April 28, 2016 by Jean
One of the delights of rural living is the opportunity to observe wildlife and to connect with the natural world in many ways. In an area with little light pollution, for example, I find it easy to be aware of the phases of the moon and the movement of constellations across the night sky as the season’s change.
Especially during the warm-weather months when I go out to walk first thing in the morning, I can keep track of wildlife in my neighborhood by noting the animal tracks in my dirt road. There are the distinctive three-toed tracks of a flock of turkeys, or a set of large and small deer tracks indicating that a doe and fawn passed this way. On a few occasions, I have seen the large tracks of a moose that had traversed my road in the early morning hours.
I also see the animals themselves. Sometimes a ruffed grouse will startle me by exploding out the underbrush as I walk by on the dirt road. In winter, I may see a fisher moving across the snow under the trees behind my house. Almost any glance out the window will provide a view of more common birds. (Although I don’t feed the birds, the natural abundance of trees and food sources on my property attracts them.) For many years, robins nested in the mock orange outside my bedroom window. It was a great location for me to observe the nest, but it was also accessible to crows who used the roof of my house as a staging area for attacking the nest and stealing the eggs. The robins seldom seemed to raise young successfully in that nest; yet they kept coming back to it year after year. When the mock orange had to be removed for the construction of my new addition, I was relieved. Yesterday, as I watched a pair of robins searching for worms in the back garden, I wondered where they are nesting – presumably a safer location than the mock orange provided.
Wild turkeys are also a common sight. I was amused the year I woke up on Thanksgiving morning to find a flock of about thirty feeding in my front yard. One summer, I watched a hen with a group of eleven very young chicks exploring my back garden. I imagined her saying “Okay, kids, these are blueberries, and when you are older and they are almost ripe, we will come back and eat them all before the human has a chance to pick them.” The chicks were so young that they hadn’t yet learned to balance themselves and provided slapstick comedy as they fell forward onto their beaks every few steps. One day a couple of weeks ago, I glanced out the kitchen window to see a very large solitary turkey, presumably a male, walking through the back garden to the woods beyond.
I am happier to see some wildlife visitors than others. I don’t particularly welcome the members of the rodent family, whether they be the small mice that like to move into the house in fall, the squirrels that regularly plant oak trees in my flower beds, the chipmunks who compete with me for the wild strawberries that grow by the back door, or the woodchucks (called groundhogs in some parts of the United States) who like to build a den below my back deck and treat my garden as their own personal smorgasbord.
While a woodchuck sighting fills me with dismay, other animal sightings are a thrill. Last week, while I was enjoying dinner with my next-door neighbor, a movement outside caught my attention and I looked out to see a fluffy little fox kit exploring the garden by my back deck. My neighbor wondered if the fox family was living in a den with an opening in a sandy bluff across our dirt road from her house. The next morning, as I drove out to my Master Gardener class, I slowed down to take a look at the fox den and saw two little kits sitting in the entrance. For the next few days, my neighbor and I watched the activity at the den. It was like having our own personal Discovery Channel. She had a front row seat from her living room and front deck. My house is further away; but the entrance to the den was visible from one of the windows in my bedroom, and I kept a pair of binoculars on the nightstand by my bed for a better view. The kits were most often seen during the morning, sitting, sleeping or playing near the entrance to the den. One seemed to be more adventurous than the other, venturing further afield and slower to dash back into the safety of the den at any sign of danger. (I assume it was this more adventurous kit that had been exploring my back garden, seemingly all alone and quite far from the den.) One day, when I went out for my walk, the kits were frolicking in the woods above the den. Although they were aware of my presence, they did not show alarm until I came up even with them on the road, at which point they ran back to the den and down into its safety.
Earlier this week, the fox kits disappeared from their position at the entrance to the den. As the days have gone by, the den has begun to look abandoned. A likely explanation is that the mother fox decided that this den is too exposed (it is!) and moved her kits to a more secluded location. This morning, as I was driving out to do an errand, I saw one of the little foxes dash into the woods further down the dirt road at my approach.
I hope I will see the kits again, perhaps during a hunting lesson in my garden. Whether I see them or not, however, I welcome their presence. Foxes’ preferred diet is rodents, and they will help to keep the population of the pesky rodents under control. If I have no woodchuck damage in my garden this summer and fewer mice in my house next fall, I can thank the foxes for their efforts.