Oregon writer, Rain Trueax, and Oregon painter, Diane Widler Wenzel co-author Rainy Day Thought. Diane generally posts on Wednesdays and Rain on Saturdays. There may be extra days or changes as situations warrant. Comments are always welcome and appreciated as it turns an article into a discussion.

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Chronicles of the Fox

When our story begins, the humans are clueless as to what is going on-- not unusual for humans. The story will take place on two levels with two families.

April 2012 and I saw a fox in our deck garden. It's a fenced yard and I thought how wondrous as it sat and sunned itself, almost seeming to take a nap. I felt both thrilled and amazed that the wild had invaded our groomed space. It acted almost as though it was its own backyard... Keep that thought in mind.

We left the farm here not long after the sighting as we had work to do in Tucson on our house there. We were gone a month or so. When we came back, we began to be concerned that something had died in our solarium which is a small room off the house that was a porch we had enclosed. When the smell went away, we forgot about the problem... for awhile.

We pick our story back up in spring of 2013 when we finally had what we felt was a secure outside enclosure for our cats. It was with the goal of keeping them in the deck yard with enough space for them to feel they were having a wilds experience but not so much that they could get out to the gravel road while pursuing a frog, bird, mouse, etc. and end up killed by a passing vehicle.

With spring I began to think I wanted another space enclosed-- what most would call the front yard as it is toward the road but we have a rather confusing home arrangement where what is the front door never gets used by anybody-- people come in through the backdoor to the utility room or through the french door leading to our deck. It's a farm though where driveways relate more to farm use than people.

Farm Boss set out to make that yard secure and about the time he was finishing it, when we set up a picnic table there, a cat door and encouraged our cats to use it, we had also begun to see a pair of foxes. They weren't frightened. They watched us as though we were the intruders. Keep that thought in mind.

When the pair appeared again in the supposedly 'safe' cat yard, Farm Boss set about making the fence higher and more secure. Didn't work. Foxes were still there and we were glad we had the new frontyard that we thought of as a backyard for the cats as although foxes don't choose fights with grown cats, these were obviously trained killers and one of our cats, Blackie, feels a responsibility to guard the property seeming to know no fear.

It was when Farm Boss watched one of the foxes, outside the fenced enclosure climb into a magnolia, get a bird out of it,take it to the orchard to kill and then... leap over our secure fence to bring it into the enclosed front/backyard, now to be known as deck yard. Why would a fox take its prey into a people enclosed yard to eat it?

The fox showed up one day right outside the new fenced garden and both the cat and it stared at each other. Pepper was wise enough to slam through the cat door at a fast run which is why I knew what was going on. I yelled at the fox. It looked at me with curiosity. I then picked up a rock and loosely tossed it over the fence hoping it would scare it off. It ran to it to see what it was. Clearly some humans had been feeding it. Finally I used the hose and when it got sprayed, it left but didn't run far.

Those two experiences pretty much told us something was going on here that we didn't want. Shortly after we found out what it was when Farm Boss put a live trap near where we now believed they were living in the narrow crawlspace under our solarium. The next morning a fox was in it. Farm Boss poked a stick back in the space he had thought too small for any fox to get into and heard a growl.

So here we were with the illusion we were building a higher fence to keep the foxes out and protect our cats... except the foxes were determined to get in because this was their home. That garden was theirs too. The safety of our cats had been an illusion.

We knew foxes mate in winter or early spring. The odds now were that this pair had pups in the crawlspace under our solarium.   We did some online research and found from the time the pups were born, it takes two months to become grown enough to be on their own. It's not hard to understand why the parents chose where they did. It's dry, secure and last year with us gone, it was quiet. Foxes are wonderful hunters and predators but also prey for the bigger predators. We have a safe area-- especially when we weren't there.

It's kind of neat to think you share your living space with a family of foxes, and there was a momentary thought, fleeting, that if we could fence our cats securely away from them they could stay. No, that's crazy. Not only do foxes potentially carry rabies, but they are wild things. They need to be afraid of humans who can endanger them.

