Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

from the May 1, 2005 Newsletter issued from the Sierra Nevada foothills somewhat east of Placerville, California, USA

Friday afternoon I was exploring the scrubby slope below when suddenly I saw an adult Gray Fox, UROCYON CINEREOARGENTEUS, not more than 30 feet downslope, standing looking at me. I froze, knowing the moment I'd move he'd rush away. So we stood looking at one another for a minute or so. Finally I decided that this wasn't getting us anywhere, so I might as well bring up my binoculars and maybe at least get a glimpse of him running away. Up came the binoculars and to my surprise the fox just kept standing there staring at me.

For about three minutes I studied him, and with good binoculars you can see every hair on a fox just 30 feet away. He was gray except for his underparts and a collar around his neck including his ears, which were rusty red. I say "he" but I have no idea what sex he was. I just don't like the idea of using "it" for any intensely alive, aware being. Calling a creature an "it" is like calling flesh "meat." It depersonalizes, desensitizes, creates a lie about the thing being considered.

Anyway, this animal's attention began to wander and it was clear that he wasn't really that interested in me. He looked around and studied the ground. Then he wheeled around and took some steps toward me. The thought occurred to me that maybe this was a hydrophobic fox and that I should get away fast. But he was only coming toward me because that's where his lying-down spot was, in a snug depression beneath an overhanging manzanita bush. Reaching his spot he made a circle and lay down, just like a dog next to a fireplace.

For a long time I watched him, watched flies buzzing his ears, and he'd twitch one ear, then the other. Sometimes I'd shift position and my tiniest sound would cause him to jerk his head around in a flash and look at me. But that's all he did, just look, and then he'd lay his snout back into his fuzzy tail. When I finally walked away he was looking at me again, and he watched me disappear into the scrub.

I can't explain this fox's behavior. Maybe he was half blind and thought I was a deer. However, his coat was splendid and he didn't seem underfed. Well, maybe if he's a good hunter with his nose he doesn't need sharp eyesight.

Another explanation is that he was actually unconcerned about me. My friends say that the other day a fox walked up to the house and looked through their glass door.

So, in this area a Mountain Lion has let me see him on my jogging road, a Wild Turkey has let me walk right past him, and this fox just didn't seem to care about me. Maybe some animals here are just growing accustomed to humans.