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Ffionn’s leap and plover pebbles

Outdoor Living

CAMOUFLAGED The two pebble-dash Ringed plover eggs found by John Shelley on a beach south of Roonagh.

Country Sights and Sounds

John Shelley

Little Ffionn, our adopted fox cub, proved more than a handful. As far as guests go, she has been one of the most impolite and demanding of all. Yes, she provided great entertainment for a while, though at some cost.
From the moment she found her feet she showed a measure of determination in her efforts to escape, and decided that upwards was the way to go. She spent hours sitting on the kitchen floor staring up at the worktop and the window beyond. Every few minutes she gathered herself – we could see her bottom shuffling back and forth on the floor – and launched herself into the air. The highest I saw her jump was six or eight inches into the air.
I laughed at her. “You’ll never get up there, my little friend.” Many times I took her away to play for a moment. Each time I left her she went immediately back to her preoccupation, studying and jumping, jumping and thinking.
I had to go out momentarily, and when I came back Ffionn was nowhere to be found. I searched the whole house, thinking she had somehow followed me through the door. A loud crash sent me back to the kitchen, and there she was, trying to find her way through the window. She saw me and tried to hide, and sent everything about her flying. Glasses broke, saucepans tipped, water spilled. She ran over the frying pan and left fatty footprints in her wake as she ran.
How had she managed to get up there in the first place?
If she was strong enough to jump or climb like that she was strong enough to be wormed. I spread a carefully measured dose on a slice of luncheon meat, which she gulped down eagerly. It was hard to understand how a creature so wretched and close to death had become completely revitalised in just a few days.
The worming medication didn’t seem to suit her. Foxes suffer from hookworm, heartworm, lungworm, roundworm, tapeworm and a host of other parasitic infestations. Poor Ffionn had a bad dose of lungworm, and spent the next three days trying to cough the now-dead worms from her lungs. I was worried. She went off her food and no longer tried to hide when I went to find her. I put her in a dark and warm cardboard box, where she sat and coughed endlessly.
An hour later the rattle in her breath had ceased and she no longer coughed at all. There was no sign of the dead worms in the box with her. She had coughed them up and eaten them, the horrid thing. That moment saw a great change in her behaviour. Suddenly wild, she was more determined than ever to find a way out of the house.
I built a small run for her at the back of the yard, taking great care to make sure it would be fox-proof. Finally satisfied that no living thing would find its way in or out, I took Ffionn and placed her in her new quarters. Within ten minutes she had tunnelled out and made her escape.
Two days later a very small fox ran across the road in front of my car. Was it her? I like to think so. She will probably find enough earthworms and beetles to keep her alive, and every day will be a new adventure. Perhaps by now she has already caught her first mouse, although I don’t suppose the mouse will thank me for saving Ffionn’s life.
So came the end of another small adventure. Later that week I was walking with James, some way to the south of Roonagh, where thick banks of thrift have turned the coastal paths pink. The sea, busy as always, had thrown up endless items of interest: heavy wooden timbers from a distant wreck, buoys of varied shapes and shades, lengths of rope too heavy to carry yet too good to leave.
As we trudged along the shingle ridge James came to a sudden stop. “Look,” he said, “eggs.”
Eggs? There at his feet was the nest, if it can be called such, of a Ringed plover, with two pebble-dashed eggs lying side by side on their cobbled bed. How often had I searched for this? Countless times. Yet even with the parent bird flapping at my feet I had always failed.
Two eggs will be four by now, and incubation will be underway. Unless, of course, some hungry young fox cub finds her way onto this stony shore and and helps herself to an egg breakfast. Nothing is straightforward.

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