After a day and night of sleety rain a lull has descended and the sun has reappeared, so I escape the stuffy office for a lunchtime stroll in the Sanctuary. It is now a gorgeous cold and crisp day, an eggshell sky, and I am excited about my first visit of the year.
But hopes of pastoral bliss are dashed by the police helicopter hovering overhead, a menacing harbinger of bad things happening. It’s unsettling, and it is me that is startled when a muntjac scrambles to its feet at my approach. It makes for the undergrowth and I am alone, except for the throb of the helicopter above my head. Peeved by the noisy intrusion, I decide to cut the stroll short and take shelter in the hide that sits on stilts at the north end of the lake. The sound is dulled and soon fades out of my consciousness altogether, and I begin to relax and notice what is going on about me.
Which, to be perfectly honest, isn’t much. A single dabchick, that had been mooching around, oblivious to the disturbance, calls out and is joined by its partner. They whistle and chatter excitedly to each other, with the occasional high pitched cry that has something of a whinny about it, as they busy themselves with feeding and what might be courtship. It is certainly affectionate, for amongst all the chasing and diving there are moments of quiet preening, heads together conspiratorially.
I watch for a while and have just decided to head back when I am distracted by something darting across the water. Brown, but unmistakably the flight of a kingfisher, it comes out of the shade and catches the sunlight and suddenly it is sparkling blue and orange. It perches close by, pipes out its song and charges off again, only to return moments later pursued by another. The pair of them race around, whistling as they go in what could be a turf war, a mating ritual, or just hijinks. And then they are gone and I am left with the canoodling dabchicks.
Making a move to leave I spot, across the lake, a fox. It is almost a year to the day that I first saw the Sanctuary foxes, and this is the young one. It is watching something, which I can’t see – but whatever it is, it is being stalked. And this isn’t the loping swagger of a the urban (urbane?) fox, but the low careful tread of the hunter – keen and sharptoothed. It disappears behind the reeds, so I slip out of the hide with the hope of meeting it as it comes round, maybe even getting a picture of it. It sees me first, and disappears in a flash. I react too slowly, and have a photograph of where a fox once was.
I am alone again, although I have no doubt that I am being watched by the frustrated hunter, and walk past a burst of sunlit snowdrops, in the vanguard of spring.