Feeding Foxes

Our community web discussion site, Nextdoor Dunn Loring, has been having an interesting discussion about foxes and coyotes in our larger neighborhood.  Some motion-sensor security systems lately have been triggered by canine creatures, and the discussion began as a quest to verify if said canines were coyotes or foxes.  Everybody weighed in, and everybody had their two cents’ worth of opinion, some better informed than others.  Some posted pictures they’d taken in their backyards, others described encounters on the bike trail, and one provided a fine shot of a “hunted coyote,” which is to say a dead animal posed as if at rest in front of the gleeful hunter, proud that he had used his hundreds of dollars of equipment and his constitutional right to take life from a wild creature for the sheer fun of it.  At least that image of a coyote was less blurry than any of the photos of living ones.

Discussion tangents sprouted:  what were their habits, where do they live, what do they eat, so many foxes have mange.  Turns out that a number of folks in our area feed foxes, and at least one does so in an effort to medicate mange.  I checked fox mange out on the internet months ago.  Mange is indeed common in foxes, and there’s a sure and easy medication for it.  But it has to be administered twice, at intervals, which as I recall is about two weeks apart.  And wildlife management folks are understandably unable logistically to trap, medicate, hold, re-medicate, and release individual animals.  The deadly problem is that mangy foxes can’t regulate their body temperature because they lose too much hair, so they’re apt to succumb to heat or especially cold.

fox on patio

Immature fox on our patio, 2017

The discussion evolved into whether it was a good idea to feed wild animals like foxes and coyotes; those who do medicate lure their local foxes by leaving out meat laced with the med.  They assume that individual foxes will get the medication at good intervals because the same ones inhabit the local territory and feed at the same places.  Some people think it’s utterly wrong, bordering on illegal, to feed them, while others see no harm in helping “their” foxes thrive in a crowded suburban environment.

We never put food out for our foxes.  Frankly, we prefer to encourage them to keep down the local squirrel and chipmunk (and I’m sure mouse and vole) populations.  And I call them “ours” because we see them on their daily rounds going diagonally across the backyard of the property behind us, and using both our east and west property lines to get to Academy Street, where they often walk right down the middle of the street in early morning or late evening.  When it snows, they invariably leave tracks that show they often walk behind our foundation plantings to the driveway, and then use it to go straight to the street. And in cold, snowy winter the hunting gets more difficult for them, surely.  We always root for them, and the local red-shouldered and red-tailed hawks, to get enough kills to make it to springtime.

The other day, though, we got to help the foxes out actively.  Sometime between 7:10, when we fetched to morning paper from the sidewalk, and 9:30, when we were getting ready to go to Adult Study at church, a dying squirrel appeared on our front walk.  How it got there and why it was dying remain a mystery.  As Jane said, it looked like it had fallen from a great height; it was splayed out, its eyes wide open, gasping for breath.  It would take a big, deep breath of air, and then in another couple of seconds, another one.  When I approached it, it looked at me directly with bright black eye, but it did not move its body.  It was too far from the road and too bloodless to have been hit by a car; it didn’t have the erratic jerking moves that I associate with poison or illness; it was not mangled as though it had been hunted, taken, and then dropped by some larger animal or bird.

A couple of hours later, when we got back after Adult Study, it had died.  It lay there, its beady eye now mostly closed and dim, its only motion when a gust of freezing wind shook its tail.  I got the long-handled shovel, put the gray body out back right where the fox trail runs along our line, and said goodbye.  An hour later, the squirrel had vanished without a trace.  It could have been another animal or a raptor of course, but I’m pretty certain we helped one fox just a little bit to get the nourishment and calories it needs to make it through the bleak days of January.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2019.


Day One

Spring finally arrived in northern Virginia today.  It was in the mid-80s by late afternoon, breezy and wonderful, the first entire day that was truly like spring is supposed to be.  Nature was completely undaunted by any ominous omens of the calendar, which made it Friday the 13th.

Just three years ago yesterday I began my cancer treatment, quite a different spring regimen.  The aftereffects of the successful treatment have left me with less stamina and less determination to subject myself to discomfort.  So since 2015 I have not ridden my bike on the relatively more temperate days of midwinter or early spring.  All of the first three months of the year were on the exercise bike, or walking, and even these activities did not have the compelling allure they’ve had in years past.  But I was whipped into better shape by the visit of my daughter and granddaughter, who wanted to see the sights of our nation’s capital.  I was tested by Capitol Hill, challenged by the stairs of numerous subways, government buildings and museums, and generally called to consider that I was not too old to “use it” lest I “lose it.”

So this morning I was eager to get out on the W&OD Trail in the belated warmth of the season.  Couldn’t just pick up and go, of course.  I first discovered that we had no 2032 batteries to replace the dead one in my bike computer.  So off I went to CVS, returned and then sought out the manual that would allow me to reprogram the gadget.  After a mere 40 minutes from start to finish I had my electronic source of statistics back.  I’d carried over the mileage tally for 9 or 10 years, outlasting several batteries, but today I started over again at zero, because I think this is the beginning of a new era in my cycling life.


Jamis Coda Comp, my basic ride these days. That is a 52-tooth chainring.

Out in the garage my next challenge awaited.  Since the Jamis Coda had not been ridden since late September 2017, its tires were low despite my pumping them up once over the winter.  And sitting idle in the garage is not good for the drive train, particularly the chain.  Though I had oiled it in September, it was stiffened with rust and dirt.  Luckily the tires held air, and about ten minutes with a rag and chain oil got the drive train workable.  More oil for the cables, a readjustment of the rear brakes (new brake shoes needed soon!), and I was ready to suit up and go.  I decided on my trusty Kelme / Costa Bianca jersey, the colors of a European pro team of the Lance Armstrong era.  Sandro Botero rode for them, as did a couple of riders—Chechu Rubiera and Roberto Heras—who switched to Lance’s US Postal team and helped him win several of his seven straight Tours de France almost as much as PEDs helped him.

I took off with a lurking trepidation—would my body be up for this?  The plan was to ride just 11 miles, out to Hunter Mill Road and back.  No overkill on the first ride of the season.  I felt good on the bike, and going up Jackson Parkway and onto the right-of-way over to the Trail, I passed a couple of neighbors planting new bushes along the 50 or 60 foot paved link.  Everybody’s loving the warm air.  Once on the Trail, I found my strength and stamina were OK.  I was passing the really slow riders, was being passed by the strong ones, and dodging a number of walkers.  As always, I marveled at the convergence of roadblock groups, like the two moms pushing strollers side-by-side, and the walker passing them, spread out across the whole trail just when I wanted to go by.  My cheery “on the left” was not met with any rush on the walker’s part to get over quickly.  Cheeky!  I knew I had missed the Spring Peepers in the marshes of Difficult Run by about a month, and the bullfrogs too.   But on the way home some kind of froggy noises were emanating from Eudora Park, where Piney Branch flows.

I was feeling good as I approached my turnaround.  Inside my head something whispered “go ahead, you can do a few more miles.”  But I said “get thee behind me, Lance,” recognizing the voice of the temptation to do more than one is naturally capable of, whatever the price.  By about halfway home I realized how smart I had been to keep to my plan.  I was riding into a brisk quartering headwind, and all the muscles that were doing things unfamiliar to them were starting to ache: quads, shoulders, arm and hand muscles, knee joints.

Back at my desk, the computer said that my numbers for time and speed were in the same range I had reached near the end of last year.  So now it’s nothing but onward and upward.  I well may be out there again tomorrow because it’s supposed to be another warm day.