by Mark Daul
Outdoors in Niagara
"Cute little buggers, aren't they?"
Those were the words of Town of Porter resident Karen Sutherland who lives on Lake Road. It is not often many of us get to see a fox den with their new family, but Sutherland found a red fox den right in her backyard, and they have shown up there for four years in a row. She had the foresight to snap a few pictures with her cell phone and share them with others.
Sutherland said the mother had them hiding in an abandoned woodchuck tunnel under an old shed in her yard. The pup you see in the picture is one of seven she spotted. "I tried to get a picture of all of them, but they would never stay still long enough!" she said.
Sutherland included another picture of four of them having a good old time wrestling with what looked like an old pillowcase that blew into the yard. She also had a picture of the mother (or dad?) peering at her through the brush, probably making sure the brood didn't get into any trouble with "that stranger taking pictures." Fox can have litters numbering anywhere from one to 12, with three to six being common, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
Sutherland had a feeling that the mom and dad fox had put their pups into the woodchuck tunnel for a few days after being spooked by something. It could have been, however fox are known to take up residence in these abandoned tunnels that are also referred to as maternity dens. And they like the idea of having that back door provided to escape if the need arises. They will also make homes in dead tree trunks, rock piles, thick brush, and similar things. These dens are then lined with dry leaves and grass.
Fox have a variable diet, and are predators to woodchucks, mice, birds, squirrels, rabbits, opossum and just about anything they would consider meat, even bugs. Keeping Mother Nature in the back of your mind, hawks and owls are predators to young fox for their meals if they can get to them. Human trapping and hunting along with coyotes are helpful in keeping adult fox populations under control. The red fox tends to avoid coyote territory, and bobcats are another predator that they like to avoid.
The fox is a very shy animal, and people have a tendency to consider it an enemy of humans, especially chicken farmers and others that raise chickens for a hobby. Fox are not always to blame; in fact they do more good for these people than harm. They help control mice, raccoons and other rodents that attack chickens and their eggs, but the fox gets all the blame.
An adult fox weighs between 8 and 12 pounds on average. They are about the size of a small family dog, and vary in total length from 48 to 57 inches, and that includes its bushy tail. Red fox are rusty, reddish fur in color, with all four feet black, and white under the chin and chest.
A female fox is called a vixen, a male can be called a reynard, dog, dog fox or tod, and a little guy is a kit, cub or pup.
Although red fox are most active at night, take a look when driving down a country road or over in an old field or on farmland. You might spot one roaming looking for dinner. Or if you see one standing still, pointing like an English pointer, it means he is listening and smelling, trying to zero-in on his prey. With any luck, he'll capture the next meal to bring home to its young.
Actually the last red fox I saw was just a few weeks ago, right in the Village of Youngstown. He scooted out from Brookshire Road, headed south on Third Street and turned through a backyard near the Red Brick Village Center. I kept an eye on him as long as I could. As he covered more territory, I circled around to Lockport Road, toward Melloni's Market plaza, and then I lost track of him.
It was interesting to see one so close to residences. I have seen other fox cross the road in front of me coming out of a field or a ditch along the highway, carrying a field mouse or some other similar critter in its mouth, probably carrying it off to feed its pups.
Fox have excellent hearing. They can hear a mouse tunneling under a blanket of snow and pinpoint exactly where that critter is, pounce on it and grab a quick meal. They also have that ability to hear a critter burrowing underground, and pinpoint right where it's at, dig and grab it.
Yes fox are known to carry rabies, a disease that affects the central nervous system, plus they can get distemper, mange, parasites and other diseases. Like all mammals, such as raccoons, skunks, opossum, etc., they are subject to the same diseases. That is why you should always be wary of approaching any of these wild buggers as "cute as they are."
•Tom Welder phoned our house the other day and reported seeing a bald eagle sitting quietly in a tree near his house on Route 93 and Lutts Road. He did get some pictures, but he said they didn't come out too clear. He is going to keep on the lookout for another sighting.
My wife had another eagle sighting out of the corner of her eye recently, when one flew over the lake near shore right out from our front window. She said it was movin' and groovin' and must have been on some kind of mission, flapping its wings.
•I would like to acknowledge Cynthia Cowdrick of Youngstown, as I had never thanked her for her comments. She liked my column about certain things reminding us of old things in life. She wrote, "Thanks for reminding me of the wonderful summers we spent at our cottage on Moon River. Whip-poor-wills and loons were our evening serenade. I don't remember ever seeing a whip-poor-will, but my impression is that they were nesting on the ground."
Thank you Ms. Cowdrick, and you were right about the crows, they are called a murderer.
•After that, I met an old plow horse acquaintance named Frank at the Lewiston fish cleaning station, and he ranted and raved about the same column/story reminding him of good things out of the past too. At least someone is reading my stories!
•In coming weeks I'll tell you a story about Louie, a harbor master at the Lewiston Landing who mysteriously disappeared and hasn't been seen since. There was a bleep about Louie in the Buffalo News, but no other daily paper said anything. Keep an eye out for it - it is interesting and mysterious.
•Here's some memories from the 1942 Willys story from Don Supon of Niagara Falls:
"Thanks for that (Willys story). 1946 was the year I was born, a result of my dad returning from Germany and the war. Your writing kindled childhood memories for me that I hadn't thought about for a while. Fruit picking as a family on a weekend and bringing home bushels of various fruits that my mom would hot pack for days.
"The old Lewiston Hill road, where dad ran out of gas in the old station wagon filled with fruit and kids just as we rounded that left curve 100 yards before the top (remember how steep it used to be before they re-graded it?). We all waited there while dad walked down to Lewiston and back to get some gas.
"We always had lots of fruit to eat all winter. Plums, peaches, cherries, and pears in quart jars and apples from the attic that were in a bushel layered in newspaper. As a teen, I'd often open a jar of pears (my favorite) in the evening and eat all or most of that quart along with most of loaf of bread that got toasted. Mom did veggies also, but fruits are remembered best. Good memories! Good story!"
"So Smart" says: "What do you call a fish with no eyes?" Answer: "Fsh!"