It all started about a week ago while my neighbor Abby was in the shower. Through a face full of shampoo, she glanced out the window of her upstairs bathroom and noticed the shape of a dog moving along the woods line. A quick rinse later, she saw more clearly what appeared to be a female fox, a red, sulking along the wooded boarder with a guinea hen in her mouth. Abby jumped from the shower and moved, dripping wet, from window to window along the upstairs, following the fox as it moved down the ridge and into the woods towards our home. The puddles could wait.
In her excitement, Abby called to her husband Juan downstairs. “There’s a fox out there, with a guinea in his mouth.” Juan, a nature photographer who would jump at such news, did what all husbands do and misunderstood what she was saying. “There’s a hawk with a guinea out there” he wondered. I don’t think so. With a dutiful “That’s cool, dear”, he returned to what he was doing.
A couple of days later, Abby mentioned the sighting again and Juan uttered the following fateful words. “Fox? What fox? Why didn’t you tell me there was a fox?” During the course of our married lives, I'm sure we've all had the resulting conversation.
Fox in this area are not all that unusual. There was a pair of reds around last year that we saw often shooting across or along our gravel road. But we’d had no sightings this year and, as spring has progressed, we assumed the pair had moved on. Abby’s sighting was the first and, for a while, only evidence that they had returned. Until yesterday, when Caroline, our other neighbor with whom we share a property line, called me excitedly to say she had watched a pair of fox kits sunning themselves just off their twisty gravel driveway, in the wet branch just below our houses.
I grabbed my camera and wandered through the woods, down the ravine to the point Caroline had described and, as I arrived, I saw a rather sizable kit scramble away down the wet branch, the telltale white tip of the tail confirming it was indeed a red fox. Following carefully, I located their den, dug into a hollow under a tree perched on the side of a deep section of the streambed. The quick emergence and rapid retreat of another kit confirmed the lair. I tried to get a hurried shot, but the lighting was poor and my telephoto zoom was full out, explaining the quality of the picture above. My shaking hand might have had something to do with it too.
I called on Juan (who's looking fully recovered now) to confirm that I had found the den, as we had been talking about searching for it for a couple of days. At dawn this morning, we hiked down to set up a photographer’s blind in hopes that we could get some decent pictures in the coming days. It’s cool to have a neighbor with this type of equipment.
As we were placing the blind within decent sight of the mouth of the den, we heard a commotion in the woods behind us and turned in time to see a large fox kit, some 60 yards away, bounding through the trees, straight at us. In a deadpan tone, Juan commented, “I hope he’s not rabid”, which would have been funny had it not been for the recent back yard attack of a woman in the northeastern part of the county by a rabid red. Before the implications could sink in, or an escape route planned, the kit took a hard left, 20 yards out, skirted around us, and dove into his hole.
Almost immediately, an eerie, startling yelp was heard back in the direction from which the kit had arrived. A few seconds later, another, a little farther away, then another a bit to the left, and so on; mother fox, no doubt, trying to draw us away from the den. Juan quickly completed the blind while I watched for mom, and we retreated to the gravel driveway to wait. For the next 30 minutes, the mom continued to move about the woods around us, yelping to divert us from the kits.
In time, we departed, leaving the blind for the foxes to get used to, hoping they would hang around long enough for us to get back and get some pictures. It’s questionable, though, as the kits were larger than we had expected and, obviously, had been out hunting with mom, a sign that they would soon be moving out on their own. I hope they hang around a little longer.
With luck, more to come as we watch the den.