring the comment.
To read the other comments about this post: http://thewildenmarshblog.com/marsh-fox-photograph-album/#comment-1018
I am genuinely interested in people’s views on the old Red Dog.
My view on the fox relates to personal experience of foxes living in my local area and is not, in any way, a criticism of mymatejoechip‘s comment.
Mike I am sure that you are right. I hope I didn’t sound like I was opposed to predators in their natural environment, I am all for balanced ecosystems and biological diversity and the preservation of our environment.
The Australian experience is a little different as the fauna here have evolved over a long period of time in isolation without exposure to a predator like the fox. Their introduction only 130 years ago has led to an imbalance that has not been corrected. Part of the problem is that we persecute the closest niche predator, the dingo, which preys on foxes and feral cats. The dingo itself is interesting, itself only a recent arrival in evolutionary terms (arriving with the Aborigines in the last 50-100 000 years). Recent discussion about the re-introduction of the dingo into some areas has of course led to a predictable reactionary response, however it is I think much more reasonable than a recent suggestion that elephants be introduced into northern Australia. I think we interfere with the role of the predator at our peril, unfortunately in Australia we have interfered massively, so that in some areas the only main predators are foxes and cats, with nothing to prey on them. “Your” foxes are of course exactly in the environment they should be in. This article may be of interest.
I have watched foxes for many years, and contrary to popular belief, they are not vermin; they rarely eat chickens, and I think they are essential to the control of vermin. I am not referring to urban foxes that live in towns and cities; I am talking about country foxes that live off the land and not from a dustbin.
I have tracked foxes by day and by night, on foot and with remote cameras. I have searched foxes’ territories in great detail. I have watched them hunt, and I have seen how they catch and kill their prey. Foxes try to make the best of their territories, in terms of hunting – few nooks and crannies, if any, avoid their attention. If food is scarce, they will search out new sources. Allegedly, they are partial to a burger or two; essentially, they will eat virtually anything digestible.
I have watched foxes give scant regard to well-protected chicken coups. Of course, if a fox can get in, it will kill all the chickens in a coup; this is what it does. The fox has evolved into a very successful and efficient predator, but then so have some humans. However, if foxes were really smart, they wouldn’t kill all the chickens in one go, they would kill one and come back for the others at a later date. Killing frenzies are one of the fox’s flaws – nothing in nature is perfect.
I think some people expect a fox to be something other than a fox, presumably because they don’t understand the purpose and importance of the fox. Some people seem surprised that a fox does what it does, and I wonder if they feel that the fox is misbehaving in some way. I feel that the fox belongs in the countryside; it doesn’t belong in a city. A fox in a city is still a fox, though, with all its evolved wily nature and killer instincts; it does in a city what it would normally do in a country based territory: hunt, eat, protect its territory and breed.
Personally, I don’t have a problem with foxes populating cities and towns; they will eat some of the huge rat populations, which must be a bonus. However, not everyone will feel as I do. I prefer the fox to live in the countryside where it belongs.
This is my personal view. I don’t expect too many people to agree with me – I suspect a few will and a lot won’t.