New plan. Let the trapped fox go out by the old, downed barn with the admonition that it'd be a great spot for a den. Since they have been here, the rodent population has been way down. Yes, they kill birds but only to eat, not for fun. We would love them to stay but not under the solarium with putrifying smells in that room as they don't eat every bite of what they kill.

When Farm Boss got ready to release the trapped fox, which he thinks was the male, he had  a careless moment and got bit through the wire and his leather gloves. Fortunately a graze more than a deep bite, and it healed fine. It is a reminder that they will attack when feeling threatened.

Trying to find out exactly what was going on, we set up our wildlife camera with a view to their exit door from the crawlspace. Got some great pictures and the possibility that the mother took her babies elsewhere-- to a securer life or so she hopes. Wildlife cams that flash at night are obviously not regarded as friendly and since the trapping in the cage, the foxes have been more wary of us.

I feel sorry for predators as their life is not an easy one. These little foxes are awesome predators as you can see if you look at the slideshow below. They are also so cute, but my priority is my cats. The foxes have to stop denning up under our home, but whether they already have, we will give them a reprieve of two months  to raise those pups if they are still here-- darling pups and I so relate to the struggle these animals face.

In the meantime-- are we deluding ourselves that we can make this less attractive near our home where they have been dry, warm and felt safe from bobcats, coyotes, cougar and bears? Keeping out an animal that can jump and climb as well as they can is not easy. Having been fed by other humans makes it even harder.

The story might be over... or maybe not. 


Hattie said...

Ironic that your attempts to keep the wild things out has drawn them in. Life is difficult for them, and they are smart enough to want an easier life, but, as you say, it is best for them not to lose their fear of humans or become dependent on our food sources.
Can't get the slide show to run. It could be my service, which has been acting up lately.

Rain Trueax said...

I went back and checked on the slideshow and it still works for me, Hattie but I might see if I can find somewhere else to put it. I had thought of putting it on YouTube but if I do, I'd like to put music with it; so we'll see.

You know they might've been in there for years as the fence has been up for a long time. But maybe they spent less time there when it was easier to get out. Maybe they like the garden pool and work we've done there ;) The babies are cute little balls of fuzz right now and she carried them out in her mouth.

We have wondered if the couple split up over a difference of opinion on their security ;) It appears he has still come in and she has not. I worry about them other places as hate to think they'd be killed by bigger predators.

Chrissy in Chaos said...

Hi - I found your blog while just hopping! I just wanted to say ow much I am enjoying reading about your way of life. :) Chrissy in the UK

Rain Trueax said...

Welcome Chrissy and always glad to see new readers here :)

Tabor said...

I also could not get the picasa slide show to run. It is https and maybe needs a password? I love the curiosit of a fox and one year we also had those in our fenced in yard by the swimming pool and fish pond. Fortunately they only stayed a day!

Rain Trueax said...

I found the problem with the slideshow but redid it for YouTube with music. It gives the same length of time to view each slide. When I have time, I'll try to figure out another way to put them on Picasa that doesn't involve a slideshow and lets the viewer look through each one at their own rate. It's a busy morning here; so that'll have to wait.

robin andrea said...

The slideshow worked for me, so how ever you fixed it, it's fine now. This is quite an interesting experience you're having with these beautiful foxes. It's a challenge when wildlife and our own personal spaces get overlapped. There really isn't much of a balance than can be struck. I hope the foxes find someplace safe to den, and not within your perimeter.

Lynn said...

Rain, I figured your saga would prove as much as much when the couple was so persistent. We trap and release raccoons back to uninhabited pine woods. Both slide show and music resonated all that is beauty in this ole’ world.

Rain Trueax said...

When we trapped the fox, we weren't sure where we would release him. when we realized there were two and likely babies, we knew it had to be close to the house; so he could return. We hoped he'd like it around the barns. It did though disrupt the whole thing and it looks like the mother moved the babies while he may not be quite sure where. We interfered with nature but nature also interfered with us ;) Hopefully they will be somewhere safe. We saw the female near the old mobile, where my mother lived until she died, and then where her cats lived until they died as they didn't want to live in our house. She may have settled under there and that's not good either as it's what I want removed but have yet to find someone willing to dismantle and remove it for a price I feel is reasonable. Now if she's under there, it complicates it. We got some wildlife cam photos last night which showed a fox looking into the fenced yard but not entering. It just feels sad to me at this point :(

OldLady Of The Hills said...

