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Spoiled for Choice: When Foxes Move into a Badger Sett

fox cubs
Three Fox Cubs | Limited Edition Print | Available Here
The painting above was inspired by three fox cubs that had occupied an unused part of a badger sett. I first noticed the presence of foxes at the badger sett after spotting a half-gnawed pheasant leg poking out of one of the holes and realised a fox must be using part of the sett for a den.  My suspicions were confirmed when I then saw the remains of rabbits and the wing of a young rook – this meant that it was very likely a vixen was there with cubs.
Country Foxes are Far Shier than City Foxes
Urban foxes can be easy to photograph because they are so habituated to people. I have had great success watching them in this way, (Click here to read about the week I spent in a Wendy House watching foxes in a suburban garden) but for me it does feel slightly like ‘cheating’. Wild foxes in the countryside, however, can be very difficult subjects to study indeed. I have been outwitted by them on several occasions. If a vixen catches the scent of a human anywhere near her den she might move the cubs, so I knew I had to be very careful and keep any disturbance to an absolute minimum.
Foxes and Badgers Often Share Homesteads
It isn’t uncommon for foxes to occupy badger setts, although if you grew up reading Beatrix Potter and read The Tale of Mr Todd, in which Old Brock the badger is known for staying in Mr Todd the fox’s home, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was the other way around! This sett was so large it ranged right across a daleside and there were even rabbits living in another section. But despite the presence of foxes and rabbits there was little sign of badger activity.
Building a Hide to Watch Fox Cubs
Just 25 yards away from the part occupied by foxes was a lone sycamore tree. I decided that this would make an ideal place for a hide. Since I knew my scent would already be around, so I decided to act fast and put a hide up that very afternoon. I made a platform five metres up the tree and placed my hide on top of that. The height gave me an added advantage, because from there my scent was more likely to disperse. But just as I left nature gave me a helping hand. The heavens opened and it rained hard for over an hour, washing away any sign that I had been there. 
A Chance to Watch Badgers and Foxes
Before I left I decided to check on another badger sett that I knew of, It was just 80 yards lower down the daleside from the fox den. When I got there I noticed plenty of signs of badger activity. There were freshly dug spoil heaps, marking out the entrance holes, and resting on top of these heaps were piles of bedding. Badgers like to turf out the grasses they use as bedding for a good airing and then drag them back down the holes at a later date, so this meant the sett had definitely been in use very recently. I also noticed plenty of tracks leading up the dale and this, combined with the fact that the grass all around the entrance holes to the sett had been flattened, was a good indicator that there might also be several badger cubs in residence. What luck – two occupied setts, one containing a fox family the other a badger clan. I might even be able to see both badger and fox at the same time!

watching badgers with artist Robert E Fuller

Looking for Fox Cubs, I Stumble on Badger Cubs
The best time to spot fox cubs is either dawn or dusk, so the next evening I headed to my new hide. But I got distracted on the way when I spotted four badger cubs emerge from the sett lower down. They were with two adults and since it was only 8pm and still very light I couldn’t resist staying there to photograph them first. I watched them as the adults groomed the cubs and the cubs played together in the evening light and an hour passed before I remembered the fox den.
At Last the Fox Cubs Emerge
The light was fading by now and I was worried that I was a little late to see any fox cubs. I had wanted to be in my hide before the fox emerged for the evening and was beginning to feel a little annoyed with myself for leaving it so late when I spotted something flash down a hole. I hoped I hadn’t
frightened the vixen off and so I climbed the ladder as quietly as possible and settled down to wait. But within half an hour a cub tentatively poked his head up.
 
 
 
It was followed by another and then a third. It wasn’t long before the three cubs began to romp around but, frustratingly, it was too dark to take any pictures. Watching the fox cubs was even more interesting than watching the badger cubs. The fox cubs were so playful, chasing each other and doing practice pounces even at this young age. The fox cubs played outside the den until nearly 11pm but the vixen didn’t appear – it could be by now that she had already left the den preferring the peace and quiet of living alone again, albeit close by, and just returning from time to time to check on and feed her increasingly independent cubs. It was pitch black so I headed home.
No Show from the Fox Cubs
Spurred on by having had such a good sighting I woke at 3am the next morning and climbed into my hide carrying some three stone of equipment up the ladder in the black- dark. As it started to get light I heard a blackbird chink its alarm call and I quickly checked my camera settings just in case the vixen was on its way. But there was nothing. About half an hour later I heard a crow calling. Crows will often mob foxes, so again I got my cameras ready and waited expectantly for the vixen to appear. But yet again there was nothing and as the morning wore on this pattern of expectation followed by disappointment continued.
A chaffinch called out in alarm, but again it led to nothing. Then a great-tit did the same. Then the crow flew to the ground and began to peck over the scraps of food left by the foxes. Watching the crow I realised that he was very nervous around the holes and rightly so as the vixen and the crow are arch enemies. I finally gave up around 8am having seen nothing but this darn crow. After my late night and very early start I had only had three
and a half hour’s sleep and I felt quite despondent.
Distracted by Badgers, Time Runs Away With Me
I was determined not to give up and returned again that evening. But again I got distracted by the badgers on my way so this time, instead of arriving late and risking disturbing the fox cubs I went back to my car and watched one of the cubs with my telescope. The next night I got to my hide at 7.45pm. I could see the badger clan scratching and playing in the valley below and, although I was torn between the two, wanting to be in two places at once, I decided to stick it out and waiting for the fox cubs to emerge. I hoped that this time I would be lucky. But they didn’t appear and I went home feeling cheated yet again. I then wasn’t able to get to the hide again for a week as I had a lot to get ready for my summer exhibition, which was due to open that week.
At Last A Fox Cub Sighting
Once the exhibition was in full swing and the first wave of visitors had gone home I returned to the den. Again the badgers were out early, but this time I headed straight for the hide and was rewarded when a fox cub made an appearance at 9pm. I was surprised to see how much it had grown in just a week. I hoped that another would join it, but it walked across to the entrance of another hole and sat down in front of it and fell asleep for half an hour. Occasionally it lifted its head up and at one point it snapped at a crane fly – commonly known as a ‘daddy longlegs’ – that flew too close.
Then it got up, stretched and began hunting more crane flies, stalking them through the long grass. It caught dozens and ate them all. Some rabbits playing nearby caught its eye and it started to stalk them. But the adult rabbits soon spotted it and began thumping their back legs as a warning. The noise unnerved the fox cub which scampered back into its hole for safety. It soon remerged though, having learned its lesson, and resumed its insect hunt further down the valley where I lost sight of it in the darkness.
But the Cunning Foxes Remain Elusive
I tried to see this fox family on several further occasions but I didn’t get to see a fox again. They are known to move den sites when the cubs get bigger or weather permitting will choose to live above ground in cornfields or thickets. Then I saw a rabbit sitting outside the fox
holes and my suspicions were confirmed;  the foxes had moved on.
 
I switched my attention back to the badger cubs in the lower sett, but in spite of some success this time around I couldn’t help but feeling infuriated to have been outwitted by these cunning foxes once again.

Fox Art

Below is a selection of paintings of fox cubs inspired by my experience.
Click here to see my complete collection of limited edition prints featuring foxes. 
fox cubs wildlife painting of week
Three’s Trouble | Limited Edition Art Print |Available Here
 fox cub
Curious Fox Cub | Limited Edition Print | Available Here

 

fox cub painting
Fox Cub | Limited Edition Print | Available Here
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