That Time of Year

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.

fox bl 4 jan 19

And when they’re not thinking about food, they’re concentrating on each other!

foxes courting 17 jan 2019

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.

foxes and sheep bl 17 jan 2018

The sheep seem to care little about fox territories.

foxes courting2 17 jan 2019

But the grass knows – foxes have scent glands on the edges of their mouths, transmitting information that other vulpines will note.

foxes courting3 17 jan 2019

Hopefully this pair will produces cubs. We’ll find out in the spring.

Romania: Viscri – Changing Paces

June – August 2016

Something is different; the price to enter the latest fortified church, for starters. Viscri is still very ‘out there’ for a British traveller, but there is a change of tone after three weeks in the remote lanes of Richis and Mesendorf. Viscri has tourists, German mostly, come to celebrate the land of their ancestors, or buy traditional Viscri socks, or pull up on the roadside and ask me directions to Prince Charles’ house.

Yes, he keeps a property here. Somewhere. I am never quite sure which one it is, but the church itself is grand and timeless.

Viscri church

Tourism has not ruined Viscri by any standards, but it has some subtle impact. My routine post-survey survival kit of chocolate and melon-favoured icecream is more expensive here. More seriously, the local farms are sliding towards modernisation, which is already showing signs of throttling Viscri’s biodiversity. I’m expecting to find far less on the transects than in the first three villages.

First, though, I need to explore the village itself. Here puppies greet horses.

The Watching Puppy

And tourists or no, milk is still gathered in the traditional way.

Milk run

Every evening the cows bring themselves home, right home, each turning into her own gate. Swallows swoop over the water provided for livestock right in the centre of town.

Viscri drinking trough

Home for the week is a room, not a tent. I’m staying in one of the many guesthouses, a short walk from the heart of all things: Gerda’s lovely farm. A small army of ducks, geese and guinea fowl wander noisily out of her gate every morning, and back again every night.

Morning at Gerda's

Guarding them is the smallest of watchdogs, and he seems far more interested in playing with the nets used by the butterfly survey team.

Blackie and the butterfly nets

As for wild mammals – one is very close at hand. Livestock and puppy are joined in this farmyard by a wild hedgehog!

Hedgehog

It is a very peaceful hoggie, but causes a taxonomic debate. Officially, there are only eastern hedgehogs¬†Erinaceus concolor here, but this individual, and all others that we’ve glimpsed, are clearly the western species¬†Erinaceus europaeus. The mammal information book has erred.

It remains to be seen what surprises Viscri’s transects will bring.