I was reminded of the brilliance of Richard Adams's Watership Down over Christmas, the BBC adaptation collided with mixed reviews but we at The Warren loved it. Rabbits themselves are not so common in the wider countryside today, disease the main culprit. One particular arch enemy of the rabbit, the Fox or Homba, can be heard barking and generally making an otherworldly racket at this time of year, as the dog seeks out the vixen in the hope of mating and settling down into an earth. Although widespread, the country fox is rarely seen, and my encounter last Sunday the 20th was one to remember.
I had checked the water levels at Rockland Broad around 7.30am, and was in the process of retreating through the frozen scrub back to the main path when a bark stopped me in my tracks. Leaf litter and twigs snapped, a path was being ploughed in my direction. I took a step back, and a fox shot out in front of me. Panicked, he sprinted deeper into the brush and the last I heard for now was the breaking of ice in the dyke as the fox made his escape. Breathless, I stood and listened as another individual thought better of crossing the same path and I could see her trotting away through the undergrowth. Then, that familiar musty smell hits home. Silence again. A Bullfinch calls, but no response. The bird community are not convinced it is safe to advertise its presence just yet.
I walked on following the track round the back of the broad, short dyke on my left. This time, the noise comes from the reedbed, and I readied my camera expecting to see an unsuspecting Chinese Water Deer shoot out. But whatever ritual I had disturbed earlier, the pair of foxes were not done yet. The followed each other out of the reeds, eyeballing me. The male made his way toward me, dashing off at the last second, almost like a game of chicken. The female continued to stare me down before retreating into the safety of the reedbed. These two had no cares about being safe though. This was their icy domain, and I was on their patch this morning. Further barking ensued, and finally the encounter came to an end. A Chinese Water Deer pops out, to see what the fuss was all about.
Looking back, there was a strong sense that this pair of foxes were toying with me. They were supremely confident, criss-crossing my path. After the first meeting, they knew full well I was still in the area. Either, this was a pair mid-mating, or it was last year's young looking to hold territory with one of its parents. The latter is not an option that can be pursued for long, and I may have just seen the end of that showdown. This chance find has been on my mind a lot since last weekend. I haven't returned to the site yet, expecting to be disappointed if I do.