A Strange High Summer Fox Encounter

It’s a sad truth that the older you get, the faster the days fly by. Life seems to be logarithmical. The slow, impatient pace which frustrated your youth becomes the steady progress of mid-life. Before you realise it you’re trying to snatch the essence of every day in later life. You regret the indolent teenage waste of waking at noon with a hangover. You rue the middle years spent in pursuit of filthy lucre and social substance. With that achieved (and dismantled and achieved again … for many of us) every day becomes a little more precious. Yet perhaps too, a little more cavalier. A little more adventurous. The speed at which the year turns around was brought home to me today, walking amongst the lush woods and near-ripe barley.

It was a ‘little-gun’ day again (as it often is in high summer). The legal limit air rifle lends itself well to a landscape which reveals little and therefore makes speculative high-power shooting risky. With harvest yet to roll out, the crops are at their highest and hide a multitude of sinners. Not only the crops, I should add. Game cover and nettles form an impenetrable barrier between crop and wood allowing free passage to the raiders. I loaded a couple of magazines with .22 dome-head diablos and checked my air gauge. A bit low, but enough for what I guessed would be a pretty barren morning. July and August are my most disliked shooting months for the reasons stated above. There is simply too much cover. The leaf canopy which gives welcome shelter from the summer shower makes it difficult to spot the browsing grey squirrel or the resting woodpigeon. Yet there are ways to use it to your advantage.

This morning I took a route along the tractor trails between the crops. The parched landscape was tipping the crops between success and drought so the irrigation pipes had been laid out. Strolling beside the barley I heard a familiar but unseasonal sound. A pleading, guttural wail. It was coming from within the standing crop. I could see the barley ears moving and knew the creature was coming towards me so I squatted quickly among the stalks on the opposite side of the track and readied my camera. A familiar looking young vixen emerged. A sickly, frail specimen. No bigger than a cocker spaniel. She passed, sniffing the ground and whining. As she drew alongside (not 15 feet from me) she heard the camera shutter, paused to look my way then sprinted back into the barley. I had little choice, with only an air rifle slung on my shoulder but to let her go once again. For this was the second time I’d seen this tiny female in a fortnight in broad daylight. What her quest is, I can only guess. Her call was that made by a prospecting female in mid-winter, meeting a nearby mate. Not the banshee scream of the beckoning vixen. Judging by her frail appearance I would venture a guess that she hasn’t mastered the art of hunting … and probably never will now. Yet she is still a threat to the wild game poults amongst the crops. One day, perhaps, we will meet when I have the right gun in my hands and I will be forced to make a choice between sympathy and duty.

A walk through the woods, simply to seek shade, allowed me the luxury of engaging in a bit of ‘forensic’ exploration. I love trying to read the woodland floor and understanding what bird or beast has passed through. I could see where a pair of roe deer had lain overnight and where a deer of some type had nibbled at a giant puffball. A topped-out woodies egg spoke of grey squirrel theft. Outside, in the barley, I watched a roe pass through leisurely. On my circuit, I checked out a couple of fox dens and found one to be active and another claimed by badgers.

High summer it might be, yet I had enjoyed a delightful walk around my permission without firing a shot. Just being ‘out there’ is the privilege. The birdsong and the buzz of a billion invertebrates. The scent of pine pollen and the colour of the myriad flora. Only one thing really marred my morning. I emerged from the 16 acre wood to look down across the Wensum River valley. The “Private. No public right of way” sign was so ironic. For this week, our County Council approved a plan to run a dual carriageway right through the view in front of me. The river valley will be protected under a huge viaduct but the work and the consequent blot on the landscape will have a huge detrimental impact on this beautiful estate. It could make a man weep. In fact … it already has.

Copyright Ian Barnett, Wildscribber, August 2019


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