June 20, 2016 by Jean
Sometimes I feel as though I’m living in an episode (or maybe several episodes) of the PBS Nature program. Saturday was one of those days. It began when I got up and wandered out to the kitchen to find a young fox on the other side of the sliding glass door onto my back deck. When I walked toward the door, the fox ambled over to the other side of the deck; but it wasn’t until I spoke – saying something like “What are you doing? You’re not supposed to be up here!” – that it ran down the stairs and off through the back garden into the woods. I knew the foxes were around. One morning a couple of weeks ago, I found a dead vole lying on the garden path. (It had disappeared later in the morning.) Last week, I came home from a meeting after dark, and my headlights caught the flash of two waving tails disappearing into the woods. And then there’s the fox scat that has appeared along the driveway. Mostly, I welcome the presence of the foxes (even if not all their “presents”); but it was disconcerting to find one making itself quite so at home.
After breakfast, I enjoyed my “nature’s beauty” portion of the day. I was recently appointed to my town’s Conservation Commission, and I was meeting up with other members of the commission to walk the newly marked trails in a new town park that the commission has created. The park borders a stream and the trails are a mix of wide, level old rail beds and narrower, woodland trails. It was a perfect morning to be out in the woods, and I kept exclaiming, “This is so beautiful!” I hadn’t known about the park’s existence until I joined the Commission, and I had never been there, so this was a great opportunity to learn more about this piece of the town’s natural beauty and to get to know some of my fellow commission members a bit better.
The next “big scene” in my nature program day came in the evening after dinner. I was sitting out on the screened porch, enjoying a mug of tea and a dish of ice cream and hoping to see the ruby-throated hummingbird that likes to feed at my garden flowers at dusk, when a big bird commotion broke out in the trees. There were lots of birds flitting back and forth and emitting loud alarm calls. The robins were the most numerous and the loudest, but I also noticed a scarlet tanager and some kind of small warbler. I wondered what the cause of alarm was and checked the back yard for a fox. (I’ve seen some evidence of our foxes hunting birds.) But I couldn’t see any fox around to explain all this alarm. Then, as I was standing on the porch trying to figure out what was going on, a big hawk swooped down (maybe from my roof) and landed on a low branch of the tree containing most of the upset birds. The robins, especially, started to dive-bomb the hawk and it flew off again, coming straight at my porch in a way that made me duck as it flew by. I think it was clutching something in its talons; maybe a baby robin. The robins continued to give chase, but I couldn’t see whether they got it to drop its prey. Nature red in tooth and claw – or, in this case, tooth and talon.
A bit later, as I was sitting at my computer, the sound of foxes barking started up. If you don’t know what a fox barking sounds like, check out this video. This was the first time I’ve heard this sound since last summer, but I’m sure it won’t be the last. Fortunately, it didn’t last long, because it can be a bit difficult to sleep when this is going on. The first time I ever heard this sound (in the middle of the night), I seriously considered whether I should call 9-1-1 to report that someone was being murdered in the woods behind my house!
Although most days in my rural setting include some element of nature watching, this was a much more exciting day than most. I love living out in the country.