It is not uncommon for us to see a fox trotting along in our woodlands. In this region of Oklahoma we see both the small gray fox and the larger red fox. Most of the time they are just traveling through the area while looking for a food source, then move on when they have depleted what is readily available. I am usually unhappy when I see a fox hanging around because, in no time, our bunny population has vanished. Birds and squirrels are common prey for the foxes as well, but they also eat berries, insects, and small rodents.
This past winter, I noticed a pair of red foxes frequenting our woodlands. One fox appeared to be old with lighter coloring and the other seemed young with a beautiful red coat and black legs. Often, one or both could be seen eating deer feed from the trough below our back porch. In the early morning as I walked in the dark to open our front gate, I often heard the raspy bark of the foxes. I knew they mated in late winter and early spring, and I hoped this barking was not a mating call. I did not mind the foxes presence over a week or two, but I sure did not want them setting up housekeeping here for the long term. I had just released our orphaned squirrels, Punkin and Mr. Gambini, and did not need the worry of foxes preying on my inexperienced kids!
Much to my dismay, about the same time Daisy deer was setting up her nursery on the top part of our neighbors property to the north, I soon realized the foxes had the same thing in mind for the thicker woods down below. All hours of the day and night, the pair could be seen on the hunt for food. I guessed they had kits somewhere nearby but, with all of the rain we had in the month of May, I had found it impossible to walk the woodlands to try to locate the den site as I had other years in the spring. With all the moisture, the mosquito population was unbearable, so there was just no way I was going to track the foxes without finding misery in the woodlands.
Over late spring and early summer, we observed the pair of red foxes hunting both on our property and our neighbor Steve’s property. We even heard reports from neighbors quite a distance to the west, that they had spotted them on their property as well. I wondered how many kits they were feeding, and why Daisy did not seem to mind them being around. She did send them packing if they happened into the area where Daisy had her fawns but, for the most part, she did not seem to consider them much of a threat to her young. I wondered if this was because both foxes were fairly small and rail thin, hardly any larger than Daisy’s fawns.
Finally, in mid July, we began seeing two kits. Just before dark each night, we observed the cubs ducking from under my mother-in-law’s sleeping cabin. The one-room cabin, sitting on blocks, had been problematic over the years as the space underneath was easily accessed by varmints of all sorts. Skunks had taken up residency there last autumn, which rendered the cabin unsuitable for guests to stay in. But apparently, the foxes found it just fine for their new digs.
Most evenings, FD and I watched the little ones play from our front porch. They raced and played around the barns and fenced gardens. But, after a couple of weeks, we noticed the pair beginning to work on their hunting skills. The young, mother fox watched them from our neighbor’s back yard as they pounced at their prey, leaping and chasing bugs in the twilight. I knew that Punkin and Mr. Gambini were well-seasoned at the business of being cautious squirrels, but by now we had just released a new pair of orphaned squirrels, Buddy and Francesca, who were still very small and inexperienced. I hoped it would be a long time before the two fox kits honed their hunting skills…
Foxes are well known for leaving their scat in obvious places, especially on a path or other prominent location, as a territorial marker. So in no time at all, we had fox scat everywhere. My mother-in-law got the worst of it – the ropy segments with tapered ends, made up of hair, teeth and sometimes insects and berries, showed up on her back porch steps, walkways and, most alarmingly, right in front of the entrance to the chicken barn! We found the fox scat in various places on our driveway and sidewalks and, of course, dotted all along the buggy trail through the woods.
And then odd items began showing up in the yard and pasture. I found odd bits of trash and plastic under trees. A couple of times, I ran across leg bones from mammals too large for a fox kill, left out in the open pasture. I could not help but wonder if they were the remains of Daisy’s fawns. Perhaps the foxes found the bones and brought them back to gnaw on them closer to home. Then one morning, one of my brand new flip-flops went missing from our front porch. I suspected the fox kits. I had read somewhere that, like dogs, foxes like chewing on things that bear a human scent. I looked all over for my flipper that week… but to no avail. Likely, one of the kits drug it under Mom’s sleeping cabin.
This past couple of weeks, the fox activity came to a screeching halt. I had seen the older fox only a very few times in the last weeks, but now I was not seeing the young mother or her kits. In a way, I was thankful they were gone. It had been a constant worry all summer that the squirrels we raised would be snatched up by these foxes. And frankly, I was tired of all of the scat laying around. And, I was still a bit hacked at the loss of my brand new flip-flop.
Then today, FD came in from mowing the pasture and asked me to come out and bring the camera. Just in front of the tractor, I saw what was left of the old fox. It had been two weeks since FD had last mowed the pasture grass, and what FD found today was not there then. Apparently it had not taken long for the carcass to decompose in the summer heat. All that was left were bones, a little hair, the paws, and a scraggly but definite, fluffy tail. The old fox remains looked small, a bit larger than a cat. It lay in the soft grass, not far from the area of the pasture where I had watched it run in the purple henbit blossoms in the spring. It was positioned as if it had just fallen over and died, out in the open underneath the summer sun. Life had come full circle for the old fox, and looking down at what was left of him, I could not help but wonder if, perhaps in another lifetime, he would be running wild and free again sometime soon…
© 2015 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…