Sunday, 19 May 2019

More foxes

I had expected this week to see the cubs move from suckling to solid food however this did not occur. This suggests the cubs are a bit younger than I assumed or that the parents do not think they are ready yet.

Over the last 7 days both parents have attended the den more frequency compared 36 to 14 in the previous. Likewise the Dog fox, half-tail, visited the den more. In the first clip you can see some interaction between the cubs, the vixen and the dog fox. Its obvious that the vixen promotes excitement as she carries the milk for them to suckle however the cubs seem just as excited to see their father and will race around him.

Sadly it seems that we have gone from 4 cubs to 3. I am unsure what has occurred, it could be that there are still 4 but only 3 are ever seen together but I would expect all cubs to be present for suckling.

Play behaviour has increased with cubs using litter around them to play with. The cubs show different types of play. One their own they will pounce, chew and toss rubbish whilst when they have companions they will wrestle and chase, pouncing upon one another and exhibiting the typical wide gap display of dominance.

The last clip from this week is of the Vixen resting with her cubs. The suckling seems to be taking its toll on her and she is starting to look tired and thin. She obviously has to hunt well to produce the milk but will soon need to start bringing in prey for the youngest and wean them. This clip shows a rare moment of tranquility where after feeding the cubs she takes some time to stay with them and rest herself.

Sunday, 12 May 2019

The new family on the block

Last year I knew we had a breeding pair of foxes, I regularly saw a cub passing to and fro the main camera. This year I have stumbled across a den with 4 cubs. We both surprised each other last week. I was coming round some undergrowth and the cubs were out playing. They are not particularly shy of me, in fact they show a cautious curiosity of me and let me take a few shots of them

The cub featured above still has blue eyes, these change to yellow after about 4-5 weeks. I watched them for awhile and moved one of my cameras to watch them unobtrusively. Having checked the camera yesterday I now have a wealth of information.

I can now tell that the vixen of the family is Full-tail. One of the foxes in the area with a, you guessed it, full tail. The dog fox is half tail and only visits the den occasionally. The video below shows the vixen suckling the young. Suckling generally up to week 4 and visits the den infrequently allowing the cubs to roam about themselves.

Much of their time as cubs is spent playing and learning. There is an old bottle in view which was potentially brought in as a toy. The cubs also like practicing pouncing and one uses a stone for target practice. There is of course many games of chase and tussle.

This play behaviour mimics the hunting skills they will need in adulthood.

The last video clip is a nice shot when the vixen remained for awhile and snuggled up with the cubs.

Whilst a maximum of 4 cubs have been recorded it is clear that whilst there is no runt of this litter they do lead independent lives. 2-3 are often seen but more often just 1. This one might be more adventurous, venturing out when the others stay in the den or more cautious and is staying at the den when the others leave the area exploring.

The eyes in the first picture, seemed off to me and I think its to do with the pupil perhaps not pointing in the right direction, something to watch.

Interestingly prior to me moving the camera I have seen both Half tail and a full tail heading to a second location where a tiny still black cub was seen. I therefore suspect a second den which is fairly close by with a second vixen and perhaps the same dog fox. More observations are needed.

Estimating their age at about 4 weeks puts their birth at around the 13th April which is late in the foxes breeding cycle. Based on this I can expect the parents to start bringing in solid food this week, them to exhibit more dimorphism and darker red fur in 2 weeks time and in about a month a full adult coat. I hope they remain in sight of the camera for this time, I would really like to see what they are fed on, as in this area there is a distinct lack of rabbit but lots of small rodents.

Monday, 6 May 2019

The subtle ways of wildlife watching

I have to declare here and now that I am not a patient wildlife watcher. I find it hard to sit in one place and wait for the animal in question to appear I always become distracted by the other wildlife around me and before long I am off hunting that down rather than the intended species.

I am the kind of watcher who likes to go out and see what nature surprises me with, but even so there are a number of skills any guide book will tell you. Wear clothes that are comfortable and breakup your outline, approach from downwind and walk quietly. Try to arrive before the species and pick a good safe spot to watch from.

For me though there are some other points I would suggest. For these you are required to become part of your habitat. Understand where you are and take a few moments in silence to settle into the habitat, soak in the sounds. Sound is one of the most underrated sense in watching. I often hear an animal before I see it. Animals and birds all move with an element of regularity something that the wind doesn't. Natural features like wind are chaotic and without pattern animals are less chaotic they have a set or parameters and drives that mean that their signs are regular.

I remember learning in my Landscape Ecology lectures about energy flows in nature and in man made landscapes. Humans use energy to force elements in to unnatural patterns, take for example a fence or wall, these are straight linear features which do not occur in nature. Nature abhors pattern and thrives in chaos. You can use this to you advantage, animals like us follow established paths and have regular effects on their surroundings. Sitting quietly you can easily distinguish between a deer trotting through the undergrowth and the wind doing the same.

Still on sound do not forget to listen to the birds. They are excellent watchers and Blackbirds and Great Tits will see you from a mile off and have communicated that to the birds around them. Listen for this, changes in their calls will differentiate between foxes and sparrowhawks. I have used Great Tits many times to track down a top predator, Magpies are especially good for tracking down roosting Buzzards.

