My original blog on the much-missed Opera Community was called ‘The Sitting Fox’ in honour of a vulpine cliché: when watching something that they’re not sure about, they sit down.
But outright relaxation is not unknown. This vixen from the Across the Road Group dozed peacefully in the garden last week while her mate and a low-ranking male raged in mock battle – biting the hedgerow, half-chasing, talking with their tails like cats.
It didn’t turn violent. The younger male even turned his back on his rival between their squabbles.
The vixen hardly batted an eye. We’re coming towards the end of the breeding season, and she is almost certainly pregnant by now. Her mate is the Dun Male, here on the right. Apologies for the quality of this picture; it’s a still off the movie camera.
The Across the Road Group. Of all the fox groups in my village, they’re the ones whom I know the best. Six years of drama, and no sign of slowing. So many unforgettable characters have lived in this group: the original Vixen from Across the Road, who raised her cubs despite losing half her territory to builders; the White Socks Vixen, tiny, nervous and unquenchable; the Cavalier Cub, White Socks’ son, whose domineering, bombastic personality disrupted the fox territory network in multiple streets.
Let’s hope these two have some cubs and we can see what chapter comes next.
White Socks Vixen – 2017
Cold: the frost is as thick as grease. Windows feathered into impossible patterns. Soil like iron. As the winter stars slide into the west, a red eye blinks.
The Earth is unique in the solar system for having such a moon of such proportions. Others are bigger, like Jupiter’s Ganymede, but their parent planet dwarfs them. Not our moon, which is about a quarter the diameter of the Earth. Cold, airless and silent, it circles us, amazing us, and just occasionally falling into Earth’s shadow. We had a full lunar eclipse last night, and it was well worth a very early vigil with the camera.
Luna chased the stars into the west, and left us; daylight began with frozen fog. By afternoon, it had burned through, and roe deer were wandering.
This is the only deer species that is frequently encountered in my part of England, and much less social than its bigger relatives.
I saw the male fox from the ‘courting couple’ of the sheep pasture, but he was in a rush and there was little chance for a photo. Slightly more of a view yesterday, when he trotted through the mist.
I haven’t seen the vixen, but no doubt she’s around.
I wonder if they saw Luna last night.
January has two meanings for foxes: the breeding season, and voles. Subzero days coax field voles into daylight foraging, and their predators hurriedly follow suit. Happily for the fox-watcher, they are highly visible while questing for lunch.
And when they’re not thinking about food, they’re concentrating on each other!
Foxes have a complicated social life. Groups consist of a breeding pair, their cubs, and sometimes offspring from previous years. They do not hunt together like wolves, but protect a common boundary. But between – and sometimes within – these territorial homelands are a significant number of free-ranging, nomadic foxes, including dispersers searching for a vacant home.
Moreover, many large males trespass freely during the breeding season, sometimes triggering fights. We’ve had an interesting situation here this winter with an exceptionally high number of big roaming males, most of whom I don’t recognise. Doubtless they’ll disappear again before the spring.
Meanwhile, the courting pairs stay close, more or less ignoring their neighbours in the pasture.
The sheep seem to care little about fox territories.
But the grass knows – foxes have scent glands on the edges of their mouths, transmitting information that other vulpines will note.
Hopefully this pair will produces cubs. We’ll find out in the spring.
Could we ever spend a hour looking through the eyes of a coyote? I think it would overwhelm us. We see the wild in passing, usually from a car these days. The coyote hears it, smells it, lives it. The stories that they could tell!
It’s the last evening in the park for me. And I could ask for nothing more: a family of coyotes in the fescue prairie west of Riding Mountain, resting and watching, as coyotes do.
And wandering a little.
Coyotes are omnivorous, just like foxes and bears. Berries are on the menu tonight!
Four coyotes? Perhaps more. Certainly three adults and a pup.
They’re waiting for winter. I’m waiting to travel again. Hard to believe, just eight days and so much wildness. Now we’re bound for Toronto and the long journey home.
