Sunday, March 02, 2008

Clever as a ...

I went looking for snow buntings this afternoon and instead found this handsome red fox, leaping and pouncing at something unseen among the winter brown grasses at the base of the gun battery at North Beach on Sandy Hook.

Red foxes are easily seen there and even in my own neighborhood - I once ushered a family with youngish kits out of the way of oncoming traffic just up the road from my house, but to see one actively hunting, rather than skulking along the edges of a field or scavenging for leftovers near a garbage bin, was a rare treat. I'm always impressed with just how slight they are; at first from a distance I mistook it for an overfed tabby. (Yes... I do need to wear my glasses more often!)

As handsome as they may be, foxes are bird killers; more specifically at Sandy Hook, endangered nesting shorebird killers. Because Sandy Hook lacks any larger predators to keep them in check, red foxes have a serious impact on the survival rates for piping plovers. While (some) humans may be dissuaded by the fences erected each March to protect the plovers, the sly fox will learn to dig under even the caged exclosures meant to protect the birds and their eggs.

Due to Sandy Hook's geography, it's not exactly clear how red foxes have found their way onto the pennisula. I found an article in the NY Times from 1880 that mentioned the possibility that they walked across the ice on the Shrewsbury River at some point or across a frozen Sandy Hook Bay. I don't guess that much matters anyway, but the idea was on my mind because of a conversation earlier in the day with a couple fishermen who stopped in to the bird observatory.

Birders and fishermen, at the Hook at least, have a relationship based, for one thing, on our acknowledgement of the other's nuttiness. We're often the only ones out there in the worst weather or at the most ungodly hour or at the farthest distance from anyplace comfortable. Oftentimes, I think, we read some of the same clues to find our quarry.

I mentioned this to the one guy today, who, incidentally, was shopping for a scope to 'spot' fish (?) and he agreed that both groups do indeed have a screw loose, albeit a different screw. He'd asked me if I'd even seen a coyote at Sandy Hook or thought it possible that they might be there without anyone knowing it (or admitting to it). I said no, of course, and mentioned that there were no deer there, even, to which he corrected me with a glut of 'deer swimming across the bay' stories which sounded suspiciously like 'fish stories' to me. At any rate I was glad for the chance to chat with these two and have a peek at some of what they notice about Sandy Hook besides the good fishing there.

17 comments:

Rick said...

When you thing about it fishing and birding are very similar--some times you see birds some times not--same with fishing some times you catch some times no. :)

mon@rch said...

such stunning photos of this fox! What a great find for sure!

John said...

Great photos of the fox. Earlier this afternoon I saw a giant cat that I initially mistook for a fox.

I think the fishermen are a little nuttier than we are, since they risk getting wet even in fairly cold weather. But I'm sure both of our groups look pretty nutty to outsiders.

divakitty said...

Beautiful photos of the fox, when I was younger we used to have a silver fox who liked to sun herself on the slab of granite in our backyard. It was quite the sight to see.

egretsnest said...

Spectacular photo, Laura! I've never seen a fox in the wild. I'd be sooooo thrilled! I'd probably forget to lift the camera -- like I did when I saw a bobcat! :)

Jayne said...

Wow Laura... what magnificent photos! Lucky you!!

robin andrea said...

Wow, Laura, that's a beautiful fox photo. Such interesting observations about birding and fishing, too.

Cathy said...

Oh what a PERFECT beautiful picture of that little killer.

Yes, fishermen, hunters and birders often make strange bed-fellows. And heck - life is so short - may as well do 'nutty' :0)

dguzman said...

Beautiful pics. Lucky you to live so close to the coast!

Owlman said...

Gr8 pics. I was lucky enough to see one on Thursday at the Pole farm in Mercer county but my pics aren't nearly as nice!

The Bunns said...

What ya going to do with such a fine animal causing trouble???

RuthieJ said...

Those are wonderful fox pictures, Laura.
Skunks and raccoons will raid ground-nesting bird nests too. I'm not sure if those critters reside in your area, but around here they greatly outnumber the foxes.
(I would say something about human's destruction of nesting habitat too, but it might be unwise to open that can of worms here on your comments page!)

KGMom said...

What a stunning photo of that fox. There's a reason that the fox raids the hen house. . .so why not piping plovers. Not that I want the fox to, but there's this nature thing.
How far away from the fox were you? The photo is so clear.

Susan Gets Native said...

Wow. I see them maybe once a year and they are always running away. Where you hunkered down in the GRASS to get those shots?

LauraHinNJ said...

Rick: Hi. Thanks for your comment and I have to agree with you - I think we're both mostly happy at the end of the day whether we've 'caught' anything or not.

What's that saying about a bad day fishing...

;-)

Monarch: Yeah, thanks!

John: lol! I know of a few birders that started out as fisherman. Plus, lots of fisherman watch the gulls to know where fish are running, don't they?

Diva Kitty: Oooh.. that sounds gorgeous!

Liza: I had lots of time with this one - it was pretty busy ignoring me!

A bobcat? And you didn't run the other way?

;-)

Jayne: Thanks! I was happy with the way these turned out.

Robin Andrea: Nice to see you back. Can't compare with your sightings on the west coast.

Cathy: Hard to think of something so handsome as dangerous, eh?

And yes, I'm all for nutty!

;-)

Delia: Yes, I'm spoiled with sand in between my toes all the time!

Owlman: Hi, thanks. Were those short-ears at the pole farm? Never been there.

The Bunns: LOL! Stand back and admire him, mostly.

RuthieJ: Feel free to open any can of worms you like!

Foxes (and raccoons some too) and stupied beach people are the major challenges faced by shorebirds nesting here.

Too bad we can't trap and relocate the tourists!

KGMom: I was within about 10 feet of it and had my long lens on the camera - I'd been searching for little snow buntings remember.

Susan: Yeah, there was some of that, but only for photographic effect. It was more interested in chasing up a meal than in me getting too close. I was respectful of the distance anyway.

;-)

Owlman said...

Hi Laura,
Yip they were on the Federal City Road side of the Pole Farm - definitely well worth a visit!
What's your favorite NJ birding spots?

Larry said...

wow! great photos of that fox! They are my favorite native animals to see around here but I've never been able to get a phot that nice-good for you.