We have four or five fox dens within about a quarter mile of our house, most dug into the steep hillsides of the roadside right-of-way bordering our acreage. Most of our neighbors know the dens are there, and it’s not uncommon at this time of year to see one or more cars idling at the roadside, camera extended in the direction of one of the dens, the vehicle occupants hoping to catch a picture of at least one of the den’s pups venturing out into the daylight.
Earlier this year, I wrote about our desire to keep the resident foxes in the area. The fact that foxes have made their homes here means that coyotes have not, since the two don’t generally share the same territory. While coyotes can attack and kill adult sheep, foxes are a threat to only the very smallest lambs — and when ours are that small, they’re kept within the safety of our barns where the fox are not a threat. As a result, we appreciate every new fox den in the area. To me, a growing fox population means a much lower threat to our lambs overall — a true reason to celebrate.
I also have to admit that the fox are beautiful to watch. Throughout the growing season, we see them come and go, sunning themselves on our hillsides, eating fallen fruit in the orchard, or happily celebrating the discovery of a random egg near our chicken coop — an egg that I have occasionally left as encouragement to the fox to remain our neighbors. They are beautiful, graceful creatures — and the stories of their cunning and intelligence are not exaggerated. They are smart animals that can often find their way into our buildings, even when we think we have outsmarted them. I’m a big fox fan, even if they sometimes get into things I wish they would not!
As a result, I am one of those people who drive very slowly along our gravel road at this time of year. Not only am I looking for the pups who hide in the roadside growth, but I’m also aware that as they mature, they begin to wander a greater distance from their dens — and this can lead them into the roadway in front of moving vehicles. The last thing I want is to injure or kill one of our young canid neighbors!
After many thwarted attempts at seeing one of the pups that I knew were living in dens along our roadside, I finally got my first look this past weekend. I passed the closest den as I quickly exited the driveway, but then I slowed down to see whether I could find any pups outside the second or third den on the way towards the paved road about 3/4 mile away. I hadn’t gone far when I suddenly spied one of the pups standing in a den opening, taking in the morning air and warm sun.
Although I stopped literally in front of the little one in my big truck and rolled down the window, it was not at all afraid. It stood there looking at my truck and listening to the music from my radio. I worried that it wasn’t more concerned for its safety with such a large thing so close on the road, but then I remembered the many cars and trucks I’d seen idling there over the past weeks. This pup had likely seen many vehicles before and obviously viewed them as no threat. I finally decided to move on down the road, looking for the next den that lay not far ahead.
As I got close to the dirt mound that signaled the next den, I saw an adult fox lope off under the fence and into my neighbor’s cattle pasture. There, within feet of the den opening, was a fox pup busily devouring a rabbit that the parent had just dropped off. Whether it had been alive when delivered for a bit of hunting practice or already dead for a simple meal, the pup was obviously hungry and was devouring it with gusto. Again, this pup had no fear of my presence, whether I was inside the vehicle or out. It happily worked on its breakfast, only too happy to pause now and then for a photo as I maneuvered for a good angle.
Eventually I got back in my truck and continued into town, feeling privileged to have gotten such a good look at our new neighbors. I only hope that the pups will continue to find our neighborhood friendly and safe, eventually digging their own dens into one of the many hillsides and raising their own pups here one day.