Fantastic Mr Fox | UK Wildlife

Reports of early spring sightings throughout the country have been coming in for weeks now… not surprising since it’s been the warmest winter since records began. In the Museum’s garden those early signs have included wild daffodils (Narcissus pseudonarcissus) that flowered on 3 February – nearly a month earlier than the previous 3 years; and another early plant record – our first primrose (Primula vulgaris) flowered before mid-winter’s day, again nearly a month earlier than last year but more about primroses in the next blog.

Photo of a fox crouching on the paving in front of a greenhouse in the garden
The fantastic Mr Fox in the wildlife garden

No records for our amphibians yet as the cold spell these last few weeks seem to have deterred early movements from breeding frogs and toads – usually in our pond in mid-March. 

We are also waiting patiently for signs of fox cubs, first spotted last year by Daniel Osborne at the end of March. On most days we catch sight of the adults that have made the wildlife garden their home and hope to share some sightings with you on video. In the meantime, Daniel, who followed their movements closely last year gives an account of his observations…

Over the course of a year in the wildlife garden I have had a privileged insight into the lives of a family of red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) whose den, or earth, is situated in the area of woodland outside our shed/office.

The activity of the foxes in the garden is often betrayed by the litter that can be found strewn around after nights of successful rummaging; I can, with confidence, say that red foxes are quite broad-minded when it comes to diet and will consume Waitrose coleslaw and Burger King chips with equal relish.

Foxes have been recorded regularly here since 1997, two years after the garden opened. Having worked at the Museum for 5 years, mainly in public facing roles, I have seen foxes in the garden from time to time. But this year was a bit different.

Photo of a young fox facing to the right but with head turned and looking straight at the camera
One of the foxes spots me photographing it while rummaging in the leaf litter – this (and the others in this blog) was taken through the lens of a pair of binoculars, so has come out a little grainy

One of the major tasks in the garden is picking up leaves from the London plane trees that fall during the autumn. The leaves are thick and leathery and, if left, would smother the habitats. One evening when I was picking up leaves two pairs of eyes emerged from the darkness. In the lights from the street, two foxes were revealed. They followed me around cautiously for about ten minutes, occasionally braving a closer approach, before eventually they were satisfied and wandered off.

Through brief sightings I was eventually able to tell the two apart. The male (dog) had a white tip to his tail and a broader head. The female (vixen) had a sleeker face with very little white on the tail. I experimented putting my phone camera up to a binocular lens to see if I could get a telephoto zoom. It worked reasonably well and I was able to take pictures of the foxes (including all those in this post) without disturbing them too much.

Photo of the fox seated on a rock ledge beside the pond with eyes half shut
The very content-looking male fox sunning himself beside the pond in the garden

During the spring the male fox began to appear more frequently during the day. He would often sunbathe pond-side photogenically, or strut along the paths as if no-one was around. He was the star of the show. The wildlife garden staff and volunteers got quite attached to him. It was really a privilege to be so close to such a beautiful animal. He paid us virtually no mind and became almost tame. It later transpired that he’d been quite busy over the winter and was probably exhausted.

Photo of the cub sitting side ways on, with head turned looking at the photographer
One of the fox cubs sitting beside the log pile in the Museum’s wildlife garden

Fox cubs are usually born in January or February, during which time the vixen will stay in the earth using her body to keep the cubs warm and suckling them. She is reliant on the male to bring food.

The cubs come out of the earth at a few weeks old- and there they were outside my window late one afternoon! Grey little fluff-balls trying to climb up on a log pile and falling over. There were definitely at least three, maybe more, but it was so dark under the trees that I couldn’t see clearly.

They grew up so quickly, and are now seen occasionally darting around the garden. They are elusive and hard to photograph, but I’ve been lucky a couple of times.

Photo of woodland with a fox cub barely visible in the centre of the photograph, obscured by leaves and branches from the plants
Spot the fox! The cub is (just about) visible in the middle of the photograph, among the the brambles and other plants

The male, sadly, has not been seen for some time. Whatever happened to him, it’s nice to think about him strutting around the garden, and it’s nice to know his children are about too.

Side on photo of the male fox lying on the ground, with head slightly turned and ears pricked
My final photo of 2015 of the fantastic Mr Fox

Thank you Daniel!

We look forward to sharing spring-time in the wildlife garden with all our visitors when the garden re-opens at Easter. Visits are welcome by arrangement until then – just ask at an information desk inside the Museum or via email.


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