The timing of dawn means that I now get out to the forest almost bang on first light and I relish these early spring mornings for the wildlife watching opportunities that they deliver. It is, in my mind, the best time of the day and, quite possibly, the best time of the year.
There is still a chill in the air as I head out. Sometimes a slight frost will crisp the vegetation but on other mornings the air will be heavy with moisture, the vegetation dripping and the dogs soon soaked. Two Roe Deer that have been hanging around this block of forest are present again this morning, cautiously watchful but tolerant of my regular presence. Less often these days I catch a glimpse of a group of Red Deer and rarer still is the sighting of one or more Fallow Deer. Interestingly, the numbers of Muntjac are much reduced and instead of seeing several each day I now only see perhaps one a week.
This morning it is the nonchalant ease of a fox that catches my attention. The fox is sitting some 70 metres or so ahead of me, just on the edge of the forest track, its upright posture alert but seemingly unconcerned. I halt and call the dogs to heel and for a few moments we watch each other. The sun is high enough and strong enough to cast long shadows, one of which cuts across the fox so that it appears two-tone, warm red across the head and shoulder and deep brown below. The fox relaxes, has a good scratch and then turns, trotting away into the undergrowth. It is a magical but all too brief moment and the best view I have had of a fox here for many months. We continue with our walk and pass the spot where the fox had been sat. As is the case most mornings there is the scent of fox on the air, something that the dogs invariably notice and they scout about before being called onwards.
Fox populations have struggled in a rural county like ours because of their reputation as vermin – unwelcome predators of game and domestic poultry. Such persecution has made them shy and, excepting the brazen individuals that make a living in urban Norwich, they are easily overlooked. As one of our larger mammals they should have a special place in our countryside, affording the opportunity for a wonderful encounter and providing children and adults alike with a special moment interacting with nature. We used to have foxes visit our garden when I was a child and I can still recall the sense of wonder that seeing such a creature had on me.