A few weeks ago I received two separate reports from neighbors who live on the high cliffs above the preserve. Their home looks down on the wetlands and have splendid views of the expanse of the preserve and directly below, the far trails that wind up the eastern flank. The reports are of two separate sightings of Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) trotting along the trail around 7 AM. The first report was of a single fox carrying what might be a rabbit in its jaws. The second report a few days later was of a pair of foxes casually traveling more or less the same path. This is one of the mildest winters ever so that may be one encouragement for this pair to stay out and stay more active. Just after sunrise would be the most likely time to actually see this kind of activity.
I know for a fact that fox once inhabited this area because I’ve seen at least one or two. Their prints and droppings were also common years ago. But my sightings were more than 20 years ago. We also have one specimen in the center that was struck and killed on
Northern Blvd many years ago. We haven’t seen any evidence of them in any
recent years. They could have easily
died out or migrated away if their habitat requirements were not
satisfied. It would seem that they are
back and again are an important brush stroke of the ecological picture.
A little research into the expected Red Fox behavior makes me think that their return is entirely likely. I take this as an incredibly good sign of the ecological health and well being of the preserve. The red fox is a small omnivore but it is typically very shy even secretive. It avoids humans and doesn’t wander out into the neighborhoods like raccoons and opossums which are some common in our neighborhoods and yards. They forage in brush and overgrown areas (and we have plenty of that to offer them) and will catch birds and rabbits and small rodents and probably have a vegetable diet as well. Since the second sighting indicates a pair it would seem likely that it could be a male-female pair and that they may be setting up a den. Our steep, heavily vegetated, eastern valley wall would be well-drained, a factor that might be encourage this behavior.
Within the boundaries of preserve fox would have no likely natural predators. We are lacking the larger mammals and the largest eagles that might conceivable prey on a smaller fox. The one thing that could upset their well-being would probably be intrusive humans and of course, with humans sometimes come ‘man’s best friend’. Foxes are very alert and reclusive so they could avoid most humans but a dog could easily pick up their scent and track them to their den. Even if it didn’t end in a direct confrontation this would be threatening enough that it might disturb the reproductive behavior forcing them to leave.
The expression 'man’s best friend’ refers to our truly ancient, loving relationship with dogs, who in almost all societies, are valued for their strength, loyalty, intelligence, alertness, affection and playfulness. Dogs are pan important part of my life and a part of human life – even in a city. But there are plenty of places for dogs – to socialize and to run free - without harming the natural world. In researching this short essay I came across some reports (see the two links below) that claim that the fox may also have once been a domesticated partner of humans in parts of the world. There is some good recent evidence for an older, caring and kinder relationship between our species. This is fascinating stuff.
Welcome back Br'er fox. I am truly happy to report that our old companion, the red fox, is making a comeback in our preserve.