The snowfall the day after Christmas altered my daily morning hike. I came across the tracks of a fox, so I veered from my normal route and followed the sinewy path of prints as it interrupted the otherwise unbroken snow cover of a meadow.
Foxes make tracks similar to a small dog, but their gait is more of a lope than a walk, with three paw prints in a line and the fourth off to one side. A small patch of yellow snow beside a tall tuft of grass and a print pattern indicating a momentary three-legged stance confirmed I was tracking a male. His urine takes on a particularly pungent, skunklike odor during this, the mating season.
Male and female red foxes often mate for life, but spend most of the year apart. About this time of year, though, they come back together to raise a family and this must be what had happened a few hours before I had arrived. A second set of tracks—just a bit smaller—came in from the opposite direction to join the first set. It was obvious these were old friends enjoying a reunion. The tracks intermingled in the snow, showing frisky cavorting, excited leaps and bounds, and quiet moments of nose-to-nose communication. After dropping down to a creek for a sip of water, the two took off across the field, side-by-side. Every so often there was a scent marking, while a couple of spots showed where one or the other had snuffled the snow, perhaps in search of a mole or field mouse.
I’ll provide some more details of the walk in my next post.