Red Fox

Red Fox Photo by A. Schletz (Arowhon Road, Algonquin Park, May 2014)

Weight: 10-12 lbs.

Red Fox Scat

Fox Scat

Fox scat (near another fox scat that was filled with ground beetle exoskeletons). (Mono Cliffs Provincial Park, May 2014)

Fox Scat (Guelph Lake, January 2014)

Fox Scat (Guelph Lake, January 2014)

Red Fox Tracks

Red Fox Track (Spruceline Farm, January 2015)

Red Fox Track (Spruceline Farm, January 2015)

Red Fox Track (Spruceline Farm, January 2015)

Red Fox Track (Spruceline Farm, January 2015)

Red fox track (Spruceline Farm, January 2015)

Red fox track (Spruceline Farm, January 2015)

Red Fox Front Track with Chevron Shape (Spruceline Farm, January 2015)

Red Fox Front Track with Chevron Shape (Spruceline Farm, January 2015)

“The front heel (of a fox) is inscribed with a chevron, a boomerang shape. If there’s one thing that says red fox, it’s that little bar that shows up in the front heel pad.” (Paul Rezendes, The Wild Within)

Fox Front Foot with Chevron Shape (February 2015)

Fox Front Foot with Chevron Shape (February 2015)

Red Fox Tracks (Spruceline Farm, January 2015)

Front and Rear Red Fox Tracks (Spruceline Farm, January 2015)

The front track of a red fox is larger and often rounder than the rear track.

Red Fox Trails

While facilitating a snowshoeing program with the Young Naturalists, a small group of children wanted to head over to the edge of Kiera’s Forest and have some free time to play in the snow.  They explored an area with small conifers and lots of deep snow.  At the end of the program, the group wandered over to where the girls were and shared stories.  The girls were so excited!  During their exploration, they had watched a red fox appear from the conifers and wander across the farm field to the west of Kiera’s Forest.  Sure enough, when we checked for tracks there was a perfect fox trail heading across the farm field.  I am often amazed by the opportunities that are provided for children to connect with nature if we give them a safe place in nature where they can be independent and just play:)

Red Fox Trail, (Kiera's Forest, GLNC, 2013)

Red Fox Trail, (Kiera’s Forest, GLNC, 2013)

Red Fox or Coyote?

Fox and Coyote Trail (Guelph Lake, January 2014)

Fox and Coyote Trail (Guelph Lake, January 2014)

While wandering through the pine forest at Guelph Lake, we encountered a track in the snow that looked like a fox track.  We followed the trail and headed further into the forest.  The tracks began to puzzle me.  They started to look more like coyote tracks.  I started to doubt my tracking skills.  The trail crossed the bay and we followed it, past a deer carcass and up the opposite bank into the cedar forest.  As the trail climbed the bank, it broke into two sets of tracks.  A coyote had been following a fox!  This was one of those moments where I smiled in awe and appreciation at a lesson written in the snow right in front of me.  Since coyotes and foxes share the same prey, I learned that coyotes will pursue foxes with the intent of chasing them out of their territory (or eat them if they get the chance).  This coyote had literally erased the fox tracks by stepping into them.  I wonder if this has something to do with scent-marking as well since canines have scent glands between their paw pads?

Red Fox Gaits

Red Fox Trail (Spruceline Farm, January 2015)

Red Fox Trail (Spruceline Farm, January 2015)

Red Fox Gallop (Highway 60, Algonquin Park, February 2015)

Red Fox Gallop (Highway 60, Algonquin Park, February 2015)

This photo shows a pattern of “one long, one short, and one long” space between the tracks of a fox trail.  Since the two rear paws register in front of the front paws, the fox is using a galloping gait.  When determing which gait a canine is using, one should look at the pattern.  If the tracks are in groups of four, the gait is either a bound, a lope or a gallop.  In a gallop, both rears pass both front feet.  In a bound, both rears pass both front feet and are side by side.  In a lope pattern, only one rear foot will pass both front feet.

A stretch gallop (as shown in the above photo) indicates either extreme fear or hunting down a prey animal.

