Don’t feed the wildlife…

  • By Alison
  • 6 January, 2013
  • Comments Off on Don’t feed the wildlife…

2013-01-03 _ 15-52-09Last year I broke my own unspoken rule about being an observer rather than an interferer to the wildlife around us. I tossed my foxy friend a scrap of ham, and she immediately put me on her free hand-out list.

It was unexpected, but she didn’t waste the opportunity. After darting away from the movement I made, she dashed in, grabbed it up and swiftly fled down the yard with it, disappearing through the rosemary bush and behind the shed. Within minutes she was back standing in front of me with a determined look in her eye as she willed me to produce more.

And I did – and have done so – sporadically for some months now. Simply because I want her to stay. I love seeing her, and am attached to her. We have foxes all the time. They come and go and often it’s hard to tell which ones you’re looking at. Are they new residents, or old timers? They certainly look similar despite their various colouring shifts and scars on snouts can heal and disappear.

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But this fox I recognise. From the start she was never peturbed by the noise of my camera, and in fact would allow me to get within about 20 feet before deciding I was overstepping my bounds. I have so many photos of her through the seasons, most of which show her looking me straight in the eye with a very unconcerned air.

She is small and unremarkable, but has one eye with a tendancy to run slightly which has been consistant over the time I’ve been photographing her. Put her bravery and her eye together and I know it’s her when I see her sitting patiently on the grass, watching me through the french doors. We initially called her “Legs” as she started off with a limp. I’m not 100% certain that she’s really the original Legs, since her visible identifiers came later, and she no longer limps, but it’s a name that has stuck.

Deciding to give her scraps increased the confidence that she already had – I knew she’d been in the back door the day I found two of my shoes out on the grass with a few toothy marks in them. Both shoes had been just inside the back door. But after she pinpointed my soft spot, she became even more daring, trying to sniff in the house while we were sitting in the dining room.

I don’t know if she noticed we were there or not at first, but she was only 10 feet away from us. We were eating lunch at the table so I quietly picked up my camera and took a photo of her. That action is a whole other issue in itself, isn’t it! That my first reaction was to document her misbehaviour! But as she sniffed further in, I slowly got myself into a position where I could suddenly jump, stamp and shout at her.

2012-07-03 _ 09-29-05She was totally startled and scattered out the door with the classic cartoon lack of traction, then glared back at me with a hint of betrayal in her eyes. But it was important that she associate inside the house with danger, even though I wanted her to like our backyard.

In reality, a fox’s territory can be quite wide ranging. I don’t know where her den is, although I suspect that it’s several houses away on the left. She spends her time in the three gardens on either side of ours – one to the right and two to the left. Our immediate neighbours both have nothing at all in their backyards, just wide grassy slices of land. The third yard, two over on the left is more cluttered, with a sun drenched shed at the back and curving garden beds where I’ve photographed many foxes dozing away.

Last year Legs was often in the company of another fox, who we named “Foxy Lady”. They were also joined by “Steve”, who was a little larger. Our talent for naming was proved to be fairly flawed, as Steve later turned up with her lactating nipples on show, and Foxy Lady had to be renamed to Foxy Lad instead.

Steve’s den might have been about 10 houses away from ours, as I heard that there were cubs there, but we never saw them. I was quite sad that Legs wasn’t a breeding fox – they have a strict heirachy about who is the dominant vixen in the fox community. I don’t know if Legs was a loner, or if she carried the food she found back to a den of someone else’s cubs.

2012-04-20 _ 09-46-55Legs was playful and sociable though. I have videos of her and Foxy Lad darting about and rolling over on each other in the yard next to ours for nearly half an hour, then racing across ours, and out of sight over a few more fences.

It was after over a year of seeing and photographing our current foxes that I gave Legs some food. Sometimes she rejects what gets left for her, and so gets nothing. Other times she eventually relents and decides that she’ll eat it after all. I don’t see her every day, and in fact while I was in Australia for three months no-one saw her at all so I was delighted when I got back and there she was.

One day I know she won’t be there at all, and I probably won’t know if she’s migrated to a new area or met a sticky end on the road. I’m not sure if it’s better not to know or not.

Three years ago I’d been watching and photographing a breeding pair of foxes (I wasn’t sure if they were breeding or not, but they’d been having foxy sex in the wee hours of the morning very noisily outside our window for many nights a few months before!), and they were both killed on our main road when they were hit while chasing each other over the road. They were lying there for a few hours until the council came and took them away, and I went and had a look – sadly identifying them as “my” foxes.

The very next day at twilight I caught sight of three very small cubs in the same yard they used to play. I also saw two juvenile foxes with them. I looked in vain for months to catch sight of them again, but never saw all three cubs as the same time. I was worried whether they could survive without their parents, but knew there was nothing I could do to help anyway. I hoped that there was a good fox family group already in place for these cubs.

I’ll never know if Legs, Foxy Lad or Steve were any of those young cubs or juveniles – or part of their family group, but I like to imagine that they were. Either way, I hope that I see the next cycle of foxes in our garden if Legs ever becomes a mother. And if she does, I might find myself feeding them too, despite knowing better.

[More photos of Legs can be found here.]

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