Bird Watch: Wild Visitor

By Jean Preis

BN Columnist

Last evening, a soft breeze blew across the lake as the sun was sinking down toward the northern mountains, so hoping to see a beautiful sunset we decided to take the canoe out for a cruise. We paddled close to shore, exchanging waves and “good evening” with several vacationing families who were relaxing on their docks. The breeze felt refreshing, and the view up the lake was lovely. In one place, we heard a high twittering sound and looking up noticed two small birds perched on exposed branches at the very top of a tree beside the water. Even before I raised my binoculars, I was fairly certain they were eastern kingbirds, whose Latin name is tyrannus tyrannus. These little feathered tyrants, members of the flycatcher family, believe in controlling a vertical territory that stretches high into the air, and they aggressively drive away any bird who dares fly through their airspace. True to their name, the two little birds lifted off their branches and flew furiously after two trespassing birds, driving them away.

By the time we reached the foot of the lake, the sun had dipped behind the mountains and the clouds had begun to take on color, glowing soft pink and mauve. We turned the canoe and headed north, pausing frequently to drift with the breeze, and when the sunset’s beauty began to fade we paddled back to the cove. A few of our cottage guests were sitting around a picnic table watching the final stages of sunset over the lake, so we tied up the canoe and joined them in watching the dim light deepen to dusk. Our conversation ranged across a variety of topics, until someone noticed a movement about 20 feet away from where we sat, but then we quieted as we all turned to look. An animal was moving alongside the vegetation in front of the cottage, trailing the long bushy tail of a red fox.

Red foxes have lived in our neighborhood for years. They give birth in late winter, and when their youngsters are old enough the parents take them out to teach them how to hunt for their own food. Although it is not unusual at that time of year to see foxes trotting along the side of the road, or wandering through our yards, by the time summer arrives they tend to be more cautious, and we seldom see them. Recently, though, a fox has been seen walking confidently through our yard both morning and evening.

The topic of conversation around the picnic table quickly changed to a discussion about the fox, that hardly bothered to acknowledge our presence as it continued across the lawn. It disappeared into the bushes along the shore, and then reappeared at the end of the dock, where it nosed around as if looking for something to eat. By this time, we had decided the fox was stretching the limit of our hospitality, so we yelled, and banged on a bucket, to encourage it to move along, but he or she stopped about 20 feet away and turned to face us, as if surprised that we should be so unwelcoming. Pausing to check the ground under the barbecue grill, the fox then slowly trotted up the hill and out of sight.

The fox found nothing to eat on its evening patrol of our yard, and so it moved on. Last week, though, a fox snuck in and stole a bag of marshmallows that had been left unattended on a picnic table, a few feet away from vacationers who were making s’mores. Since then, we have been careful to clean up any dropped food, and to leave nothing edible outdoors. We enjoy watching the wildlife around here, but we would like our neighborhood critters to remain wild and to keep their distance, both for their safety and for our own. We hope that if the fox finds nothing to eat in our yard it will lose interest in coming here. If not we might see if we could convince a couple of tyrannical eastern kingbirds, tyrannus tyrannus, to lay claim to the place and to let the fox know this territory has already been claimed.

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