What an amazing story, and what great pictures! The Pups are darling....!
I can see what a dilemma this is and I hope you are able to re-settle them somehow in another safe area, after their little pups are grown. you certainly have a very interesting and varied life there on the Farm, Rain...Many Many Challenges, my dear!

Rain Trueax said...

We think they resettled themselves elsewhere and possibly because of something outside of us. We had two wildlife cams going the other night and saw the foxes looking toward what had been their den under our porch but not going inside the fence. We saw also a raccoon running away from that area. If the raccoons were coming close, that might've been the motive to move the young. The other possibility is when the mother saw her young out of the den, she knew they would require a different location for their next stage. I can see advantages to changing nests given how they have dead things they eat there, tear apart, as well as possibly lice and other aspects that make it healthier to move once in awhile. They aren't going to tell us what was going on, and we are still seeing them outside and around-- not acting afraid of us. They are good hunters of the sort of thing like moles, rats and ground squirrels. That's good for the environment for us too as rodents also can carry diseases. We just hope they found a safe place to raise the pups. It's a tough world out there.

Rain Trueax said...

taking forth the saga, of which we'd know nothing without a good wildlife cam, last night a raccoon went into the area that had been the fox den under our solarium. The fox showed up an hour and then another hour later to check things out. It's uncertain whether either left but we are assuming both did. Cams don't catch all action. It does make it look as though the mother moved her young to keep them away from raccoons that were coming too close. Clearly her babies would be prey for a raccoon.

la peregrina said...

Fascinating story. I did not know racoons are a danger to baby foxes.

Rain Trueax said...

we had a raccoon that was going into our barn and killing newborn lambs. We didn't know what was doing it at first as it was an unusual kill with kind of a peeled skull. We worried that it was a bobcat which would be a tough call on whether you would kill it or not. We brought out the tracker and he said-- raccoon. Not long after Farm Boss saw a big raccoon carrying off the dead body of a lamb he/she had killed. He shot it dead. Another time we saw a raccoon on the beams on the ceiling of the barn and he killed that one too during the newborn season. I think they are opportunists and they will get what they can. Maybe the raccoon is also feeding babies right now. The fox is a much smaller animal. These weigh about 6 lbs and most raccoons are considerably heavier. It's a tough world out there in nature is all I can say.

Rain Trueax said...

We had been told most of the raccoons in our area had died off from parvo but clearly that one looked healthy. The bad part with all of them is they can carry rabies.

Dixon Webb said...

Rain. . . Enjoyed your story. Thanks. Wife and I just returned from a few days on Catalina Island. Had heard about the small Catalina foxes for years . Never saw one. They are apparently unique to the island and not anxious to share company with two legged people. They have few other enemies over there. The boars are gone, the bison are down to a very few, the goats don't go after them, and the deer are too busy eating everything in sight - except foxes. As often the case, people and civilization are the sad and growing threat. Bump

Rain Trueax said...

Interesting on the foxes there, Dixon. I've never been to Catalina Island but it's always sound very special when I've heard of other's experience. Glad to see you here btw :)

Annie said...

Great story, fabulous photo, love it.

I recently met a new farmer who has a rather interesting attitude towards wildlife and domestic animals, he considers the chickens the coyotes get his "tax". However he also has ways and means for dealing with "overtaxing". He had a problem with crows stealing eggs, so he managed to trap one in the act and put it into a cage where he left it for a couple of days. Then he released it, but not before dousing it with water from a hose. He hopes that crow will tell all the other crows what a mean guy he is and they will avoid his barn.

Maybe you could do something similar if those foxes try to return. Hope they leave your cats alone.

Rain Trueax said...

It is possible that the trap made the fox want to leave, Annie, but I have heard that they move their babies three times as they mature; so it might've been nothing to do with us. I do want them to be afraid and avoid us as it's safer for them regarding other humans. They are now out of the yard and we closed up the hole they had used; so next season it won't be available. We wish them well with raising the young as it can't be easy. Our foxes are not very large in comparison to the other predators.