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Westmeath Watch - a close-up of foxes foraging for food

An evening of foxwatching in Westmeath brought myself and Peter to a wood where I had previously seen evidence of badger activity.

In the knowledge that foxes and badgers often occupy the same territories, we travelled into the heart of the wood, moving slowly and quietly to avoid disturbing any wildlife.

The badger setts I had seen before were still there but with no obvious sign of life now, we decided to try our luck in a field bordering the wood.

Peter shone his high-powered torch out over the land and it wasn't long before the beam picked up some movement. There were certainly foxes about.

As a steady drizzle began to fall, we walked along the edge of the field and soon saw three foxes.

By all appearances they were in the process of searching for food. The torch light picked up one fox on a hillside who was digging its muzzle into the soft ground. I pointed over and Peter confirmed that this fox was foraging for worms, using his paws and muzzle to root them out.

Another fox had his sights on a bigger prize. Moving about among the thistles and high grass were lots of rabbits. At one point, a rabbit came within five feet of where we were standing. It didn't notice our presence as we stood looking down at it. On this occasion we got closer to the rabbits than the fox did.

The fox was slowly edging towards an apparently unsuspecting prey - a perfect demonstration of a fox's approach to catching rabbits. The aim is to catch them off guard before pouncing. The last thing a fox wants is a lengthy chase that wastes energy and has no guarantee of a reward. As we watched, it looked like this fox would have to be content with worms too.

In the end, the rabbits dashed away, most obviously having seen the fox. As the fox gave up, so too did we. The drizzle had turned into a heavy downpour and the shelter of the wood became hard to resist!

Philip Kiernan

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