Wed 6/10/09

A Daily Walk With DietPower

Walking is the best exercise for weight loss. And the things you see!

Red fox in driveway

Last weekend, my wife, Mary, saw a red fox (Vulpes vulpes) as she was walking on Kilian Drive. Several neighbors have reported sightings, too.

Sure enough, as I rounded the corner from Middle River Road onto Kilian today, I spied this kit standing in Fred and Lovie's driveway, watching me. You may think the animal's eyes are shut, but if you look closely, you'll see two tiny pupils staring out of the slits. This furtive gaze may help to explain the fox's fabled slyness.

I cranked up my zoom lens and ambled closer, hoping to get a sharper picture. I expected the animal to bolt into the woods at any moment. Among hunters and trappers, foxes are renowed for their elusiveness. That's why an adult pelt typically wholesales at $75 or more.

When I got within about 100 feet, however, the fox calmly walked to the door of a toolshed a few feet away and, once again, stood staring at me. Finally, as I drew closer, it glided off into the underbrush. At no time did it appear frightened.

Something troubled me about this animal's behavior. Red foxes are mostly nocturnal. They sneak up on rabbits, mice, voles, and other small mammals, whom they can hear digging underground because of their unusual ability to detect low-frequency sounds. As in legend, foxes also capture and eat chickens and other birds. When game is scarce, red foxes eat berries and grasses or dig up food they have stored under piles of leaves. Unlike gray foxes, they don't sleep in dens. They simply curl up on the ground with their tail covering their nose.

A couple of hours after I took this picture, my 17-year-old son Tom came home from school. I showed him the picture on my computer screen.

"Yeah," he said, "I saw that when I got off the bus."

"The same fox?"

"Yes. In the same driveway, only closer to the street." He said the animal had watched him for a moment before running away.

Suddenly I thought, rabies?

In animals (as in humans), one sign of the inevitably fatal disease is unusual behavior. Googling the subject, I found this sentence in the Merck Veterinary Manual: "Commonly, rabid wild animals may lose their fear of humans, and species that are normally nocturnal may be seen wandering about during the daytime."

I decided to phone Fred and Lovie. You can't be too careful.

Because Fred was away on business, Lovie took the call. "I know," she told me. "I'm worried, too. We're trying to sell the house, you know, and I'm afraid the foxes will scare buyers away."

The foxes, she said, had apparently denned under a toolshed beside her patio. "I'm going to call some experts about getting rid of them," she said.

A couple of days later, I ran into Lovie during my walk.

"So, what did you do about the foxes?" I asked. "I haven't seen them lately."

Lovie grinned. "I called the state agricultural extension agent. He said to me, 'Do you have a husband?' I said, 'Yes; what's that got to do with it?' He said, 'Foxes hate the smell of human urine. Tell your husband to take a leak at the entrance to the den.'"

"I'll be damned," I said. "My dad used to say the same thing. I forgot."

Back in the 1950s, my father had been a fur-trapper. "Foxes are the hardest critters to outfox," he used to say. Because they feared anything a human had touched, he always wore new gloves when setting traps for them. The extension agent's prescription made perfect sense.

"Wait a second, though," I added. "Isn't Fred away on business?"

"Yes; he's coming back Tuesday."

"So, how did..."

"Oh," she said, grinning again, "I found a way."

Note added March 17, 2011: Fred and Lovie sold their house soon after this incident. As far as I know, no foxes have been sighted on the property since.


Download DietPower and lose poundsAbout this page: Precisely at noon each day, I step out of my office for a 3.5-mile walk around my Connecticut neighborhood. I carry a Panasonic Lumix DMC-TX5 pocket camera with a Leica 10x optical zoom lens. My object is to make an interesting photograph of at least one thing that is different that day. I post the results here, hoping they will inspire you and your friends to walk, too.  Terry Dunkle, DietPower founder and CEO.

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All My Yesterdays

Tuesday, June 9: Wet Clover

Monday, June 8: Two Bees, or Not Two Bees

Sunday, June 7: A Gorgeous Glutton

Saturday, June 6: Two Clowns

Friday, June 5: My Favorite Mailbox

Thursday, June 4: The Tomato's Deadly Cousin

Wednesday, June 3: Electric Pink

Tuesday, June 2: Lucky Boy

Monday, June 1: Six-Figure Mower

Sunday, May 31: Cool in the Shade

Saturday, May 30: Under the Butternut Tree

Friday, May 29: Awaiting a Pink Explosion

Thursday, May 28: I Shoot a Chipmunk

Wednesday, May 27: Who Dropped the Ball?

Tuesday, May 26: Out Standing in Their Field

Monday, May 25: Flags Galore!

Sunday, May 24: House of Patriots

Saturday, May 23: Memorial in a Rusty Hinge

Friday, May 22: The Sexually Clever Iris

Thursday, May 21: Raising the Wrong Baby

Wednesday, May 20: An Old Friend Is Dying

Tuesday, May 19: Crow vs. Hawk

Monday, May 18: Yours Truly

Sunday, May 17: A Wild Geranium

Saturday, May 16: War Flowers

Friday, May 15: A Mysterious Barn

Thursday, May 14: Who Invented the Microscope?

Wednesday, May 13: The Kitchen Sink

Tuesday, May 12: Slow Down!

Monday, May 11: What Lilacs Are For

Sunday, May 10: Mama Butterfly

Saturday, May 9: Gone to Seed

Friday, May 8: A Pack of Boston Terriers

Thursday, May 7: Underground Passage

Wednesday, May 6: White Violet

Tuesday, May 5: Singing His Heart Out

Monday, May 4: Kenny's Secret

Sunday, May 3: Monument to an Afternoon

Saturday, May 2: Gasoline Rainbow

Friday, May 1: The Duck and the Bashful Maiden

Thursday, April 30: A Poison Ivy Sandwich

Wednesday, April 29: The Very Picture of Spring

Tuesday, April 28: A Busy Bumblebee

Monday, April 27: Electric Pink

Sunday, April 26: Saturday Night Special

Saturday, April 25: An Old Oak Falls

Friday, April 24: How an Ant Sees a Daffodil

Thursday, April 23: The Nameless Brook

Wednesday, April 22: Weeding Time

Tuesday, April 21: Wet Apple Buds

Monday, April 20: Mr. Allen and the Crew Team

Sunday, April 19: Bloodroot II

Saturday, April 18: Green Jellybeans

Friday, April 17: Bloodroot

Thursday, April 16: Skunk Cabbage III

Wednesday, April 15: Find the Critter

Tuesday, April 14: Blessing of the Animals

Monday, April 13: The Crow Who Said "Wow!"

Sunday, April 12: A Quirky Church

Saturday, April 11: Self-Portrait in a Pothole

Friday, April 10: Easter flowers

Thursday, April 9: Dumb as a Squirrel

Wednesday, April 8: April Snow

Tuesday, April 7: Egg Trees, Connecticut Style

Monday, April 6: I Carry My Lunch

Sunday, April 5: A Tree in Spring

Saturday, April 4: Pigs with Drivers Licenses

Friday, April 3: Forsythia

Thursday, April 2: Skunk Cabbage II

Wednesday, April 1: Mystery of the Hanging Shoes

Tuesday, March 31: Downy Woodpecker

Monday, March 30: 300-Year-Old House

Sunday, March 29: The Broken Fence

Saturday, March 28: "You're Such a Delight"

Friday, March 27: Skunk Cabbage

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