The last couple days have been a wildlife bonanza in the neighborhood. Yesterday, a flurry of wings outside my window turned out to be a barred owl swooping at a dodging red squirrel. It then landed in a nearby white pine, which made me grab the camera. Outside, the owl watched deer and me moving about but we were too big to be considered prey and it was most attentive toward red squirrels. It looked with special interest at the fox as it trotted by, but it didn’t go after it. I clicked a picture when it calmly looked at the camera. After I got back inside it launched toward the spot where over a dozen red squirrels commonly feed. The fox later spent a couple hours sleeping on top of a snow mound in bright sun on this day when temperatures stayed below zero.
Today I got a call from a neighbor who feeds a couple red foxes a half mile away as the crow flies. The two foxes share a space under a shed where temperatures are probably the same as outside. On sunny days they also rest in the sun.
The neighbor told me a story that I had never heard anywhere before. A coyote showed up—the first one in years. They are several times the size of a fox and are known for killing foxes. In fact, the new science is that mice spread lyme disease but are kept at low numbers where foxes proliferate. Fox numbers are kept low where there are coyotes, but foxes can flourish where wolves, which kill coyotes, are plentiful enough to keep coyote numbers low, which allows the foxes to kill mice.
In light of that, what the neighbor told me tonight was unexpected. Yesterday, he had put out food for his foxes when a coyote came along—the first coyote he had seen in years. Instead of running for its life, the fox stood up to the coyote and “got some licks in” before running away. The next chapter of that story was tonight, the foxes and coyotes appeared , and the coyote paid no attention when the foxes began mating. It wanted the food instead. The picture of the coyote is included just for reference. It’s a picture I took decades ago. It gives a little idea what the fox saw and dared to stand up against, at least briefly.
Another happening was yesterday morning when I drove in the long (0.16 mile) driveway to the WRI cabin. For the first time, the fox saw me coming and came running up the driveway toward my advancing pickup. I slowed to a stop with the fox maybe 20 feet away standing in the middle of the driveway looking at the truck. I eased forward until I could not see the fox over the hood and stopped again. Then I saw it trotting nonchalantly down the driveway to the parking area. The fox is used to seeing me come in there. If it is resting in its favorite spot on top of a snowplow mound of snow at the edge of the parking area, it does no more than calmly watch me turn straight toward her, stop about 15 feet away, and back into my parking spot. But the fox does know it is feeding time. I go into the front door while the fox goes up the steps to the second floor deck where she meets me to start the day. She knows the program well.
I feel fortunate to be able to spend so much time in this nature-loving neighborhood where people enjoy seeing and learning about wildlife as much as I do.
Thank you for all you do.
Lynn Rogers, Wildlife Research Biologist, Wildlife Research Institute and North American Bear Center
Wildlife Research Institute
145 West Conan Street
Ely, Minnesota 55731 USA