Relative Something

*this* John W. Hays' take on things and experiences

Posts Tagged ‘fox

Trickster Fox

with 2 comments

We are now in our 11th year living on this rural property and yesterday was the first time I finally saw the local fox with my own two eyes. The first year, contractors were showing up regularly to work on fencing and building the hay shed. One of the guys would tell me he saw a fox on our driveway every morning as he arrived.

Two years ago, the guy we hired to seal the logs of our house caught the fox trying to take one of our chickens and chased it off, screaming and hollering like a wild man.

I captured the fox on our trail cam back in 2018.

Delilah and I tried to track that fox through the snow into our neighbor’s woods that time but the trail led to a junction that looked like Grand Central Station and the multitude of alternative routes was more than we could follow.

Until yesterday morning, I had never set eyes upon the cunning critter. There I was, standing in our sunroom, stepping into my treasured Carhartt insulated bib overalls when I noticed something moving in the neighbor’s field, coming our way. As soon as I recognized it to be the fox, I pulled out my phone to take a picture.

The camera wouldn’t focus. It kept oscillating in and out of focus. The fox was coming right into the yard. I switched to video in an attempt to at least record some blurry movement as the fox walked past the windows of the sunroom. When I looked at the screen while the phone was supposed to be recording, the fox wasn’t showing up at all in the oscillating focus. I wondered if it was because I was trying to shoot through the window.

There is no recording for proof of what I saw. This fox must have magical powers that messed up the camera app on my phone. Now with no fox around, the camera works just fine.

I’m under the impression that the absence of our dog, Delilah, has given the fox confidence to walk right in front of me as if I wasn’t there. That’s okay. I don’t mind seeing him or her now that I know there will be no chickens harmed on our property.

I’ll even celebrate the visits if the little trickster will do something to reduce the number of gopher and mole tunnels that are taking over our turf.



Written by johnwhays

January 13, 2023 at 7:00 am

Posted in Chronicle

Tagged with , ,

Cookie Help

leave a comment »

A couple of Santa’s Helpers stopped by for a visit yesterday and cheerfully volunteered to assist Cyndie with baking some Christmas cookies. Sara and Althea did a heroic amount of the legwork getting loaded cookie sheets into and out of our double oven. That’s a lot of squats since the bottom oven is at about floor level.

My legs were getting tired just standing around helping with occasional cleanup. I think they baked almost ten different kinds of cookies. It seemed like that’s how many I test-tasted. Cyndie had prepared much of the dough in advance and refrigerated it overnight.

Each oven was set at a different temperature and the multiple varieties of cookies needed different baking times so it was quite a challenge for four people to keep track of pertinent details. I worked on the jigsaw puzzle while using the timer on my phone to track baking times.

Not that Sara really needed help with that. At one point, she asked me how much time was left and when I looked there was 1 second left on the timer. Her intuition was spot on. She also demonstrated a good sense of when the suggested baking time wasn’t enough. Several of the kinds of cookies took a little longer in our oven to reach the desired golden brown.

I learned that the inside light blinks on when the oven reaches the set temperature. It also emits a little tune, but I already knew about that. Sara conducted most of the orchestrations of the baking while Cyndie consulted recipes and prepped the different doughs for the cookie sheets with Althea’s support in cutting, sprinkling and spritzing.

At about the time maximum baking was being accomplished, I slipped out to feed horses and discovered a gorgeous moon illuminating the early evening. Once the horses were taken care of, I strolled down to pick up the mail. This is an activity that used to always include Delilah and it feels strange to walk down there alone.

Along the way, I took note of a variety of tracks in the snow from a prowling cat and either a fox or coyote. I could see where the snow along the driveway is getting peed on. I wonder if the local animals are noticing that Delilah is no longer marking this territory. 

As a punctuation to this thought, last night our motion-sensing light popped on over the deck and I looked out to find a fox on the top step of our deck. We never saw any fox on our deck when Delilah was alive. As soon as I spotted it, it noticed me, did a hasty about-face, and “noped” outta there.

Not long after that, a pack of coyotes started howling up a noise storm from very close proximity. Maybe they were howling at the moon.

Thinking about it, that moon looked a lot like one of Cyndie’s fresh-baked Russian tea cake cookies.

Howl-worthy, indeed.





Written by johnwhays

December 7, 2022 at 7:00 am

Holding Out

leave a comment »

Turns out, our adult Golden Laced Wyandotte layer hen has been holding out on us. Yesterday, Cyndie’s mom, Marie, along with Sara and Althea, stopped by to see the new chicks on their way home from the lake place. While they were here, the group took a stroll to find the three adult hens free-ranging away on the property.

