It was a fine morning for a walk around the Chayne. I arrived at 4:45am when the sky was blazing pink but the heather still glowered in shade. The blackcock was nowhere to be seen, and his familiar lekking ground seemed oddly deserted without him. He hasn’t been seen for the last few days, so either his seasonal behaviour has moved him along or he has met with his inevitable doom at the hands of a fox. I hope that he is alive and well, but he has been on borrowed time for the past three months and I wouldn’t be surprised to find a pile of feathers any day.
Setting off onto the hill, I enjoyed that fantastic feeling of being up and about supremely early. Within a few hundred yards, I heard an unusual barking. It was coming from the woods way over at the back of the farm, and the repetitive noise carried through the conversational sheepy murmurings to seize my attention. With the .243 slung over my shoulder, I set off through the dewy moss to investigate.
A roughly circular patch of forestry on the neighbouring property has recently been cleared and replanted inside an otherwise far larger plantation. The mature trees form an impenetrable wall around the space, forming a natural ampitheatre which opens onto the Chayne. As I walked closer and closer, I recognised the barking as that of a roe buck, but until I saw that he was working his way round and round the open space, I had no idea how his voice was able to carry over very nearly a mile of moorland. His barks must have echoed around the trees and magnified themselves, and although I couldn’t actually see him, I could pinpoint his presence to within a hundred yards. The young trees gave him fantastic shelter, and he must have been spending a morning establishing his territory preparatory to the forthcoming rut.
I stood and listened to the sound for a few minutes, then climbed a fence and continued along the farm’s southern boundary. The walk took me onto a ridge with a fine view down onto a wide expanse of rotten bogland. When I saw the rushes moving two hundred yards away, my stomach twisted. A scruffy, pale looking fox was running across my path, far below and well out infront. She paused to look up when I sucked the back of my hand, but she had seen me first and was in no mood to investigate. I placed the crosshairs on her, but without a proper rest, I didn’t stand a chance. I blinked and she was gone, moving quickly from right to left and dropping into a ditch so that I couldn’t see her.
My only chance was to cut her off. I ran straight ahead, hoping to catch her as she crossed the dyke into the trees, but she was too fast. Five minutes of frantic manouevering later, I gave up hope and walked back up the hill to fetch my bag and binoculars. A scream sounded from the base of a single pine tree on the Chayne just short of the fence. I span around and saw her barking at me, honey yellow face twisting into a grimace. I have never seen a fox bark before, and while it was a magical experience, I had every intention of having my say. I lay down in the long grass and placed the crosshairs an inch above her head. At 250 yards, I flicked off the safety catch and then she vanished. A dog fox answered her seconds later and the two made off into the neighbouring property.
Wildlife provides unforgettable moments time after time, but it is also capable of making you tear your hear out with fury.