From GENE LOGSDON
I was sort of startled by the two foxes at the edge of the woods outside our kitchen window. Son-in-law Joe took the picture. Those are well-fed foxes, I can vouch, courtesy of our hens. A part of me wanted to shoot them but a part of me didn’t. The lazy part saved them. I’d probably have missed anyway, given the state of my eyes these days. Red foxes are so pretty. Worth a hen or four I guess. Coincidentally, I had just read in Poor Will’s Almanack 2015, by Bill Felker, a book that Brad Roof, a reader of this website, gave me: “As the sun starts to rise a little earlier in mid-January, mating time approaches for foxes. Watch for their playing and courting in the fields.” I think these two had sex on their minds because they were so preoccupied with each other that they did not notice us standing at the window.
Then I also remembered another reason I should not have been surprised by the foxes. We live far out in the country with lots of cover and woodland around. Visiting son-in-law Joe’s house recently, which has some woody area behind it but which is very suburban, I was staring out the window, as I so like to do, and a coyote came slinking across his yard. I’m telling you: wildlife is everywhere these days. I was talking to an old-time coonhunter recently who was lamenting the lack of skillful hunters these days. “I think squirrels are about to take over the world,” he said, shaking his head. I agreed. We have so many in our woodlot. I keep thinking that “our” foxes will start catching them and pay us for their chicken dinners. Maybe they are.
An even more surprising sight out our window recently was an Eastern towhee, right here in January. This towhee has various names, and ornithologists argue about which should be the correct one. Rufous-sided towhee is another name. I get weary of biologists arguing (and changing) the names of birds and plants but I suppose that’s to be expected. However the idea that naming a bird or plant means we know more about it is only affectation. I make up my own names for wildlings sometimes and I know at least as much about them as the people who can spout off Latin labels.
Why was the towhee here in northern Ohio in January? I searched through my books. Not that unusual. Edwin Way Teale, up in New England, says in A Naturalist Buys An Old Farm that he had towhees overwinter on his place two years in a row. I am inclined to think that towhees in January, like coyotes and foxes in our backyards, is another indication that wildlife, despite popular sentiment to the contrary, is on the upswing in America. This towhee was close to the bird feeder, and may have visited it before or after I saw it. Don’t know. Then when I went to the barn a little later, I saw another towhee, or maybe the same one. I have described here more than once how land next to ours, and now some of ours too, has been abandoned to farming and is growing up in second growth brush and trees. Wildlife loves that kind of terrain, towhees included, so who knows what’s next. Our kitchen window is becoming a TV screen for wildlife documentaries.
Birds are blown off course or off schedule by weather sometimes, and we had been enjoying a week of steady southerly wind. I wonder if the towhees got caught up in that weather front, say in Tennessee, and giddily let it carry them farther north than they might otherwise have flown.
The deer are plentiful out our window too. They have been pawing up acorns out of the shallow snow cover. They rake up dead leaves in the process. One of the deer laid down on this impromptu bed for a nap. Right there before our eyes watching from the window.
Another new sensation out our window is a pileated woodpecker, a rare sight around here until last year. This bird, big as a crow but with such regal bearing, almost brings chills down my spine, the way it can hammer away at a rotten part in a tree, throwing away quite large flakes and slivers of wood. I think it is making a comeback here because along with our abandoned land growing back to trees and brush, there are various small woodlots of old-growth forest that contain quite a few old trees with holes big enough to support all kinds of woodpeckers. The foresters say that a real forest environment can’t be maintained by little plots of forest unconnected to each other. I am not so sure of that anymore. Black bears are on the increase in Ohio, and the first time one shows up out our window, I will start arguing about that.