When they heard the Wyandotte cooing in a thicket of growth, closer inspection revealed she was sitting on a batch of seven eggs!

Why that little stinker.

When I got home and Cyndie shared some pictures of the scene with me, the thing that stood out more than the eggs was the appearance of poison ivy leaves around the spot.

That chicken really doesn’t seem to want us to take her eggs.

For that matter, I suddenly have very little interest in handling that hen! Her feathers are probably covered in poison ivy oils. I start to feel phantom itches all over just thinking about it, and I didn’t even touch any of the hens or eggs yesterday.

I touched a lot of cute little “henlets,” though.

Whose idea was it to allow our chickens to free-range around here, anyway? A fenced run off the coop would be a lot simpler than all the risks due to predators and the hens’ creativity with laying locations.

Speaking of predators, I believe there is now one less fox we need to worry about. Yesterday morning, just as I turned off our street on the way to work at the crack of dawn, I saw a roadkill fox in the oncoming lane.

I’m a little surprised no other marauders discovered the pile of eggs free for the taking from the ground in the last week. Maybe that bodes well for the chances of continued good luck for the last three surviving hens from our 2018 batch.

If it weren’t for the occasional random incursions of passing bands of coyotes, our regular number of free-ranging adults might increase from the usual three that we always end up with toward the end of their productive egg-laying years.

When we were in this same situation two years ago, with 3 adults and a new brood of twelve young-uns that we expected would need merging together, the adults all got taken by a fox over a series of a few days. Sad as that was, it saved us the hassle of introducing the different aged birds to each other.

This time, I may need to actually follow through on a plan to remodel the inside of the coop to add a barrier that will provide shared-but-segregated accommodations for some period of introduction.

We never run out of new things to learn around here. Particularly, how to outsmart a hen that decides she’s too good for the silly nest boxes in the coop for laying her precious eggs.



Close One

with 3 comments

That was a close one. Yesterday afternoon, our crew of one, Matthew, who is brushing on a fresh coat of sealant on the logs of our house, was taking a break for lunch when he spotted what he calls our “yardbirds.” He was watching our three chickens moseying their way through the trees between the house and the barn.

Then, he caught sight of a fox!

The report I received was that he rushed toward it and started screaming like a madman. Cyndie said he came to the house to tell her there was a fox in our trees. When she arrived on the scene, all she found were the black feathers of our last Australorp. A LOT of black feathers, spread across a significant distance.

About that time, I received a text message indicating we had lost a hen to a fox.

A couple of hours later, my phone rang with a call from Cyndie with a correction to the previous message. The Black Australorp was still alive!

She had returned to the coop where Cyndie found her nestled into one of the nest boxes. Given the near-death experience, Cyndie granted the hen a free pass to stay in the box for as long as she wanted. There were no visible signs of trauma.

Much later, at dusk, I checked on the three chickens while closing the coop for the night. Much to our surprise, I found the Australorp perched on the roost beside her trusty companions, looking fit as a fiddle.

In addition, I found she had laid an egg while recovering her wits in the nest box.

That’s one tough hen.

Logic tells us that fox will return, so we may need to confine the birds to quarters for a while until we figure out some kind of plan.

We were already intending to install a fenced-in run area outside one of the coop doors in preparation for the new chicks. They are due to arrive today and will spend their first month or so in the brooder with supplemental heat, so we thought we had some time before needing to reconfigure the coop.

That schedule will change now that the fox is paying visits in broad daylight. Free-ranging may need to be curtailed for a while until we build a protected space where they can do some not-as-free-ranging.

Meanwhile, we have returned to arguing with ourselves over whether to get a rooster for protecting the hens, or not. That is an unlikely solution for us, but we occasionally revisit the idea to make sure we still feel the same way.

Our precious layers deserve some support in terms of protection, so if not from a rooster, we’d like to figure out a viable alternative.



Written by johnwhays

July 17, 2020 at 6:00 am

Finally, Snow

with 4 comments

So, if you are going to return north from a week in Florida, in January, you might as well dive head first into the coldest and snowiest days all winter, to make sure you will absolutely and thoroughly miss where you’ve just been.

Luckily for us, our animals so completely missed us that the love and attention they have showered over us has gone a long way to offset the angst of the painfully adult dose of winter that has greeted our return. (We still have all 9 chickens! Although, they weren’t all that fired up to show us any love. They may be hardy winter birds, but they don’t seem hardy enough to want to venture out of the coop when it is really cold, or the ground is covered with new snow.)

