A late October frost brought a little more animal activity to the woodlands. I marveled at Fox squirrels performing their acrobatic jumps as they meandered along “trails” in the trees. I observed many of these clever characters collecting pecan nuts, while others buried them for eating later in the winter months. Birds were busy harvesting woodland berries from trees and shrubs. I noticed smaller birds perched on tall weeds, feeding from the seed heads, now dry and ready for harvest. Even Daisy deer and her fawn Spirit were kicking up their hooves a bit. I found them playing chase – acting silly some early mornings after they fed at the feeders and made their way to the pecan orchard and beyond. The chilly and sometimes bitterly cold temperatures did not seem to bother the woodland critters. For the colder months, Mother Nature provides thick, warm coats for mammals, and abundant feathers to winged species.
I often admired Daisy’s ability to grow her own winter coat. As I petted her, I picked off fat ticks and small larvae from deep within her woolly fur. Though I generally detest ticks and other parasites, I really could not blame them for choosing to exist in warm, toasty conditions with a continual food supply! I marveled at the warmth emitted from Daisy’s thick coat. The fur on her face was shorter, but equally abundant in hair. I knew by her increased activity that she and her kind flourished in the cold. And, with the whitetail rut beginning, there would soon be much activity in the woodlands. Already, we had spotted a seven-point buck creating his territory in our area of the woods. Each year during this time, it is common to see does on the run, and a buck following closely behind.
In early November, I found evidence that a fox had also been frequenting our property. As is often the case, I discover various animal droppings while walking along a path in the woods, taking note that a certain visitor has been marking its territory. Earlier, I had been finding fox scat on our driveway, and along a path we frequent in the woods. Most of the time, a fox will defecate in an obvious place along a well-traveled path. When fresh, the feces is slimy, tubular-shaped and tapered at the end. When dry, one can observe hair, seeds, or perhaps tiny insect parts or bone in the scat. It is not dense matter, but appears uncompressed and light.
Another sign of recent fox activity was digging at and around the mounds of gophers. I am always happy to note the presence of a fox where an invasive critter is concerned. Any animal that helps eradicate gophers, moles, and voles is a friend of mine! However, I also noticed a decrease in the rabbit population this autumn. All summer long I had delighted in these sweet bunnies, scampering and hopping all around in the woods. Now they seemed to have vanished.
I was on the back porch one recent morning when I finally spotted our beautiful fox visitor at the bottom of the slope, moving along the dry creek bed, his nose to the ground. This was a small, gray fox! At first I thought it was a common red fox because of the gorgeous red coloring on the sides and throat. We have seen many of those over the years, sometimes in the woods, but more often catching them on their way back to the woods after a trip to town. No wonder I had not managed to spot this visitor prior to this sighting. Gray foxes are very reclusive compared to the red fox, and they are also much smaller. This fellow could be mistaken for a house cat, if it wasn’t for the flamboyant, bushy tail that gave its identification away. Its movement was graceful and unhurried. As I photographed this handsome creature, it paused for a moment and looked straight at me. It quickly decided I was no threat and went about its business of following scent. It lingered a bit, investigating an odor on the gate, and then swiftly scuttled underneath and trotted off to the pecan orchard.
After that sighting, it was almost daily that I observed the gray fox moving about in the wee hours of the morning. Sometimes in the afternoon sun he could be found perched on the old bathtub, now used as a water source for wildlife. And every so often, I spotted him seemingly making his way into town, jumping over a low fence and disappearing into a neighbor’s backyard.
I was a bit worried last week, however, when FD spotted our graceful friend at the bottom of the slope moving in a peculiar manner. FD stated the fox appeared to have hurt its back, and it was coughing or hacking repeatedly. He managed a few quick photographs before the fox hobbled off. Looking at his photos, it was apparent he was in a bad way. One eye looked watery with obvious mucous present, and the other eye looked dull. I wondered if a recent storm had brought a limb down on his back, or perhaps he had been in a skirmish with another animal. But the eye issues bothered me more. What if our friend had an illness or disease?
For more than a week I did not see our friend. Worried, I spent more time frequenting the woods, looking for signs of the gray fox. I checked for fox tracks in the snow, and I checked a couple of holes at the bases of trees that had served as fox dens in the past, but there was no sign of entry or exit. I now wondered if our friend was suffering somewhere or had possibly even died. I was used to such happenings, living so closely with woodland critters, but it is never easy to bid farewell to a good friend.
And then yesterday evening, as I filled the feed tubs at the bottom of the slope, I found fresh fox scat on top of an old pile of deer chow that I had dumped after the snow. The feed had become swollen from moisture and I had tossed it, knowing some varmint would find feast on the still nutritious glop! The fox had marked the pile for his own. And this morning, a clear set of muddy fox prints marked the front sidewalk. Zoe, Bear, and Mr. T discovered an interesting scent near spent marigolds, and each took a turn marking the spot. The fox had returned to its normal daily routine. And though I had not yet spotted my reclusive friend, I knew that he had returned to claim his territory.
I thought about how I myself had taken sabbaticals from time to time, to heal from a cold or the flu, a physical injury, or perhaps an emotional hurt or wound. There were also times I simply needed to rest and seek comfort of the mind. Sometimes, nature calls me simply to sit quietly and reflect. I might disappear for hours, days or weeks, recharging my inner spirit. And, I had learned to appreciate these down times in my life, whether pain or unpleasantness accompanied them or not. Beneficial nuances were often revealed during these restful periods.
I knew that the little gray fox had taken care of self and was functioning properly again. I was happy to know he was making his rounds and apparently feeling up to par. And I can tell you Zoe, Bear and Tori are glad he has returned as well, as it has provided for much sniffing, investigating and territorial marking going on again!
© Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…