Tuesday 24 February 2015

Tracking the Fox

Photo Credit: Becky Thomas
It had been a mild winter – no sledging and snowmen before Christmas as we had in 2010 and 11 – but at the end of January came what the media called “the Beast from the East”. Cold air swept in from the Continent, chivvying flocks of redwings before it, and hail pelted down in a furious, but mercifully brief burst on the 29th. Then on Saturday 31st, I awoke to find the landscape covered in a velvety coating of snow. It wasn’t yet 7.00 in the morning, so the scene looked calm and peaceful in the lamplight; there was only one set of tyre tracks in the road out front. I thought I’d go for a walk in the first snow of the year and enjoy the frozen serenity of Maiden Erlegh Nature Reserve before anyone else was up.

Wrapped up in hat, scarf and gloves I set out, my Wellingtons pressing on the virgin snow. Only it wasn’t virgin – someone, or something, had been here before. There was a set of paw prints stretching down the pavement towards the lake. Instinctively I followed them, wondering what they were: cat? (wrong shape); dog? (too big) – surely fox! They crossed the road and proscribed a circle on a neighbour’s lawn, then on to the grass in Lakeside and along the path. Approaching the gate I saw them divert across the sward and out onto the road. One set of tracks led out to the houses in Lakeside, and another came back. I followed them along the path to the weir and the foot of the lake. They diverged: one into the woods, and the other on to the fishing platform. They were definitely fox tracks, dainty, forward facing and – vitally – unaccompanied. Prints were to be found on the path leading to the playground, and though I lost sight of them in Laurel park and around the pavilion, I found them again passing the Interpretation Centre and onto Instow Road. This was too easy, the fox was following one of the routes I take of an evening! The trail went cold in the meadow – disappointingly, as that is where a den can usually be found in the summer – but was picked up again as I rounded the sediment pond at the Beech Lane end. The tracks crossed the road and along the footpath for a while, before cutting through a gap and up Allendale Road.

"Caminozorro" by Erfil - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Caminozorro.JPG#mediaviewer/File:Caminozorro.JPG
One, or possibly two foxes between them had taken the same circuit as I often do, before daybreak prompted them to seek cover. But then I’ve also seen them on summer evenings in the past, openly trotting along the paths a dusk. But now, when sightings of foxes are rare (compared with a couple of years ago), these tracks came as a pleasing reassurance of their continuing presence.

Edwin A.R. Trout

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