Fox Trot (Highway 60, Algonquin Park, February 2015)

Fox Trot (Highway 60, Algonquin Park, February 2015)

The first series of prints in this trail pattern indicates a straddle trot.  A straddle trot is a transition gait found only in short sections of trail.  It shows that the animal is not alarmed.  It can also indicate a quick head turn or a skip in its gait.  The remainder of the trail is a side trot.  A side trot indicates that the fox has a destination in mind and has picked up the pace.  It is often seen on travel routes such as roads and indicates an increase in awareness while the animal is between areas of cover.

Red Fox Urine

Fox Urine (Guelph Lake, January 2014)

Fox Urine (Guelph Lake, January 2014)

This fox urine had a strong skunk-like odour.  My understanding is that male fox urine smells skunky when it is mating season.  Does female fox urine also have a skunk odour?

The Fox and the Hare

Mark Elbroch writes; “Tracks and trails are truly a script for those with trained senses, and they tell many stories rich in drama, suspense, mystery, love and sometimes horror.” On March 7th and 8th of 2015, I completed a tracking apprenticeship with Alexis Burnett and Earth Tracks. The other tracking apprentices and I had no idea what was in store for us on our last tracking day all together. We woke up on Sunday morning with a plan to head down the road to Allen Park near Durham. The cars drove no further than the end of the laneway. There in the field, south of the laneway was a grand finale to our ten month tracking journey. Well-orchestrated learning opportunities and experiences had prepared us well for the arrangement that lay ahead. We would need to apply track and sign identification, gait analysis, kill site analysis, and awareness training to determine a connection between animal behaviour and wind direction. A wrench was thrown into the mix because we would be tracking two animals that shared almost identical tracks and gait patterns. The main difference between the two species was that one was a predator and one was a prey. By looking at the tracks, trails and sign left behind for us to interpret, here is the tale as it unfolded:

Red Fox in red.  European Hare in gold. (March 2015)

Red Fox in red. European Hare in gold. (March 2015)

A red fox trotted North along a snowmobile trail. The fox’s gait transitioned with a skip into a faster side trot. He had picked up a scent in the wind. The wind was carrying smells from the Northwest. Something was coming up the road on his left. The fox needed to hide his own scent. He planned to bank around the pond and catch his prey unaware.

Fox Trail (Side Trot) (Durham, March 2015)

Fox Trail (Side Trot) (Durham, March 2015)

Captured in snow, his bounding gait held the energy of an animal desperate for food.

Fox Tracks in Deep Snow (Durham, March 2015)

Fox Tracks in Deep Snow (Durham, March 2015)

 

Fox Bounding around Pond

Fox Trail Bounding around Pond

Only moments away, a European hare had paused to leave pellets behind, signalling his presence at the edge of the laneway.

European Hare Pellets (Durham, March 2015)

European Hare Pellets (Durham, March 2015)

The fox suddenly burst onto the hard-packed laneway, his galloping gait was narrow and quick. The hare was nearly unprepared for the attack. The hare managed a quick gallop up the laneway. Both predator and prey were similar in size and agility.

European Hare Extended Gallop (Durham, March 2015)

European Hare Extended Gallop (Durham, March 2015)

The fox took to the outside of the trail, cutting off the hare’s potential escape into the safety of the trees and the pond. The hare attempted to zigzag into the field to the South. The snow was deep. The fox and hare trails blended into one.

Alexis looking for hair in the hare’s trail

There was a tumble of rolling bodies. Here is where the hare’s journey ended and the fox’s journey continued.

Alexis Burnett at Site 1 (see map above)

Alexis Burnett at Site 1 (see map above)

 

Drag Mark between Site 1 and Site 2

Drag Mark between Site 1 and Site 2

The fox ate as much as his belly could hold.

Christina at Site 2 (see map)

Christina at Site 2 (see map)

 

European Hare Hair (March 2015)

European Hare Hair (March 2015)

 

Alexis dissecting the large intestine and caecum at Site 2

Alexis dissecting the large intestine and caecum at Site 2

 

Faecal Pellets

His tracks sunk deeper into the snow with added weight.

His prize dangled from his mouth as he carried it off. Heading south up the snowmobile trail, he trotted alongside the tracks of a hungry fox. He had arrived at the beginning of a page of his own story, beautifully written in the snow.

A European Hare weighs 11 lbs (2.5 – 7 kg). The head and body measures 51-62 cm (22 in.)

A Red Fox weighs 8 – 15 pounds (3.5 – 7 kg). The head and body measures 52 – 65 cm (20 – 26 in.)

 

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