Saturday, July 4, 2009

A New World for Foxes, June 7, 2009

Hello Everybody,

Last night I returned home after dark. I walked down the familiar steep path and let my wheelbarrow pull my feet along, enjoying the moonlight. The little area in front of the cabin door was darker so I put on my headlamp. As I unloaded stuff into the house, the light of the headlamp reflected off a pair of gleaming eyes deep in the shrubbery. Fox! I new it was the big male by how low to the ground the bright eye spots were. Then, I heard the growls.

The bright reflection from eyes in the night is called eyeshine. Human eyeshine is red and makes flash photos of us look weird. Other animals, especially those that move around in the night, have it, too, only brighter than ours. Probably the first humans to know of eyeshine were those who huddled around the fire to keep warm and scare away night predators. There were a lot more gleaming eyes watching humans then than there are now.

One night long ago, while sleeping among oak trees, I woke up and put on my headlamp. The grass sparkled with pinpricks of crystal blue lights. What? On closer look, I found I was looking into the eyeshine of night-hunting spiders, thousands of them. I gazed for some time at this beautiful starry sight.

Anyway, except for that first morning he showed up after the mom was killed, I have seen the male fox only late in the day or at night. I think he is nocturnal, while the female and the pups were diurnal. Perhaps the pups have now discovered the world of nighttime, too. In fact, this late afternoon I sat on my deck paying bills when one of the kits came lightly stepping through the shrubbery. It was gorgeous. Supple, strong looking, with a rich rust-and-pepper coat. It went straight to one of the den holes beneath the house, pulled out a dead mouse and began chomping. This was music to my ears! The babies were eating meat and crunching bones! What more could a surrogate fox mom want?

It has been one month since the pups emerged at about 5-6 weeks. I am amazed at how quickly they grow. Since I had no camera to photograph the little fox with the mouse, I am including some photos from last year so you can see what a 9+-week-old kit looks like. No, wait. I hear scuffling outside. There they are! The pop with at least two kits. He looks quite content with the little ones streaking around him in the dim light. I wonder if he is moving them back to this den? Foxes move from den to den quite often.


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