I had some concerns about returning here after my long absence, afraid that the old essence had become diluted by relentless over-development and over-tourism. And there are problems, it is true; not on the scale of what Jasper and Banff are enduring, but even the prairie hasn’t escaped commercialism. I was especially concerned at the new road being built in East Block of Grasslands, a highly questionable action that seems to have gone unnoticed by Canadian NGOs. And Canada’s federal and provincial biodiversity protection laws could be tightened up. That is not news. Nor is the bubbling friction between people and large wildlife in some rural districts.
But there is still so much life in the Great Lone Land. Taste of the air or the glow of a lynx’s eyes? Hear it in the coyote’s song and the catch the shadow of an owl on a forgotten farmstead. It is something, intangible and free. Coyote, bears, moose, prairie dogs – they’re still here.
Long may they remain so.
It just goes on, forever.
Crossed by wary wild things.
And some smaller but bolder. This bundle of frenetic energy is a mink, a small, water-loving member of the weasel family.
It is so intent on its quest that it almost ignores me.
Spruce grouse keep watch on their own stretch of highway.
If there are any bats in the batbox, they are certainly asleep.
And the road – it just continues, rolling out of the park gate and into the rural provinces beyond.
You can never really know a path like this. As soon as you reach one end, the beginning has reinvented itself with the seasons and you have to start all over again.
Constant travelling. Constant learning. Life on the Canadian roads.
In cities, humans often try to kill Night. But in the wild, there are no lampposts or floodlit landmarks. Just the sky, painting the land as it will.
There are animals in these forests that seldom appear except in starlight. I have ambitions to find them – but in the meantime, the impossible colours steal the show.
And there is a king in waiting amongst the trees. This moose is a lot younger than the giant who showed up yesterday.
When night does fall, lights glow in the grass.
A lynx! Ghost cat of the forest. Even before we drew close, I recognised it – nothing else on earth produces such brilliant eyeshine. Eighteen years ago, I saw another Canadian lynx in the car headlights in British Columbia, and you never forget that glow.
This one is resting on the forest edge. I take a short movie – the photo is a still from it – and leave him be.
Days are not complete without Night. And no forest is complete without its cats.
September 2018 – Canada is riddled with water. Rivers, waterfalls, mountain lakes – frequent material for tourist advertisements, yet quiet corners remain where wild creatures swim.
Beaver: ecosystem engineer. They’re a hot topic in the UK at the moment because the reintroduction of the closely-related European species has shown a lot of promise, not only for biodiversity but also in reducing flooding of towns. Beavers change the environment, more than any wild animal except perhaps elephants. They slow rivers, create pools, fell trees – creating microhabitats, in other words, which other species eagerly use.
And the beaver’s fans don’t get much bigger than moose! These fabulous ungulates often browse in the marshy habitat created by beavers.
This one is clearly ready for the rut. A moose’s antlers can weigh close to 80lb, one of the heaviest crowns in the animal kingdom.
The weather’s still turning.
But a woodchuck is still awake. Hibernation hasn’t called him to a winter burrow yet.
There are days that you remember for the smallest possible reasons. I honestly thought it was a beetle, scootling across a forest road, but, no. It’s a mammal. The smallest mammal that I’ve ever seen in my entire life.
It’s about the size of a £2 coin. Definitely a shrew, possibly an American pygmy shrew Sorex hoyi, the second smallest mammal on Earth. There are hummingbirds that would dwarf this bundle of whiskers and fur. Uncaring of the two-legged giants and their cameras, it predates invertebrates amongst pebbles that must seem like monoliths.
It’s easy to see a forest in only the big pieces – clouds, trees, lakes. But this wonderland at the autumn-winter boundary continues to enchant with surprises.
I used to watch belted kingfishers when I lived on Vancouver Island. This one cuts a fine figure against Manitoba trees sprinkled with white.
And it is still full of seasonal boundary lines out there.
Afternoon brings something of a thaw. And with it, a welcome face.
Not a particularly large bear, but I wouldn’t even like to guess how many shrews would equal the weight of just his head.