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Nature’s Gifts by Scot Stewart: Walks open windows

A fox is pictured. Red foxes have become a more prominent wildlife species in Marquette the past few years. (Photo courtesy of Scot Stewart)

The first care of a man settling in the country should be to open face of the earth to himself by a little knowledge of Nature, or a great deal, if he can; of birds, plant, rocks, astronomy: in short, the art of taking a walk. This will draw the sting out of the frost, dreariness out of November and March, and the drowsiness out of August.”

This advice was from Ralph Waldo Emerson, a friend of Henry David Thoreau. Both appreciated the beauty, the therapeutic value and the importance of seeing and experiencing nature.

Walks can open small windows into the lives of plants, animals and even the fungi living around us. Sometimes those windows summoned up the use of more our senses. A muddled set of dog-like tracks under a pine may be wrapped in a musky aroma. Foxes have been busy marking their spring territories, announcing their claim to a Spring space to raise a litter. That earthy fragrance may be the first clue of the presence of foxes in the area.

Sounds may also be a tip off of foxes nearby. Several months back the sounds of a barking foxes could be heard around the Upper Peninsula. The fox’s call sounds like a very hoarse, small dog. They have been much quieter though as they get ready to settle in and raise a family. Red foxes have become a more prominent wildlife species in Marquette the past few years, being seen frequently around the old city composting site along Lakeshore Blvd. and along the Dead River in north Marquette. They have been seen frequently along the ridge overlooking Mattson Park too.

The red foxes in town have taken on an added measure of interest as some have a varying coat with more black fur. These are commonly called “cross” foxes. Their genetic make-up has a mutation for more of the back and neck fur to be black instead of reddish. Completely black foxes are called melanistic, similar to all white foxes that would be albino. Foxes in Marquette are just partially melanistic and have some red fur too.

At this time of year though, the sounds of crows may be the best clue of a fox’s presence. This past Saturday walkers got an amazingly surprising treat. A small flock of crows kicked up a ruckus near the Firemen’s Bell Memorial at the west end of Mattson Park in broad daylight around two in the afternoon. The mob of crows were giving out loud cacophony of loud, hoarse, almost frantic sounding caws as they do when confronting an enemy like an owl, hawk or even a perching bald eagle. They were in pursuit of a normal colored red fox. The fox was chased through the entire west end of Mattson Park from the end of Washington Street, across Lakeshore Blvd., and up the hill toward Ridge Street, where the crows finally gave up the chase. It was clear the fox did not appreciate the attention of the crows but also did not want to be out in the open area of the park, and just was able to make it through the traffic on the roadway.

Although the foxes hunt more actively during the twilight and nighttime hours, they do show up from time to time when it is light, looking mostly for mice, voles and occasionally larger animals like cottontail rabbits. During the daytime they may be out looking for food left out or discarded by people and even other things like fruit. When they finally make it out, they will hunt insects too. Looking for the details in the lives of our neighborhood animals will add to your knowledge and enjoyment outside.

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