An encore for Yorick


Alas, poor Yorick!
I knew him, Horatio, a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy.

The King’s jester was perhaps a man of excellent fancy but the presence of a Gray Fox on the farm is no reason to celebrate. I am as much a nature lover as the next person, and foxes in their proper place are a thing of beauty, but a farm has to have rules and one of ours is that the presence of an intruder which either absconds with or attempts to abscond with one of Joanna’s animals is strongly discouraged. A varmint is a troublesome wild animal; how troublesome is the issue. Many folks who live in rural areas have difficult visitors that get into their trash, while others have marauders which help themselves to garden produce. We have a number of trespassing deer, crows, sparrows, racoons, opossums, porcupines, snakes, and rats that help themselves to stored grain, (expensive) animal feed, and to lots and lots of (very expensive) cat food. And, these we deal with. It is the visits from hawks, weasels, foxes, coyotes, bobcats, and bear that we cannot abide. While the first three have taken poultry, bobcats have helped themselves to chickens and even a barn cat on a couple of very rare occasions. Bear have thus far limited themselves to destruction of the bird feeders. I was walking the stone wall which forms our property boundary to the east and found a nearly complete, though mostly dis-articulated, skeleton of a Gray Fox. Please do not think me heartless when I say that I was not in the least upset. One day last spring Joanna was upstairs when she heard a commotion coming from the backyard. She also noticed a general movement of spectating cats and chickens toward the noise. Having experienced this sort of coincidence before she was down stairs and out of the house in a flash. As soon as she turned the corner she saw a Gray Fox making off with one of her prized Brahma laying hens. Without hesitation she launched toward the offending canine and yelled …

D .. R .. O .. P IT!

And he did. Thankfully the bird had been nabbed by a mouthful of its tail feathers and those, along with a bit of her dignity, were all that were lost in the altercation. Although we are not wildlife biologists, our observations tell us that foxes range widely such that they tend to drop in at the farm at intervals of several weeks. We had seen this individual, or another of his ilk, while snow still blanketed the ground, with his face buried to the ears in a bowl of Purina’s best. So it was without sorrow that I came upon the remains of Urocyon cinereoargenteneus cinereoargenteneus this week. Forgive me but once these stealthy predators become habituated to environs about the house they are problematic and a difficulty waiting to happen.

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21 thoughts on “An encore for Yorick

  1. Loved the way you played this out! Like Michelle, we have not only foxes, which pose little threat to farming here, but also coyotes, which are another matter entirely. They play real havoc with our few sheep farms and also take a huge toll on other wildlife. They are dangerous. One early morning around 15 years ago I encountered my first. I was driving out to Clarenville, around 2 h away, to deliver an inservice. It was early fall and was still bright at 6. No other traffic. I could see something dead in the middle of the highway way ahead – a crow, as it turned out. I could also see a dog eating the crow. I slowed in and stopped when just alongside. The ‘dog’ didn’t flinch at my approach. When I stopped it slowly turned and gave me a 1000 yard stare from 1 yard away. Looked right through me. Not a dog, but too small to be wolf – around 40 – 50 pounds. When I arrived at Clarenville I related the story and was assured it was a coyote. At the time they were new here – probably came over on ice. They’ve since flourished. That one was completely unafraid. I was glad for the confines of the car and for the fact that the creature was alone – a rarity for them.

    • An unsettling story Maurice; I too am glad you only observed this from the confines of the car. We have coyotes in our area but (thankfully) only their calls intrude upon us. We’ve seen an individual only once in nearly twenty years here. We are well fortified however – electric fences and guard dogs (‘knock wood’ we’ve never had a problem). D

  2. I love the way you connect the story, the image, and the title. Certainly if there is a court jester of the animal world, it has to be the fox. We have many coyotes in Saskatchewan, an animal which First Nations cultures call the trickster. When we first moved to the farm the coyotes liked to take the brightly coloured toys the girls left outside (like sand pails). We’d find the toys in the field behind the house. Fortunately, by the time we started raising chickens we had a dog who kept the coyotes outside the boundaries of the yard and never lost any of our birds to the thieves.

