Nature Lives Closer to Home Than You Think
By Mark S. McDonald
If you know where to look and when, you are never far from Mother Nature. Even a suburban neighborhood in west Midland, Texas, can have a certain “wildness” to it.
Just how wild?
For a glimpse of nature, look no farther than the girls softball diamond on the campus of Lee High School. It is home of the Lady Rebels but also for at least one family unit of gray fox.
Neighborhood residents report seeing the small canine in their backyards, in broad daylight. One surprised Midlander discovered juvenile kits cavorting on the patio of her backyard. Another local nature-lover reported seeing adult foxes returning to a semi-secluded hole in the ground where, she presumes, they now make their den. Across town, amidst multi-story office buildings, another local citizen spotted a fox trot (what else?) between cars in a covered parking lot.
Least surprised is life-long student of nature Burr Williams, our senior naturalist.
A veteran columnist for the local newspaper and lecturer on plants, animals and history of the Llano Estacado, Williams for years has pointed out that the opportunistic fox will eat almost anything. And they can be found near their food sources — eggs, birds, berries, even carrion and the ripening contents of urban garbage cans. A bowl of goodies intended for the family Fido makes an easy fox meal, too.
Standard-equipped with a predator’s needle-like teeth and fast-twitch muscle of a sprinter, the fox has been clocked up to 45 mph. A fox looks like a small dog, but has the movements of a cat, especially when sneaking up on prey. What’s more, it’s the only member of the canine family that can climb a tree. And not just a tree.
As The Matriarch found out one year, a fox can climb “chicken wire” mesh fencing to attack laying hens. Small wonder Canadian ecologist and red fox expert, J. David Henry, describes red foxes as “one of the most flexible and adaptive species on Earth.”
So if a group of wild hogs is a sounder, what is a group of foxes? Answer: A “lead” or “leash” of foxes. Or, better, a “skulk” of foxes. Next time you want to impress, roll that info out in conversation. Soon, you will have the room to yourself.
The fox, though no threat to humans, is a wild animal, and it has been known to carry rabies. Close contact should be avoided. Similarly, you are encouraged from chewing on beer cans.
Fox sightings have been reported in suburban neighborhoods from Oregon to Pennsylvania, and in the United Kingdom. As the human sprawl continues to expand farther and farther into wildlife habitat, expect to hear and see of more fox sightings.
I look forward to that possibility. Maybe you do, too.
Mark McDonald, past president of the Texas Outdoor Writers, escaped starvation while covering hunting, fishing and conservation for the sports staffs of five major dailies in Texas. His next book, “They Gave Us Baseball: Now Look What We’ve Done” will be released in early 2015.