Yesterday there was a lot of crashing in the undergrowth and a very thin dishevelled looking fox ran away along the back wall.
Today, there was a lot of yipping and yapping. On investigation it turned out to be 4 or 5 very tiny fox cubs, so young that they're still black with little white tips to their tails, looking bright eyed but not very bushy tailed, with very round bellies that could be the sign of well fed youngsters, but could equally be a terrible case of underfeeding and worms.
Unfortunately on even closer inspection (although fortunately you can't see in the pictures) towards the back of the foliage where the cubs were congregating was a dead cub! Unsure what to do, I phoned the RSPCA then the Fox Project to find out. Apparently older cubs could and would use it as a food source (and I would have been happy to leave it for that purpose), but cubs that young would not, so the best advice was to double bag it and put it in the dustbin. Which is what I've done.
But I am a bit worried about the cubs, as the dead one had pond weed on its belly (so had been a further 3-4 feet back in the undergrowth), and in the couple of hours from me initially finding the dead cub and then finding out what to do, the cubs had (I assume) dragged the dead cub into the den opening which is just under the bush trunk to the right in the bottom picture - another 2-3 feet. So I am concerned they are hungry and the vixen has met a nasty end somewhere.
The Fox Project lady told me to keep an eye on them and see if they come out crying much in the next 24 hours. I'm mulling over whether to tell her about the dead cub being half pulled into the den (it got stuck on the branches that have been in there for a few years, it can't be the main entrance which is probably somewhere else in the garden or next door) so she can come and collect them and look after them if necessary.
No doubt there have been litters living and dying for years at that end of the garden, but as I'm usually at work I wouldn't know. But now I do know, so morally speaking I should pay attention. But I'd be happier if I knew what to look out for.
UPDATE: I phoned The Fox Project again to ask how I can tell if they've been abandoned, and she said I should sprinkle flour around the outside of the den then look to see what size footprints there are in the morning (big and little) so I got some flour, went down the garden, got caught up in the brambles and roses and nettles and sprinkled flour on two entrances thinking it's a bit odd there's not much sign of coming and going - only to look up into next door's garden and find an huge mound of earth and the obvious opening to a den - way beyond where I could reach to put flour down or even look for tracks. Foiled again Mutley! I may well wait for my neighbours to come back and ask their permission to be scratched to death by their bramble patch garden to check it out. Or is that a bit excessive?!!
UPDATE 2: I went out to get the washing in this evening, and the cubs were out & about again - there are six (excluding the dead one), two of whom fell into the pond whilst I was watching. Thankfully they got out again ok, but looked a bit cold and damp! I've now put a metal grille in the pond so they can climb out a bit easier if they don't learn fast that the nice flat green layer isn't mown lawn, it's pond. Small fox cubs, small children, they're all the same!! I've also put down some food to help them warm up a bit.