    • You were lucky indeed, especially since they had become habituated to the area about the house before the arrival of the dog. We have coyotes in the area and always feel a mix of emotion when we hear them, mostly in mid-to-late winter. What a wonderful sound, but we worry just a bit when they range that close to the farm. I suppose it’s either the fences, the dogs, or both that have kept us safe from their very close inspections over the years. Thanks for the positive observations on the post … I feel as though I’ve been in sort of a ‘slow’ period … both in terms of output and quality. Your words give me hope for perhaps better things to come? Thanks. D

  3. David, I love this photo, it’s stunning. The way you caught the bleached bones leaves them looking like porcelain, and the contrast with the dark earth is perfection. I tried to figure out, just for fun, what sort of skull it was before reading your post … but I had never heard of a grey fox before. It looks very canine. We get red foxes here, and they are very bold, walking alongside us like dogs if we don’t chase them off! It’s the neighbor’s chickens we worry about, as they will kill the whole lot in a sort of frenzy if they get in … such a waste.

    • Thank you very much Seonaid for the positive comments on the image. It gives me pleasure to know that someone out there actually thinks one of my shots is not-too-bad. We worry about rabies here in the US and a very friendly fox of the sort you describe would be a real worry. You are correct in observing that many barn-yard attacks are, to our eyes, wasteful. In the eyes of the predator, I am sorry to say, any meal or any portion of a meal is better than none at all. So, who are we to judge? One of the greatest challenges of animal husbandry has always been to keep one-step-ahead of so many pairs of eyes watching from the depths of the surrounding pastures, hedges, and woods … especially at night! Our solution has focused on a combination of very good fencing (mostly electrified), and dogs … big, big dogs (Anatolian Shepherds … on duty 24/7). D PS: BTW the images of Autumn you posted yesterday were beautiful … the soft, golden, light was ‘the best.’

  4. I enjoyed this story. Though it might be inappropriate I cannot help imagine it as a cartoon, Peanuts-style šŸ™‚ After that traumatic encounter the poor cowardly fox is ridiculed by his fellow foxes and has to seek professional support with a fox counselor (as depressed Charley Brown does).

    Did you ever encounter a bear? I mean did you really see it? I am asking because I just know those clichĆ©d movies and because there was a famous singular bear in Austria some years ago – finally shot by Finnish specialist hunters called upon by their Austrian colleagues unfamiliar with bears … which caused heated debates between politicians, farmers and environmentalists.

    Bears, wolves and lynxes are extinct in Austria though there are resettlement projects run by the WWF. The brown bear has even become extinct twice – after there was a small population founded by an “immigrant bear” from Slovenia. I guess European countries are too small for a peaceful coexistence of humans and these large predators.

    Fortunately our garden has only been entered by “nice” animals so far – the most surprising one being a pheasant taking a break on the solar collector. This year we have zillions of little frogs (or toads?) – they are nice, but sometimes in summer evenings it was reminiscent of a Hitchcock movie or a biblical plague.

    • I enjoyed your closing reference to the plague! We have seen bear many times while driving along the road. And they always run the other way. We have lots and lots of EVIDENCE of bear activity close by the farm but rarely see them. The few times we have seen them at close range has been from our kitchen window! They come in to our bird feeders during the winter to help themselves to seed! So, to answer your question … we have never had a close encounter of the sort I think you’re asking about. From what I’ve been told, however, unless you get between a mother and her cub, there’s very little danger of attack from a healthy, well-fed, individual. There is a bear hunting season in our area and I’m always surprised at the number of animals that are taken each year. Lots and lots … it makes me quite sad to see these beautiful, majestic, creatures shot dead for their hides and as trophies. D

      • It seems you are forgetting the time Mr. Darcy and I encountered a cub and its mother while walking in the woods. I can assure you, we both really saw them, although I viewed the mother mostly over my shoulder while in rapid retreat …

  5. Mmm, that’s odd, apparently when I use my phone I come up anon on WordPress? Who knew? I can just see Joanna putting the fear of, well, Joanna into that fox šŸ™‚ I managed to scare the living daylights out of a high school boyfriend once yelling at one of our ponies who was headed towards us full tilt, intent on the grain in our hands and happy to run us over to get it. Working with animals leaves no room for ambiguity šŸ™‚

  6. Good riddance! How did you know it was a fox and not some other animal? I guess the long snout is a giveaway. Love the black and whites of this photo. VERY appealing! PS: Glad you came across remains and not the living flesh. Oh my. I would be petrified.

    • There are host of features which distinguish this from the skull of any of the other denizens mentioned. Anyway, except for the bear, they’re all much smaller than you and I and will (mostly) run away if challenged. Joanna’s pretty fearless when it comes to dealing with these guys … did you ever hear about the time she was walking in the woods and Darcy found some bear cubs to say ‘Hi’ to? Or, perhaps the time Argus had a play date with a porcupine? Fun … down on the Farm. D

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