Fox in Snow

Published: 4th February 2015

Otter footprints in snow

Otter prints in the snow - note the webbing between the five toes.

Fresh snow here at Glen Loy yesterday, so went out for the morning tracking along the canal. Good start just by Loy Bridge with fresh otter tracks that came up from the river, meandered about the roadside verge and disappeared into the neighnouring field.  We also saw signs of where it had marked a rock just by the entrance to the tunnel under the canal aqueduct. Out on the towpath we were the first humans to have disturbed the snow. The usual pine martens had wandered drunkenly up and down, and we soon picked up the neat, direct tracks of a small fox. The canal itself was frozen and the ice covered in a thin layer of snow. Not many creatures had essayed the ice yet, but we did see some tracks venturing about halfway across before turning back to return to the far side – probably a pine marten. On the near bank were the worm-like mounds of a mouse or vole tunnelling just beneath the surface of the snow. Stopping to examine tracks also gave a good excuse to scan around, and we were rewarded with the sight of two sparrowhawks, displaying high above us. The smaller male wheeled round the female, rarely coming close, but they soared around for some time before drifting off behind us.

Our fox nearly made it as far as Moy Bridge, before turning down onto a track that took it down to the bog by the River Lochy. Here it took a detour through the gorse bushes before purposefully striding out onto the bog itself. We continued to follow, but stopped short when we saw a handsome, bushy dog fox hunting through clumps of soft rush, protruding through the snow by the river bank. He seemed oblivious of our presence as he slowly made his way closer and closer, occasionally stopping to listen; black–tipped ears focussing on under-snow rustles before pouncing into the snow. As far as we could tell he was unsuccessful, even though we saw him repeat this manoeuvre several times. As we were watching I became aware of a very large bird sat on top of a sitka behind the fox – a sea eagle. Eventually the fox became increasingly nervous after stopping for a good few minutes some 25m from us and, presumably catching our scent, he turned to flee, by which time the eagle had also disappeared.  We went to have a look at what he had been up to and discovered that the prints were much larger than those we had been following earlier, confirming our view that this was a different animal. As we neared the river a pair of roe deer also took flight, bounding along the fence-line in the same direction as the fox. We continued to follow both sets of prints back towards the canal tunnel and caught up with the deer again, but the fox was long gone.

Fox in the snow walking by fence

Having tracked a fox into the fields by the river - suddenly he appears strolling casually

The previous weekend had also yielded some good sightings on a trip down to Edinburgh. Around Doune we saw three red kites, beautifully lit against a blue sky above a snowy ground-scape. Although we have travelled this road many times and know that the kites are about, we rarely see them here, so this was a nice bonus. A treecreeper crept up the tree opposite our Morningside room. Flocks of goldfinch and bullfinch disported themselves in the Botanics, whilst redwing hid in a thick holly tree. Badgers had rooted up the lawns mercilessly. Down in the Borders a flock of no less than twelve tree sparrows squabbled on our friends’ feeders, and we saw and heard our first nuthatch of the year, in the gloriously picturesque surroundings of Dryburgh Abbey. The celandines and snowdrops were massing, but not quite open – a nod to the snow that covered the ground around them.