Animal especially British Animals are masters of camouflage and so I suggest that what you should look for is what they are looking for from you, the general shape. This is why it is best to crouch or sit low with your back to a fence, tree or wall, it breaks up your shape. Look instead for movement even the tiniest of movements.

Once you have found your species the deepest urge is to look at it. Animals, especially prey species find this very unsettling. In this case it is best not to suddenly twist your head and fix it with your gaze but instead to slowly turn, allow the animal to get used to you not being a threat. Do not make eye contact, this will often make the animal head for cover at a rate of knots. |Reduce all movements to slow gentle ones, avoid sudden movements.

These obvious tips have helped me get close to many different animals and be able to sit calmly in their presence. It all takes practice and I am nowhere near a master.

Sunday, 28 April 2019

Muntjac and Roe Deer multiplying

In the last few weeks I have been far too engrossed in my thesis to a) get out much and b) post to this blog, however the end is now in sight.
In this same time period I have moved my unsuccessful Otter cam to a series of other locations. I have had it at an undisclosed Badger Sett where I was lucky to record 3 cubs and more recently I have had the camera placed over an open piece of grassland and have been treated to some nice deer shots.

Muntjac have been a common sight on my patch for years and I have been lucky enough to see both young and adults. This week however I believe the clip shows a pregnant female judging by the extended belly.

Muntjac are able to breed all year round but this is definitely the season as a possibly pregnant Roe Deer was seen. This is exciting as Roe deer are recent residents to the site and the fact that they are breeding means that they are comfortable enough on the site.

A rather handsome buck has been seen as well which is good.

Sunday, 24 March 2019

The Grey Heron

This weeks post is a photo story about the Grey Heron. Heron are a common sight around Warwick. A sizeable Heronry exists in the town and so at this time of year Adults can be found all over the local waterways looking for food.

On Saturday a chance encounter led to a intimate connection with one of these prehistoric birds. A series of small brooks join the Avon, one of which runs near the canal aquaduct. This brook was gushing with water, swelled by overfill from the canal and in it I stumbled upon the Heron.

It was stood leg deep in the water, pacing along its edge. Normally Herons are very flighty. On my own patch they rarely allow you to get close than 15-20 metres but this individual was remarkably unconcerned. Looping around so as not to disturb it I paused on the bridge and unslung my camera.

The heron was well aware of my presence. They have amazing eyes. They are place on the sides of the head allowing for good all round vision but are able to twiddle them forward to give great binocular vision for the all important hunt.

Aside from myself several others came past and stopped to watch, each passer by elicited little more than a glance unless of course they had a dog, where the heron would become more agitated. It would gape its beak and extort a harsh croak.

After a short while, tired of fishing it flapped up onto a branch and proceeded begin a grooming cycle. This further reinforced how comfortable the bird was now barely 5 metres from me. It gave me a chance to watch as it bent its neck around to check the chest plumage and rearrange the feathers under the wing. It occasionally supplemented this with a scratch from one of the legs.

Such a comfortable close up gave me a chance to really explore the animal and focus on the eye and beak. The beak is a solid thing and you can see how its dagger shape is well suited to catching slippery and wriggling fish as well as hopping amphibians and scampering voles. As I mentioned before, the eyes are a sight to behold. There is something primitive and almost dinosaur like in their gaze. When you stare into the eyes of a heron you really can believe they evolved directly from the small theropod dinosaurs.

Sunday, 3 March 2019

Woodcock Camouflage

I have been so busy working on my Masters project that I have had little time to post on this blog.
I have continued to record sightings and collect camera trap data and so I am going to present today a few clips looking at Woodcock.

The Woodcock Scolopax rusticola is an infrequent winter visitor to my sight. It s mostly nocturnal and so gets picked up on my cameras. In 2018 it was seen on 8 occasions between January and March and this year over four days in January and February.

The Woodcock has a sensitive probing beak it uses to sniff out invertebrates, you can see this in a clip I took this week.

The last clip I want to show is also from this week and shows the woodcock in daylight. Note how the brown and black striping make the bird very cryptic and hard to see once it stops moving against the backdrop of the leaves.

Sunday, 20 January 2019

Molehills and Miscellany

The last few weeks since my flurry of Otter sightings have been the humdrum week to week norm. Unusually mild few new species have been recorded on my patch and the activity at my camera trap has been low.

Small flocks of Siskin have started to appear and Goldcrests have been more prevalent as have the Kingfishers. I was lucky enough to spot one this morning on the backwater fishing. It was the distinctive plop sound of a failed dive that caught my attention first. I was able to track him to the far bank and watch him for a few minutes before a pair of squabbling Little Grebe startled us both.

I am always astounded by the vibrant blues on the head and wings.

On a funny note I discovered another use for my trail cam. When I collected the card this morning I noticed a fresh molehill in the field of view. By running through the images I was able to identify when it appeared and was able to ascertain that the mole pushed up the spoil between 12:05pm and 4:06pm on Sat 19th Jan. The movement itself was obviously too slow to trigger the camera itself but it certainly adds incentive to my photo a mole project, more of which in a future post.