Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Fox Foreplay

It is the habit of the Lady of the house to look out at the area near the house soon after arising.  What she saw at 6:30 this morning was two foxes.  Focusing on their actions, no pictures were taken since no camera was nearby. This later photo of the deer also shows the ground where the fox action took place.  The curved trail that all of us use disappears at the notch but continues to the back woods.  This morning two foxes used the trail to reach the area where they spent much of their time.  The area in the snow in front of the tall weeds near the right edge of the picture was the center of their interaction.  Then they moved onto a grassy area and continued their dance. It was the vixen who headed off into the unmown grass.  The male laid down on the grass one more time perhaps expecting her to return then he   got up quickly and followed her. 

All of these marks in the snow were made this morning by a pair of foxes.  Today was the first time that both foxes were here at the same time.  Like many animals or birds, the organs of reproduction must be awakened before the seeds for the next generation are ready for deposit.  This scene of much activity included the pair stretching out on the snow while pressing themselves tightly to the ground.  Facing each other, their noses were mere inches apart.  The female moved away first with the male closely following.  Then it was back on the ground facing each other again.  These movements were repeated many times as can be seen by the number of tracks in the snow.  Becky watched this pair for fifteen minutes.  Then they left this area together likely seeking out a suitable spot for their den.

The female fox is much smaller than the male.  They had to be seen together for the difference in size to register.  Recently the fox seen being chased by the beagle seemed small to me.  Apparently it was the female.  This photo shows the difference in the size of the footprints.  The larger male marks are more easily seen since they are both larger and deeper in the snow. The smaller more shallow prints made by the female are near the top of the photo and are barely visible.

It is exciting beyond description that we may provide the home for the next generation of Red Foxes.  We will make no attempt to find their den since we will not risk driving them away.  We will devote much time looking out of our windows to see whatever happens by.

Sunday, February 20, 2022

How To Track A Fox

After the amazing fox sighting we had yesterday morning I thought it might be awhile before the fox came back this way.  Boy did I have that wrong!  

This morning when I looked out  the snow directly outside the living room windows was filled with animal  tracks. Sunshine and blue skies made a perfect opportunity to get pictures.  Trust me when I tell you these footprints and other imprints were made by our fox.  I'm no Daniel Boone, but it was about 5:15PM last evening when the fox sauntered into the garden.  Both Ed and I stood and watched the fox while he was hunting for voles.  Picture a breathtaking male fox with black legs, red orange fur, black orange and white ears, and a white tip on the end of his tail.  First he stood and listened sniffing the air.  Slowly he sniffed walking slowly along the tunnel that he could tell was under the snow.  Next he hesitated, shifted his weight to his hind legs and  pounced. His front feet and his nose came down first and he dug a hole hoping to come up with a brown hairy vole.  This process was repeated over and over.  Sometimes he would just stand and wait. Sometimes he would sit with his tail wrapped around his legs.  There is one actual fox sitzmark in the above photo.  

Now I really hate it when one of those furry rodents surprises me and makes me scream.  Not only that but voles are bulbs and root eaters.  Obviously Ed and I were rooting for the fox.  All of this hunting and no finding was getting a little depressing.

I stayed watching though and the fox and I  were both rewarded for our patience. The hole closest to us was the next to the last pounce.  That fox was poetry in motion. He went from still to pounce in seconds, pinned that vole to the ground with his feet, grabbed it with his teeth and tossed it high into the air. The vole seemed stunned. The fox watched it for a moment then played with it for awhile.  Letting it go and then catching it again, not unlike a house cat might do with a mouse toy.  In the end he held the vole down with his foot biting it a few times until it stopped moving.  I watched as he chewed off the head, swallowed it and then swallowed the rest of the vole.  The fox trotted off taking a walk on top of Ed's curved wall, down to the basement door and back, and across the parking lot past the bluebird house until he was out of sight.

 These are brand new rodent tunnels made in this morning's fresh snow.  I could be wrong, but I think the fox will be back.  Perhaps it is cheating to watch what happens and track the animal afterwards, but it sure works for me!

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Fox Finds Breakfast

We have willingly shared our home with foxes for as long as we have been here.  A den was found by us that served as the first home of newborn cubs.  Watching them begin to explore their world is a treasured memory.  One day I found a recently dead fox in the path to the garden by the woods.  A proper burial marked by a suitable field stone seemed appropriate.  Following a bitterly cold February week, a female and male came to the surface from a network of woodchuck tunnels and promptly mated near the area shown in the first photo.

We seem to be on the morning path taken by this fox. This week we saw the fox on Tuesday, Wednesday and again this morning. Today was the best yet!  He first appeared on that same path mentioned here making his way to our lawn.  Being alone his concern was breakfast.  Our snow here is widely marked with rodent tunnels as they go about their business walking on the surface of the grass under the snow.  The fallen stone pile was a temporary spot for stones found when making garden beds.  Hastily placed these stones remained upright for years but movement caused by the north wind became apparent.  Then the pile partially collapsed.  To date none of my carefully built stone walls have fallen while two temporary piles have tumbled down.

