September 2017: Nature Watch
RETURNING from a holiday in the Tyrol just before my September deadline, I was soon missing the snow-capped mountains and the noble ibex silhouetted against the blue alpine sky (well, just some blue sky would have been nice).
RETURNING from a holiday in the Tyrol just before my September deadline, I was soon missing the snow-capped mountains and the noble ibex silhouetted against the blue alpine sky (well, just some blue sky would have been nice). So I began to wonder, what would a visitor from the Alps be most keen to see in Bristol, in the wildlife line. The answer soon leaps to mind: it would be our foxes, cheeky, bold and beautiful. Foxes have colonised many cities around the world but the Bristol fox is world famous (well, it is in vulpine circles) and their habits and adaptations to city life have been studied for many years.
Dusk is the best time to look. It used to be called “the hour ’twixt dog and wolf” - the dogs are called in and the wolves wait until dark. Perhaps that is why foxes love this hour, an instinctive memory of the brief interregnum. On my way home one evening the easy flick of a white-tipped tail caught my eye, a fox was jumping down from a skip. Round the corner another fox was simply sitting in the middle of the road having a scratch, but he skedaddled. At this point the birder’s “pish” comes in handy: you make a kissy noise by sucking through pursed lips. Every now and again this peculiar noise will tempt a shy bird out of deep cover to take a look: it often works with foxes. The disappearing fox stopped to gaze at me, puzzled by the sound, whilst I watched his expressive face.
Foxes in Bristol are now so cocky that they saunter about in broad daylight. Zorro is the Spanish word for fox – the famous character is cunning and fox-like and sports with the authorities, always evading them, often humiliating them. To a fox, our dogs represent “the authorities”. Walking your dog at dusk you turn a corner and spot a fox, some way ahead. The fox lopes along the road, pausing to look over her shoulder in an offhand manner. Seeing your dog the fox sits down (the dog suddenly notices the intruder and leaps into action, hauling you along with him). The fox sighs heavily, yawns perhaps, (the dog becomes more enraged and strains to break his lead- he longs to show you what he’s made of). Slowly the fox gets to her feet, has a bit of a stretch (impotent fury from dog, who may let loose a volley of barking at this point) and then she casually strolls into a nearby garden. You know what your desperate dog does not – that if you were to let him off the lead the cunning little vixen would vanish as assuredly as Zorro, without a trace. Yes, a visitor from the Tyrol would enjoy a close encounter with an urban fox!
Photo by Airwolfhound, British Wildlife Centre.