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.