The storm had brought down trees all over the city, so I set off to the Sanctuary to see if there had been much damage. The day was beautiful – glorious sun, cold and crisp and, apart from the odd gust, the storm had passed.
A thin layer of ice covered the western end of the lake, but not enough to keep the birds off the water. Greylag geese drifted as the moorhens fussed around them. A heron hunted before flying over to sit in the branches of a tree that had fallen over the lake. I was startled as I happened upon a buzzard – it flew off above me and the sheer size of it made me jump. It wheeled around and settled on the far side of the lake.
The first signs of spring were unmistakable. Squirrels were chasing each other through the trees, excitedly establishing territories. Even the moorhens were getting in on the act, rediscovering ancient courtship rituals. And on the ground, the first flowers were showing. Primroses lined the pathway, winter aconite with its dark green leaves and splashes of yellow was announcing itself, and swathes of snowdrops danced, cold in the shade away from the cheerful winter sun.
I sat by the lake as I ate my lunch. I watched the heron, now joined in its perch by another, and the dabchick pottering around underneath. The crows chuntered away and close by came the gentle “chuchi, chuchi” of something small and unidentifiable. Then a coughing sound – the squirrels? No, a fox! A beautiful russet vixen warming her shaggy winter coat in the sun. She stretched and sniffed the air, stretched some more, and loped off around the lake. I watched for several minutes when I heard the cough again, but closer by – was she back?
I rose and walked as silently as I could towards the thicket I thought she might be in. Then the cough once more – this time almost at my feet. I looked down to see a juvenile, probably one of last year’s cubs, basking in the unexpected warmth. It saw me a fraction later and sprang up to flee but ran towards the lake, so that it had to run back again – straight past me. Its coat looked new, and the tip of its brush was a pristine white. It escaped through a gap in the fence where it stopped and looked back to consider me – a couple of raspy barks and it was away.
Thrilled, I set off quietly, hopeful of meeting the vixen but there was seemingly no sight of her. And suddenly, there she was. Twenty yards away and stock still, looking back at me. I froze and we held each other’s gaze. I could hear the young one barking, and her ears twitched each time – we listened together. It may have been no more that a minute, but it felt like an age. And then she vanished. A rustle in the hedge and she had gone.