Nature notes – Foxes: A moment of surrender

A red fox (Vulpes vuples) in a frosty field in the Beddington Farmlands nature reserve in Sutton, London.11 February 2021 – Beddington Farmlands, London

It’s a good morning for watching foxes in Beddington Farmlands: frost-white grass, still air, limp wintry sunrise. I try to control my chances of a close encounter by treading with care, but the crunch and crack of ice underfoot announces my arrival. I pause, worried I must have startled everything within earshot, but the brambles hum with life. A wandering choir of greenfinches and goldfinches set the air shivering with trills and bubbling chirps, and a dozen wood pigeon clatter and wheeze overhead.

I continue towards a line of bare trees, trying again to avoid breaking the morning’s noisy silence. Then I see them: a pair of foxes, matched hue for hue with a patch of dead bracken. I drop to my knees behind a bramble bush, and watch. The smaller of the two foxes stands alert, sniffing the air. Its companion lies still, sedate and unconcerned. I breathe quietly, but my breath plumes white above the dark thorns; perhaps it is this that alerts the watchful fox to me, as it glances at me and dissolves into the dun bracken. The second fox – a vixen, I think, but who can ever really say for sure? – sits up. I expect her to disappear too, but she sits quite still and stares at me.

I try to match the fox’s stillness, and find myself surrendering to this moment of mutual curiosity. Life goes on about us: a green woodpecker chuckles from the treeline, dunnocks sing their short bright verses, my breath hangs still in the freezing air. I wait for the vixen to break our contact so that I can continue my walk, but find myself fixed to her, as she sits, and stares, and controls me with her gaze.

Find out more about Beddington Farmlands, a precious habitat for wild birds and mammals in south London.

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