This section is from the book "Creatures Of The Night: A Book Of Wild Life In Western Britain", by Alfred W. Rees. Also available from Amazon: Creatures Of The Night: A Book Of Wild Life In Western Britain.
One day in August, as he lay in his outdoor lair, the brightness and heat of the sunshine were such that his eyes, blinking in the drowsiness of half-awakened slumber, appeared like mere slits of black across streaked orbs of yellow, and gave no indication of the fiery glow that lit the round, distended pupils when he peered at nightfall through the tangled undergrowth. His tongue lolled out, and he panted like a tired hound, but from thirst rather than weariness. The flies annoyed him greatly, now settling on his brush, till with a flick of his paw he drove them away, then, nothing daunted, alighting on his back, his ears, his haunches, till his fur wrinkled and straightened in numberless uneasy movements from the tormenting tickling of the little pests. Presently, with a shrill bizz of rapid wings, a large, yellow-striped fly passed close to his ears. He struck down the tormenting insect with a random flip of his paws, snapped at it to complete the work of destruction, and proceeded leisurely to eat his victim. To his utter surprise, he seemed to have captured a living, angry thorn, which, despite his most violent efforts to tear it away with his paws, stuck in his hp, and produced a smarting, burning sensation that was intolerable. He rolled on the ground and rubbed his muzzle in the grass, but to no purpose. No wonder, then, that subsequently his manner towards an occasional hibernating wasp among the moss-roots in the gravel-pit was deferential in the extreme!
Vulp and his mate soon learned that in rabbit-hunting it was exceedingly profitable to co-operate. Thus, while the vixen "lay up" near a warren, Vulp skirted the copse and chased the conies home towards his waiting spouse. After considerable practice, the trick paid handsomely, and food was seldom lacking. The vixen possessed, perhaps, a slightly more delicate sense of smell than the fox. Frequently she scented a rabbit in a clump of fern or gorse after Vulp had passed it by; suddenly stopping, she would tell her lord of her discovery by signs he readily understood, and then, while he kept outside the tangle, would pounce on the coney in its retreat, or start it helter-skelter into his very jaws. But of all the tricks and the devices she taught him, the chief, undoubtedly, were those concerned with the capture of hens and ducks from a neighbouring farmstead. An adult fox, as a rule, does not pay frequent visits to a farmstead; but Vulp, like his sire, was passionately fond of poultry, and so, in after years, the vixen's instructions caused him to become the dread of every henwife in the district. Undoubtedly he would have been shot had he not been the prize most sought for by the Master of the Hounds, who cared little for the frequent demands made on his purse by the cottagers, so long as the fox that slaughtered the poultry gave abundant sport when running fast and straight before the pack.
The months drifted by, and signs of spring became more and more abundant in the valley. About the beginning of March, Vulp deserted the "earth" prepared by himself and the vixen for their prospective family, and took up his abode among the hazels and the hawthorns in a thick-set hedge bounding the woods.
In preparing the "breeding earth," Vulp and the vixen observed the utmost care in order that its whereabouts should not be discovered. The chosen site was a shallow depression, scratched in the soil by a fickle-minded rabbit that had ultimately fixed on another spot for her abiding place. This depression was enlarged; a long tunnel was excavated as far as the roots of an oak, and there broadened. Then another long tunnel was hollowed out towards the surface, where it opened in the middle of a briar-brake. The foxes worked systematically, digging away the soil with their fore-paws, loosening an occasional stubborn stone or root with their teeth, and thrusting the rubbish behind them with their powerful hind-legs. As it accumulated, they turned and pushed it towards the mouth of the den, where at last a fair-sized mound was formed. When the burrow had been opened into the thicket, the crafty creatures securely "stopped" the original entrance, so that, when the grass sprouted and the briar sprays lengthened in the woodlands, the "earth" would escape all notice, unless a prying visitor penetrated the thicket and discovered the second opening—then, of course, the only one— leading to the den.
When summer came, and the undergrowth renewed its foliage, and the grass and the corn grew so tall and thick that Vulp could roam unseen through the fields, he left his haunts amid the woodlands at the first peep of dawn, and as long as daylight lasted lay quiet in a snug retreat amid the gorse. There all was silent; no patter of summer rain from leaves far overhead, no rustle of summer wind through laden boughs, prevented him hearing the approach of a soft-footed enemy; no harsh, mocking cry of jay or magpie, bent on betraying his whereabouts, gave him cause for uneasiness and fear. Of all wild creatures in the fields and woods, he detested most the meddlesome jay and magpie. If he but ventured by day to cross an open spot, one of these birds would surely detect and follow him, hopping from branch to branch, or swooping with ungainly flight almost on his head, meanwhile hurling at him a thousand abuses. Unless he quickly regained his refuge in the gorse, the blackbirds and the thrushes would join in the tantalising mockery, till it seemed that the whole countryside was aroused by the cry of " Fox! fox!" After such an adventure, it needed the quiet and solitude of night to restore his peace of mind; and even when he had escaped the din, and lay in his couch among the bleached grass and withered leaves, his ears were continually strained in every direction to catch the least sound of dog or man. When in the winter he ran for life before the hounds, and tried by every artifice to baffle his pursuers, these "clap-cats" of the woods would jeer him on his way. Once, when he ventured into the river, and headed down-stream, thinking that the current would bear his scent below the point where he would land on the opposite bank, the magpie's clatter caused him the utmost fear that his ruse might not succeed. But luckily the hounds and the huntsman were far away. The birds, however, were not the only advertisers of his presence; the squirrel, directly she caught sight of him, would hurry from her seat aloft in fir or beach, to the lowest bough, and thence—though more wary of Vulp than of Brighteye, the water-vole —fling at him the choicest assortment of names her varied vocabulary could supply. Still, for all this irritating abuse Vulp had only himself and his ancestry to blame. The fox loved—as an article of diet—a plump young fledgling that had fallen from its nest, or a tasty squirrel, with flesh daintily flavoured by many a feast of nuts, or beech-mast, or eggs. It was but natural that his sins, and those of his forefathers, should be accounted to him for punishment, and that it should become the custom, in season and out of season, when he was known to be about, for all the woodland folk to hiss and scream, and expostulate and threaten, and to compel his return to hiding with the least possible delay. Thus it happened that he scarcely ventured, during the day, to attack even a young rabbit that frisked near his lair, lest, screaming to its dam for help, it should bring a very bedlam about his ears.