You might not see her, but the clues are there

Fox on the track of food.

Fox on the track of food.

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I HARDLY ever see the old vixen. It’s just that she leaves so many tell-tale clues.

For instance, the alarm calls from cock pheasants when they see her. Up they go into the branches and shout their gender over and over. “Cock! Cock!” at intervals. Just the once with a pause of several seconds.

This is quite different to the bed-time rally which is more “cocky-da-cocka-da-cocka-da-cock”. Looks odd on paper but every country person will know what I mean.

The young ring-necks are very good at that sort of yodelling. But when the vixen slides like a shadow through the undergrowth my old Charley, the Southern Caucasian cock pheasant who has been in the garden for three years now, goes aloft into the lowest branch of the oak and stands there outraged.

His crimson wattles as big as garden poppies waggle about as he stares at the ground. He watches satisfied as I go out into the coppice to shoo the fox away. He and his hens peer down at me knowing that they are safe after all, and in a while, fly down again.

“How do they know it’s a fox that has frightened them?” people ask. “There’s nothing there. Why not a dog?” Because a wandering dog will usually make the pheasant fly well away having trailed and flushed the bird.

Then in autumn when the cubs have gone and food is a little more plentiful, there are occasional caches of food which she has found and cannot eat at once which she will hide.

I have myself never seen her do this but my old sheepdog, Snowy, once showed me how it could be done. My bitch labradors would do this as well with crusts of bread they found under the bird table. They dig a little hole, place the morsel within, then push the soil back with their nose, tamping it carefully back nice and flat so nobody would know.

I found a most curious thing last winter which was sweetcorn cobs from the pheasant strips buried in the wood here and there. This could only have been a fox.

Several people have written to me to say that they have found hens’ eggs half buried on their urban lawns, which can only mean the work of a fox.

With so little rain this spring her footpads have not been so evident. But then along comes a shower and that diamond pad, overlapping rear on fore, with so much hair growing between her toes, makes the indelible print for all to see.

She gulps food and leaves cylinders of pigeons’ feathers and mouse bones, and later on when the beetles start to clamber over the paths and the dead wood of the forest, these will be glinting necklaces of green and gold and crimson-lake from the cardinal beetles.

But she doesn’t know I’m watching her yet cannot actually see her.

Richard Williamson