Gray Fox Report for August 2018
The Fabric of Bonding – Part Two
The Tragedy of Two Pups: Dark Face & Bright Eyes
Submitted by William C. Leikam
President & Co-founder
Urban Wildlife Research Project
If you haven’t read last month’s Gray Fox Report, it might be a good idea to do so for it will orient you to this second installment. This is a true story; a documentary.
Dark Face & Bright Eyes were born out in the brush along Matadero Creek to Little One and her mate Creek in April of 2013. I watched and photographed them as they grew from being mere bundles of grayish fuzz into taking on the rusty and gray peppered sides, colors of adulthood. When small, their pudgy noses marked them as pups, but as they grew that canine nose pushed out. All the while they were growing up, these two played together, running, chasing, wrestling and when they finally got the knack of climbing trees, down in the Matadero Creek Floodplain these two gray foxes sometimes took to chasing each other up and down tall eucalyptus trees. Nearby there was a patch of dead willow trees with brittle branches. That’s where the young male Dark Face loved to chase his sister Bright Eyes.
It was obvious as I watched these two along with Creek and Little One who lay about nearby, that they were a close family, unlike some of the other fox families in the region. It occurred to me that through their playfulness the glue that held them together was that they truly enjoyed each other’s company even when they were not chasing or wrestling. They were family in the deep meaning of that word. That’s the only conclusion I could reach.
There were differences in these two gray fox’s foxsonalities. For instance, Bright Eyes was much more inquisitive, much more curious about things she’d never before seen like my handkerchief. Dark Face paid little attention to it the first time I tossed it to the dirt road just to see how they might react. Bright Eyes went over to it, sniffed it, then took it in her mouth and ran with it under a nearby coyote bush. I never saw that handkerchief again.
From my Gray Fox Log on September 1, 2013, at around 7:45 AM, as I left the area, I saw at the roadside a dead gray fox. Previously I had seen something lying beside the road, but ignored it, simply shut it out of my mind. I stopped, tossed it away from the road right near a dirty green power transformer. The fox looked like it was in good shape, as it hadn’t been run over. I don’t think it died right away either because it was laying on its stomach with its front legs extended forward and its hind legs extended back. I checked. It was a female. I decided it was one of the wild foxes from out on the Renzel Wetlands.
Although I reported the dead fox to the supervision ranger, expecting them to pick it up right away, it lay there for three full days. During that time, I wondered where Bright Eyes was. She was not playing with Dark Face. Little One and Creek did not come from the brush as was usual. They had vanished. Dark Face limped slightly, but more importantly, as he walked he looked like he carried a heavy load. Most of the time I found him down in the floodplain near the trees where they used to play. With Bright Eyes gone, Dark Face seemed to carry a load, one that wiped from life the joy, the play, the kinship, the hope, the bond that he and his sister had once enjoyed.
It was on the third day that I concluded that the decaying female gray fox out along East Bayshore Road by the green power unit was indeed Bright Eyes. My heart briefly sank. It was only then that I fully understood that she was dead and for the past three days I had been in denial. The truth lay heavy with me it came with seeing the truth of that gray fox Bright Eyes there in an eddy on the river of time had left a family, especially Dark Face, in mourning.
From it all, I conjured a scenario that blossomed like this: Sometime during that night, Bright Eyes and Dark Face were probably chasing each other out along East Bayshore Road, playing on the warm asphalt when a deep sound raced from nowhere, tossing her off to the side of the road and there she shook and sighed. Dark Face may have been clipped, or maybe the tire of that deadly car had hit his paw, thus his limp.
As I put it all together, I saw how bonded these foxes were and just what happens when such a bond is bloodied by a car, by a hunter, by a trapper, by a poacher, or a fight with another; anything that kills and separates. Such emotional bonding plays out across the world of wildlife be they wolves, be they bears, be they raccoons, or most any other animal that walks this Earth including ourselves. We humans must begin to accept all other animals as having emotions, as having thoughts, of enjoying life much the same as you and I.
Next month’s Gray Fox report might have to do with Facebook and the gray fox family living on the roof garden unless of course something dramatic enters and creates a shift in perception:
Gray Foxes General Health
To date, no gray foxes at the Palo Alto baylands to date 8/29/2018.
Total Numbers Of Gray Foxes in the Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve
Update for the Urban Wildlife Research Project – Greg Kerekes & Bill Leikam
Coming up on September 29th to a special committee of the Sierra Club, a private presentation by Bill “The Fox Guy” Leikam will be “Corridors & Linkages: Sustaining the Health of Our Wildlife.”
On August 10th 2018, Bill meet with several people at Facebook to advise them on aspects of the gray foxes living on their corporate campus.
- Check out our Facebook page.
- If you haven’t had a chance to read at least some of the articles that have been written about our study of gray fox behavior and our corridor work, click on these links as they will take you to the source: Bill Leikam – The Fox Guy, and Greg Kerekes & URWP
Section III: Gray Fox, Baylands Goals
Within the permit that allows the Urban Wildlife Research Project to conduct its study of the behavior of the gray fox at the Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve, the objectives covered are:
- Monitoring of urban gray fox denning sites in Palo Alto Baylands.
This is being accomplished during the period when the gray foxes use a den site. It is one of the prime locations for gathering most of the behavioral data on the litter and for adults alike.
- Assessment of status and population trends of Baylands urban gray foxes
Since November and December of 2016, there have been no resident gray foxes at the Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve.
- Identification of habitat features that promote the presence of urban gray foxes
As stated in a previous gray fox report, there is a need to undertake some work to increase the habitat features required by the gray foxes and other wildlife in an area where a road was built that borders the saltwater channel. I asked construction supervisor Frank Muzzi about this and he felt that the old growth Coyote Bush would grow back and therefore accomplish the same goal. After considering this and talking with people who know how to restore habitats, we need to assess what kinds of plants, including the Alkaline Salt Bush, would grow best along the edge of the saltwater channel and alongside the marsh. We need to grow a permanent habitat that contains the corridors and plant it as soon as possible. We’ll keep an eye on this as this is a critical link between the southern region of the baylands and the northern region.
- Assessment of reproductive success and identification of factors that promote successful reproduction
Last month I wrote that gray fox reproduction at the baylands appears to be holding steady with an average of 3.3 pups developing to maturity during the 2013 and 2014 seasons. As noted above, the 2015 season has fewer pups than in years past. Solution? Open up the pinch-point along Matadero Creek by developing thickets that link one area to another, instead of the present “islands”.
- Identification and assessment of possible dispersal travel routes.
Presently there can only be guesses as to dispersal travel routes. We intend to make this important question much more concrete when we attain our collaring/take/capture permit from the Department of Fish & Wildlife.
Until next month, I hope that your endeavors provoke thought, are productive, and are rewarding. Take care.
Bill Leikam – The Fox Guy
Urban Wildlife Research Project
“If you talk to the animals they will talk with you and you will know each other. If you do not talk to them you will not know them, and what you do not know you will fear. What one fears one destroys.” Chief Dan George of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, British Columbia