Gray Fox Report for December 2014

The heavy rain and subsequent flooding along Matadero Creek claimed the life of one of the gray fox pups/juveniles. Several of the foxes including the juvenile that drowned, were there in the overflow channel that morning. Just before that first heavy downpour, at 7:00 AM I was at Matadero Creek ready to leave. The creek was much the same as it had been all year long; water and a few Mallards.

At around 9:00 AM as I sat working at my computer, I realized that the rain was coming down heavily. Having grown up on the banks of a volatile creek, I knew how rapidly a creek can fill. Additionally, Matadero Creek, like all of the other creeks in the area are the run-off channels from the streets throughout Palo Alto. That meant even more water coming down Matadero Creek. I decided to go back out to the creek and see what changes may have taken place. I arrived at the Matadero Creek Bridge by 9:15. The water rushed brown with mud having already risen from nearly nothing two hours before. The water had risen at least eight feet. It filled the overflow channel approximately 2.5 feet deep and that meant the creek was full all the way across to the levee on the north side of the creek. There was nowhere for the foxes, the raccoons, the opossums, the wood rats and other wildlife to go.

As flood water subsided in the channel, I went on over onto the levee road along the backside of the Animal Services area. Down along that road I found one of the pups that had made it to high ground. It took several days for the other foxes to return. All were to one degree or another traumatized by the flood. For example, the pup that had found high ground before the flood had been a relaxed, easy going little male but after the flood, he was tense, anxious, hyper-alert at, for instance, a noise, or a bird landing nearby. It took that pup a week to recover. As well, that pup before the flood had a companion. They were together all of the time. The two of them, Tense and Tippy, defied the solitary nature of the gray fox because they traveled together. After the flood, that little pup Tense did not return and I assume that it got caught up in the flood water and was swept away. There may well have been other casualties involving the wild gray foxes, the ones that do not often show up along with the others.

Gradually, one by one, the surviving gray foxes both adults and a single remaining pup belonging to Dark and his mate Cute by the name of Midget showed up. Dark, the adult male was the last survivor to appear one morning back on the overflow channel. As of this writing the foxes that I normally monitor are emotionally back to being themselves. It also appears as though they learned something from that first deluge in that since then we have had a couple of other heavy rains and the foxes are gone for a day or two.

About three weeks ago head of facilities Wilma Vanson at the Palo Alto Technology Center contacted me because foxes had “invaded” the center and were sleeping on cars, walking up to people, begging, etc. People who worked at the varied offices and corporations who I talked with, enjoyed them but management was afraid that a fox might be offered food and it might bite someone and then there’d be a law suit. I gave her a list of actions that needed to happen within the facilities that she controlled. Tightly cover dumpsters, don’t feed any wildlife, even feral cats, etc. In the end there was no way to eliminate the foxes because if one was removed another would slide into the empty slot. The juvenile gray foxes were on the move, dispersing. It took the city of London England 15 or so years to get the message: We need to learn to live side-by-side with our urban wildlife nearby.

As mentioned before, at this time of year there are no territories nor are there dens as we normally think of a den, i.e. a home base anywhere nearby. Those kind of dens only exist for maybe 20 days before the foxes move the den’s location. I have watched dens develop and dens dissolve. Given the latter as solitary animals, the foxes simply walk in circles to make a soft place to bed down in most anywhere they feel like it. For the most part they will remain in the same location for from two to five days before changing their location to sometimes as little as 50 yards away or even up to half a mile distant. But, and this is happening at the moment, the pups, this year’s juveniles, are moving farther and farther from the region where they grew up. Strangers, new comers, are showing up at the baylands.

At the water treatment plant, three of the five pups born to Bold and Gray have gone. Almost daily I see foxes appearing who are strangers to the area. Two of these have hung around, intermingling with and enjoying the company of other juveniles that were born in that region. These are the juveniles who are on the move looking for a suitable mate and suitable territory of which there is very little remaining in the baylands. If a connection doesn’t’ work, the stranger leaves. I have seen this not only now but in years past. The number of foxes at the baylands is in flux. On Friday, December 26, 2014, I came upon a total of 10 foxes and that included the two dispersing foxes, the strangers. These ten foxes were on both the north and south sides of Matadero Creek.

The gray fox population will shake down during the month of February 2015 and by March 2015 it will become once again stable because the pregnant females will understand that a new litter is coming. Their mates, the males, scout the area and mark their territory when he knows that he can find enough food for the pups to grow up on.

Aside from the foxes, Greg Kerekez and I have formed a partnership called the Urban Wildlife Research Project (UWRP). Over this past year we have spoken to various organizations. I have been interviewed twice on radio shows: One in Auburn, Ca. and the second in southern Oregon. Greg and I have made public presentations about the urban wildlife. Across the internet I have been asked for advice regarding the behavior of the gray fox and other mammals as well. UWRP’s work has been referenced in doctoral programs at major universities nationwide; locally at San Jose State University and at U.C. Berkeley. All has been successful. In the coming year, we are being funded by the National Wildlife Federation. Our goal is to knit together all animal corridors between the southern reaches of Redwood City, south along the bay and then north up to southern part of the Oakland International Airport. As a natural fallout from all of this, we are being invited to make presentations on the wildlife that lives at the perimeter of the south San Francisco Bay. Our educational part of the UWRP is already happening.

Feel free to ask any question at all about urban wildlife. Visit us at uwrp.wordpress.com. January’s report will most likely concern itself with which foxes are pairing up and which foxes like Gray and Bold will stay together.

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