Saturday, September 14, 2013

Chocolay Foxes

The crows were unusually loud this morning; we hear them often, especially this time of year — but today they were excited, their vocalizations clamorous and close by. I didn't think much of it until early this afternoon, when one of our neighbors stopped by to tell us there was a dead fox alongside the road. "Again?" I demanded, mostly out of exasperation. Last weekend's fox pup had been enough; I wasn't happy about the prospect of yet another deceased fox.

But sure enough, just a hundred feet or so down the road from our house, there it was — a gray fox pup stretched out in the grass, its entrails strung out behind it, already blackened by the heat of the sun. Flies had arrived on the scene, but so had several dozen yellow jackets. The wasps crowded themselves onto the exposed flesh and viscera, their jaws tearing away at the muscle, and it was a decidedly disturbing spectacle.

Yellowjackets I

The loud cawing and croaking we'd heard this morning was explained, as well: the scavenging crows had left several feathers behind. As for the fox, unlike the one I photographed last Sunday, this one had been killed on the spot: its belly had burst open and its jaw was smashed, culminating in a grisly stain on the pavement.

Dew still clung to the soft summer fur.

Not only had the fox's jaw been smashed, but it had also been skinned down to the bone. The scrape of the pavement had torn away the gums and flesh; it was a bizarre, haunting sight.

This fox, too, was still in the process of growing its set of adult teeth — but it was much further along than last week's fox. I don't believe they were in the same litter.

As I said in my last entry, I hate to see dead foxes. This is the time of year when young animals are becoming independent; as a result, many are hit on the road — skunks, raccoons, and foxes alike. It's a waste of life, and it's a reminder to slow down when you're driving.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Blue Eyes

This afternoon, some friends found a dead fox along the neighborhood bike path we so often frequent. They quickly let us know, and Steph and I walked out to meet them there. Just past a stand of bracken ferns, resting upon bearberry and reindeer lichen and star moss, was a gray fox pup. The body had been there for at least a day: raindrops clung to its woolly summer fur — the abdomen was bloated — the visible eye was a ghostly, nearly luminescent blue.

Gray foxes are abundant in our area. After the death of the gray fox last December, I was afraid they'd be gone from the neighborhood for good, but thankfully that was not the case. In March we saw two sets of fox tracks, their paths crossing — Steph and I began finding fox scat in our driveway and later on the bike path — and then, this summer, we'd see them, both adults and pups, crossing that same path. Sometimes they paid us no heed; other times, they'd stop and stare, and we'd stop and stare right back at them.

This pup, likely one of the handful we observed this summer, died along the path.

Trailside Pup V

At first glance, no visible injuries appeared to be on the body, and the fox looked to have been in good health when she died. Her adult canines were just starting to poke through her gums; her claws were sharp, her fur — though the scraggly summer pelage — was still full and soft. I turned the body over, and it became apparent that the pup's pelvis was smashed, probably by the tire of a car. It's quite possible — and most likely — that she was hit on Main Street, not far from where the gray fox was hit last year. This pup dragged herself away from the road in what must have been an agonizing ordeal, only to collapse and die, several feet from the trail.

I hate to see foxes dead. They're a beautiful, fascinating, important part of the ecosystem, and it's heartbreaking to see their lives ended by the tire of a too-fast car. I am thankful, however, to have the opportunity to observe them — both in life and in death.