In this picture the fox has found his breakfast.  He flipped the rodent onto the unbroken surface of the snow then appeared to wait.  No chase followed as the rodent remained motionless.  Fox breakfast quickly followed.

As a measure of just how much we share this land with native animals, Mr. Fox is walking directly toward our living room window.  Perhaps he sees this ground as his not mine.  He continued to approach the house.  A moment was taken to mark a flower stalk directly adjacent to the house.  That leg in the air action identified this fox as male.

Two days ago bright sunlight and warm air combined to remove the dangerous remains of the recent rain, ice and snow storm.  In all of our years living in upstate New York we have never seen a storm like that one.  Frozen hard bare ground captured and held all of the rain ice and snow mixture.  The bond between the ground and the ice laden snow was so tight that I could not break any of it free with an ice chopper.  Walking outside was treacherous but no falls followed the few necessary trips taken.  This recent warm spell accompanied by rain dissolved much of the ice but what remained was incredibly smooth and slippery.  As is usually the case the liquid runoff drained down the hill until its path was blocked by the road.  Our pond quickly drained as a deep sand glacial deposit is under a thin layer of soil.  Ice abandoned by its supporting water invites one to walk on it accompanied by the delightful sound of ice crunching.  So far the size of the puddle and its slippery sloped margins remain unbroken.

Friday, February 18, 2022

Eagle Nest Found

When we first found our retirement land, a close encounter with two Golden Eagles just happened.  They were heading North where a nest was likely.  A small group of turkeys caught their attention.. The turkeys were huddled under a trashy bush and the eagles were making close dives to see if they would move then from under cover.  I had come here to work on developing a garden and my presence sent the eagles on their way.

We have seen Bald Eagles, both mature and immature, on numerous occasions but have never before found a nest.  That all changed this morning when we went for a drive and an active nest was discovered.  Strong winds filled the air but no eagles were seen.  It is possible that eggs are present now with one of the adults keeping them warm.

 This nest is located very close to I-88 and our hope is that if we remain in the parked car we might see the adults without disturbing them.  For us this nest is a treasure beyond measure.  We will limit our visits to one per week.

Thursday, February 17, 2022

Fifty And Free

Just over one quarter of a century ago, fifty and free was my frequently spoken motto.  The purchase of thirty-six acres consisting mostly of glacial deposits that were anything but flat was where I intended to spend my retirement years.  In my relative youth we found outdoor activities during all four seasons.  February frequently found us outside hiking on snowshoes or riding down the steep slopes on our Swiss Bob sleds.  Now the wisdom that sometimes comes with age finds us mostly looking out of the windows.  That is not all bad as yesterday we saw our fox.

Maidenhair spleenwort is the first pictured plant.  It has been with us for several years and all of these transplants survived.  In nature it occurs close to fractures in bedrock stone cliffs.  In our wildflower garden, we first built the broken stone level surface then the wall.  Finding a green growing plant outside today was quite a thrill.  The tiny red spheres are Sumac berries that have fallen from the trees that make this area a shade garden.  Both birds and rodents see them as winter food.  They are bright bits of red color.

This Woodland phlox has an interesting history here.  Many years ago Becky was weeding around the base of a new transplant when she broke off a piece of it.  I was instructed to find a place to plant this rootless piece if green expecting that it would certainly perish.  It was regularly watered and look at it now.  The fallen Oak leaves grew on a tree located on the other side of the lane.  The phlox grows inside of a wire fence circle since the deer find it tasty.

Rattlesnake plantain has been with us for years.  One purchased plant became several but they all remain tiny.  A natural location finds them growing at a much higher elevation but nothing can be done about that issue.  Perhaps a light deposit of crushed limestone would improve their appearance here.  Although they have never flowered, their veined leaves are attractive year round.  They certainly lifted my spirits today.

This is a purchased fern whose label stone is hidden under Fall litter.  Becky's memory says Polypody but that name has no meaning to me but is correct.  The lighter colored undersides of several leaves display brown spore circles that appear to be actively providing material for new plants.  So far this plant has been well behaved and is only slowly expanding its ground.


A Locust tree fence rail is home for this lichen.  It has a visual appeal but its presence on tree trunks is a sign the tree is approaching death.  Nothing can be done to halt that process so we feel only a small measure of guilt for providing the lichen with a home.

This moss covered stone was planted here to define the edge of the planting area.  The glaciers left huge deposits of stones similar to this one on our land.  The smooth rounded surface speaks of this stone's long trip in torrents of melt water.  The size of stones similarly placed as path edging has diminished out of the reality of the impact of age on the gardener.  We had to walk on smooth wet slippery ice to take these pictures.  A slow careful pace while firmly grasping tree trunks kept us upright.  Our outside temperature reached fifty degrees today and for awhile we were free to move among some of our plants.