Thursday Thoughts: Fox

Mersey with book

Rescued fox Mersey modelling my book courtesy of the Highland Fox Sanctuary

A fox has trotted past the George Orwell statue that guards the BBC’s Broadcasting House. Its image is on paper, and its soul is – I trust – glimpsed through my words. It’s October 2018, and The Hidden World of the Fox has brought to the wild to the city, and me to the media.

These foxes – nature’s orange thread woven through puddled streets that we presume to know – enchant us, puzzle us, and occasionally frighten us. I wrote Fox because their stories were worthy to be heard. I wanted to share my observations and unlock the science from the inaccessible journals where it often hides. And also, of course, to reflect on the occasional public concerns about a raw wild animal loose in a world designed for people, and promote the idea that we can find constructive ways to share space.

Three years on, and Fox is now sold across multiple continents and languages, a reminder of the species’ staggering natural range – and unshakable hold on our thoughts. Sometimes they stare at me, and I could fantasise that they know of their wider fame: Ylvis, Aesop, The Animals of Farthing Wood, modern takes on aurora myths, and so much more. But they are too busy bothering magpies, stealing dog toys and shrieking cold wrath at each other.

Foxes snow squabble 8 Feb 21

Foxes may ignore authors and scientists, but the feeling is not mutual. Research continues apace. A recent study from Spain concludes that foxes can help the beleaguered Eurasian wildcat by separating it from free-roaming domestic cats, with which it is prone to hybridise (although there will be many things that affect wildcat survival, and the study seems limited). Research in Germany examines social perception and tolerance of foxes, as did a paper that I co-authored in the UK. In the media, the likely connection between foxes and the so-called M25 Cat Killer continues to do the rounds in waves of misunderstanding.

They’re doing well enough in towns, expanding into previously scarcely-colonised British cities, but are probably in decline in the countryside. The rabbit collapse is likely to be part of that story, especially given that alternative food like voles, berries and invertebrates are under pressure from agriculture and other intensive land uses.

But there are still foxes on the edge of our world, writing something wild into our shadows.

Fox urban 18 Aug 20

Out and About

It’s a long while since I caught up with WordPress. In fairness, a unusual number of things have happened lately:

  • My book  Hidden World of the Fox was released in mid-October! 🙂 Lots of excitement and press interviews, and a great opportunity to discuss foxes with a wide audience. You can listen to one of my radio interviews here.

It’s selling well with lots of good feedback, which has been lovely.

Fox in snow

  •  I went outside the known universe in early November. That is, I went to Iceland, the raw, otherworldly, superheated slab of geology that sits atop the North Atlantic Ridge. I should probably write up the experience in normal fashion, but here are a couple of photos for starters.

Iceland3 Nov 19

Aurora3 Iceland Nov 19

  •  Iceland, while dramatic for the mind, is brutal to cameras. My 200-500mm Tamron zoom lens, my long-suffering workhorse of the last 13 years, died in quite spectacular fashion literally seconds before I saw a minke whale. So while I saw plenty of cetaceans, I have no photos. I did manage to take this starling singing on a Christmas wreath…with my iPhone!

IMG_0580

  • Back in the UK, suspecting that iPhones might be insufficient for my future mammal photography, I set about acquiring a new camera lens. I settled on the Sigma 150-600mm Contemporary 5 – 6.3, and while it weighs more than the Tamron, I am pleased with it so far. The extra reach makes all the difference when the foxes are on the far side of the meadows.

Fox1 BL 30 Nov 19

And although it’s not as fast as a Canon lens, it’s doing fine with nocturnal garden foxes too. I did consider a Canon prime, but having the flexibility of zoom is nearly essential with wild mammals because they are so mobile.

Big fox 29 Nov 19

Here’s in hope it won’t be another couple of months until my next post!

At the Crossroads

Fiveways sign 24 Sept 2017

That was late summer, early autumn, call it what you will.

Today the road is filled with leaves and there is a bite in the skies that makes everything feel that little bit more alive. That is nature’s paradox: it is more vivid and yet far more soothing than the world built of bricks and glass.

I’ve been indoors for much of the day, however, dealing with the final technical hurdles before getting my book on the ‘why and how’ of foxes uploaded onto Amazon. It’s now living here.

Fox book cover copy

Books are more than paper. You close them, but they do not leave you.  In a small way, a fox sighting can also be like that; it passes, but it has lodged itself in your mind.

One encounter that I will not forget gave me this photograph back in the summer. This vixen is known locally as ‘Pretty Face’, but whatever she calls herself, she is one of my favourite foxes. She is a non-breeding adult in the Horse Meadows Group – the family that call a large part of my parish their territory.

Fox Pretty Face2 26 May 2017

She had been playing, playing – auntie as she was that day to four cubs explosively alive in the evening sunshine. She washed them, she checked on them, she guarded them. I merely photographed them. Eight (yes, eight) foxes were in front of my camera; I will leave the total number of photos to your imagination.

There came a moment when she sat up, light painting gold highlights into her fur. She was watching me from perhaps 50 metres away. She had been aware of me for the past hour, but now, without a care in the world, she began trotting towards me.

At 15 metres she stopped, still studying me with quiet curiosity, standing at the crossroads of confidence and caution, before continuing her journey out of the field with relaxed aplomb.

Turn the page. The journey goes on.