Thursday, 7 June 2012

Seeing Eye to Eye

                                                                     Google Image

Every day I put out food for the many wild creatures that have moved into my garden, often with a kernel of doubt that I may be creating artificial conditions and thus encouraging unnatural behaviour patterns, always with a sense of responsibility that having started this pattern I must continue it.
Wildlife does not come cheap in this place!

A wide variety of birds hang about all the time, making noisy disputes when the bird-table is topped up. I have the identifiable residents, the jackdaw who has pestered me over the past few years, and some of his flock who have distinctive white patches in their wings. I thought I had two pairs of blackbirds, but a recent wildlife programme 'Springwatch' casts doubt on this, having found that a garden may be visited by a great many more pairs that the one or two assumed by the human residents. I have thrushes and wrens and countless little brown numbers in between. I could not begin to count them, and after Springwatch I realise I couldn't estimate them either.

There are no hedgehogs here these days, which is a sad loss, and this year I have not had any starlings either, an equal loss. However, I have badgers at the bottom of the garden and they are served supper as dusk falls.

Yesterday I was at home in the late afternoon. I  moved to a window to open it, and in doing so startled a fox, out in broad daylight, pathetically searching for fallen scraps beneath the bird table.
Before it bolted away it made full eye contact with me for a number of seconds.
It was a most powerful experience.
When a wild animal knows enough about you to hold that sort of eye contact there is a feeling of real communication, although whether it was fear, or challenge, or a sort of anxious request I could not tell.
I interpreted it as anxious request, because for an animal to be so near to the house, so early in the evening, it must have been desperate, starving.
The thought that there is a wild animal in my garden desperate enough to virtually beseech for help is hard to bear. Perhaps I'm being anthropomorphic, but those long seconds of eye contact have a profound effect.

It was not the animal photographed here, but a thin creature beset with mange - but the look in the eyes was the same.
So now there is at least one additional guest for supper, whose meal will be available rather earlier than the later evening service for the badgers.

I still don't know if I'm doing right or wrong, but I'm pretty sure that if I lived a few centuries ago I would be branded an old witch, living alone, surrounded by my familiars and talking to the birds.

Leslee of 3rd House Journal has written a clever and thought-producing poem, 13 Ways of looking at a Fox,which you can find 'here'.


Jenny Woolf said...

Foxes can be appealing but they are savage killers. Perhaps this one is too old and perhaps too sick to hunt. Nature is cruel humanity is often kind... Can't see thatskinniness as a bad thing ...

marigold jam said...

I had a fox in the garden in the morning last week but his look was more of contempt than desperation and he was a young fit looking fellow who loped away into the wood in no hurry at all. We also have many badgers round here but we see them more often in the autumn evenings.

Molly said...

If I were a starving animal I'd count myself lucky to happen into the garden of a witch such as yourself!
I can't imagine though, why any animal would be starving in lush, rainy England....I never got the feeling that you are in an urban area. I would love to see your badger. How big is he?

The Elephant's Child said...

I wonder whether I am doing the right thing in feeding the birds as well. I haven't seen any foxes anywhere near the house although the occasional road killed one near by says they are here. The kangaroos stay away as well, although they are within a kilometre or so.
Witch or not, feeding the animals seems almost a moral obligation as our presence destroys their habitat....

Relatively Retiring said...

Jenny, Marigold, Molly, and Elephant's Child: I knew this posting would create strong reactions one way or another, and it's really interesting to see how we can interpret the eye contact.
Foxes are known to thrive in urban areas, although many people see them as vermin and scavengers.They are clever opportunists, and also devoted parents.
I live on the outskirts of a small town, surrounded by countryside and partly bordered by a railway embankment which is a natural highway for foxes and badgers.
I agree with Elephant's Child that, as a species we have taken over so much of the available land there is a duty to support as much of the deposed wildlife as possible.
Not everyone will agree, that's for sure!
Molly: if badgers had longer legs they'd be about the size of a small Labrador dog, and there's not all that much territory left for them in lush England. They will be killed off if the majority of the farming community manages to get agreement on a 'cull'.

Jee said...

When we lived in Croydon (South London) very near to the town centre with a tiny garden, a vixen made her den right in the middle of the garden which sloped sharply upwards and so we had a grandstand view. The first year she raised four cubs successfully but the second time she produced six cubs and extended her runs into nextdoor. One by one the cubs disappeared - we think nextdoor arranged this - until a solitary cub remained which she would come back to feed twice a day. and then the vixen disapeared and we were left with a dilema. The cub was about 10 weeks old and making efforts to feed itself, but every evening it would sit waiting for the vixen, but we didn't want it to become dependent on us or too familiar with people. We did leave the odd thing in the garden for it to find and eventually it stopped coming. It would very easily have become totally tame if we'd let it. The birds are currently trying to bankrupt us they're eating so much seed.

Leslee said...

My neighborhood is pretty urban, though I do see rabbits now and then and of course birds - cardinals, finches, bluejays, crows, and sparrows. I've seen wild turkeys not far from here, and I've known people who've had their cats taken by coyotes. Up at the local wildlife sanctuary I saw a fox once. It was far ahead up the path from me and stopped and looked at me for a few seconds while I fumbled with my camera (alas a blue as he ran off).

I also saw a fox elsewhere many years ago, which inspired a poem! (Here 'tis:

Anyway, I'm all for bird feeding (and fox feeding). If you had wild bear or cougars in your neighborhood, I'd be more discouraging!

Anonymous said...

Your right, you should be burned like a witch for feeding vermin in your garden. People like you make life dangerous for the rest of us. Foxes and badgers are full of diseases and are dangerous for children and pets.

Relatively Retiring said...

Jee: it's lovely that many people have strong memories of encounters with foxes, although yours is a sad tale of life and death in an urban garden - all too familiar, I'm afraid. Did you see the FoxWatch programmes a few weeks ago?

Leslee: another memorable encounter, and a wonderful poem. I hope other visitors here will follow the link and read. (I will add an easier link at the end of the blog posting, if you're ok with that?

Anon: thank you for taking time to read and leave a comment. I think you will realise that we don't agree, but it's always good to see different viewpoints.

Leslee said...

Glad you enjoyed the poem! I'd forgotten about it (wrote it in 2004, apparently when I had more time on my hands!). Thanks for the link. It's on my old blog, which I guess is up in perpetuity; I no longer have access to it.

Leslee said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anne said...

I wish I could send you some of my starlings. I also sometimes wonder whether I should be feeding all these birds. They now go through 2 large suet and seed cakes in half a day. I think the birds in my garden are beginning to look rather plump.

Once when I was driving to Alaska 3 wolves crossed the road in front of the truck. The snow was deep and they looked beautiful in their winter coats, almost white. One of them turned back as I stopped the truck and I made eye contact for many seconds. It was an experience I will never forget.

Relatively Retiring said...

Anne: that's it, exactly - the eye contact is such a powerful experience.
I'd appreciate a few starlings.
In the cold wet depths of a British summer my resident birds are still taking large amounts of food of all sorts, but especially fat.