The more you observe, the more you discover.
Throughout May we've witnessed the close family bonds of our local fox family. The doting father, Imposture, watching over the cubs. White Eye, the hard working mother, invariably out hunting but remarkably patient when she returns to nurse the cubs despite their present size.
Now we have a third adult in the family, a fairly large vixen with a distinctive large white tip to her tail. She's clearly accepted within the family both by the adults, who do not bat an eyelid when in close proximity, but also by the cubs who enthusiastically greet her.
Who she is and what her relationship is to parents is unclear. It's been well documented that female offspring can often remain in their mother's territory and sometimes play an active role in raising new litters. That's the interpretation we're working with, hence the name 'Auntie', as that's the role she seems to be playing, even though she may actually be a sister to the young cubs. The intriguing aspect of this development is that Auntie had prominent nipples when she appeared. Did she have a litter of her own but lost them, therefore she's returned to her mum?
Another, albeit less likely situation, is that Auntie and White Eye have a combined creche. Why do I suggest this, you may ask. Well, this week a colleague counted 7 cubs, rather than the six we have seen for the last few weeks. A seventh cub appearing in the same week as Auntie, coincidence? Also, she is not mobbed by all the cubs, usually just one or two. I've never heard or read of foxes exhibiting combined creche behaviour, but I'd be fascinated to know if anyone has witnessed something like this.
Note on camera trap images. While these images look like night time images they were in fact taken during the early evening in fairly bright evening light. I've very deliberately avoided using flashes during darkness so as not to frighten them. The flashes therefore are far less intrusive. I also keep a video camera trap running to assess the reaction of the foxes. This footage shows that the cubs pay little or no attention to the flashes firing. By using the Camtraptions PIR v2 remote trigger it's possible to limit camera triggering to only occur in daylight, thus minimising disturbance. I can therefore leave the setup in place all day and night, safe in the knowledge that it's not going trigger at night.