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Tuesday, May 1, 2018

The Best of Spring in the San Juans Part 1: Fox Kits

There are so many things to love about this time of year in the Salish Sea: the longer days and warmer temperatures, the return of migrant birds, the generally calmer waters, and the increase in whale sightings are just a few for me. But there's a couple other classic elements of a spring in the San Juan Islands, and one of them is the emergence of fox kits from their dens. Viewing foxes here has become increasingly popular, especially in the spring, so much so that the San Juan Island Visitor's Bureau had me write a blog for them about the topic. So if you want to know the details, you can read more about fox-watching on San Juan Island at the link above.

Sometimes we like to think we live in a wilderness here in the Salish Sea, but it's truly a very urban ecosystem that we are lucky enough to share with all kinds of wildlife. For better or for worse many of our regional animals are adapted to living near humans, but we should still do what we can to minimize our impacts on them and their behavior. As such, I made several visits to the regular fox dens at the south end of the island until I found a time where there were both not many people around. It was an overcast day, but two nearby dens were both active - I've heard from others that one family has six kits and another two, but they were all mixing and playing together.

While they're all of the species "red fox" they come in all different colors from orange to brown to gray to black. One of my personal favorites was this silver one with a single white sock (chasing its brother/sister):

But it's also hard to resist this face:

Much of the activity happens when mom or dad shows up with food. The kits seem to know the boundaries of where they're allowed to wander, but they go racing out to meet their parents as they come in for a visit.

Whatdja bring me, mom?!
More and more kits quickly gathered around - looking first at her mouth to see if she brought in any prey....

But then settling for a nursing session...all six of them at once! What a patient mama.

She tolerates their frolicking for a little bit before moving on, and they follow her to the edge of their invisible perimeter. (Side note: several other adults were visible sleeping in the prairie - my imagination says that they move away from the ends to get some actual rest without kits pouncing on them begging to play.)

Amazingly she makes a loop back right past us, totally unconcerned about our presence.

As she heads back out on the hunt most of the kits return below ground, but this one stopped for a moment to look out at the great big world beyond the den:

I just love having these guys as neighbors, and they are one of the highlights of spring here for sure!

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