Instead of driving to the day-job, I stayed home and plowed snow drifts yesterday. It is hard to tell how much snow fell around here, because the depth ranges from about an inch in some places, to two feet in others.

I took a picture with Delilah in it, but I was focused on showing the fine pathway I cleared around the back pasture fence line.

Then I noticed that interesting cloud bank in the sky.

That was some pretty distinct delineation of cloud and clear sky right there. Nature sure makes cool stuff.

As Delilah and I walked the path around the pasture, I noticed the horses had made cute little circle tracks in the fresh snow, leaving little visible spots of where they foraged grass to graze.

It almost looks like they were on cross-country skis, as they moseyed along.

Speaking of tracks in the snow, as Delilah and I started our walk from the house, breaking trail in the new snow, we came to the spot where our trail cam captured a view of the fox last year. Something had just entered our property there within the hours since this overnight snowfall.

I decided to let Delilah follow the trail into the neighbor’s woods, in case we might find where the fox has a den. She was thrilled to have been granted access to this forbidden land and leaped through the snow to explore where the tracks led.

Well, even though it had been less than twelve hours since the majority of the snow fell, there were already a dizzying web of trails crisscrossing the wooded slopes. The snow was fresh and just deep enough that identification was difficult, but there were so many different pathways that I soon realized the chance we were following one fox had become very unlikely.

We reached a spot where tracks were everywhere, and the leaves beneath the snow were turned up in a wide variety of places. For a second, I wondered if it was a pack of coyotes, but then I deduced it was much more likely to be a flock of turkeys.

No wonder Delilah was so excited over that particular location.

I convinced her to reroute our exploration back toward our property and gave up on hunting for a fox den.

At least we finally have a snow cover that offers better footing than the icy glazing we had battled the previous month.



Written by johnwhays

January 29, 2019 at 7:00 am

I’m Told

leave a comment »

I didn’t go home last night. I’m told there were six eggs collected from the nest boxes yesterday. Sounds reasonable.

My schedule is a little askew. I shifted my hours at the day-job yesterday to work around a couple of appointments, which had me on the clock until almost bedtime last night. Instead of driving all the way home for an hour, I spent the night at the in-laws’ place.

After a few hours of sleep, I’m heading right back to the day-job to pick up where I left off. Covering for sick or vacationing staff is starting to feel like normal operating mode lately. I don’t remember what it feels like to focus on one task at a time anymore.

I missed a little excitement on the ranch yesterday evening. I’m told Cyndie and Delilah spotted a red fox on one of our trails. When it saw them, it turned around and headed back into the woods.

We know there are predators out there, but actually seeing them roaming the grounds brings on a little extra anxiety over our lack of a workable plan to keep them at bay.

Cyndie let Delilah hustle up the trail to where they had seen the fox, but in that amount of time, there was no longer anything to see. Still, maybe there is a chance the sight of Delilah alerting to the fox caused it enough stress that it will see our property as threatening.

No, I don’t actually believe that. I’m just practicing wishful thinking.

I’m also told that Delilah is looking all fit and trim after a visit to the groomer yesterday. Hopefully that doesn’t make her look less intimidating to unwelcome predators lingering on our grounds.

As tough as it was witnessing Delilah gobble up that little stunned songbird last week, I’d be just fine watching her put some teeth to a prowling fox to make a point.

Foxes not welcome! Fox sightings lead to fox bitings!



Written by johnwhays

September 12, 2018 at 6:00 am

Night Visitors

with one comment

I finally relocated the trail camera. It’s still viewing the same general area, but it now sees from the other direction. Instead of facing the coop, I attached it to one of the legs so it is facing out from the coop.

If there was any question about whether the fox was still hanging around, or not, we got our definitive answer Monday night.









I think it’s cute to see how the fox tips its nose up in the direction of the coop window. Might be picking up a familiar aroma there…

There are still plenty of rabbit sightings, and last night there were a couple of dark figures in the distance that defy positive identification. I get the impression that one of them was a local barn cat. Cyndie didn’t seem convinced, although neighbor cats are frequent visible visitors around our place.

There was no question about one other regular attendee to the coop area, although there are likely many more than just one trekking past throughout the night. Exhibit A:

I found some online advice yesterday about ways to keep foxes away. One farmer swears 100% success with his method. It’s urine. But, there’s a trick to it. The instructions insist you have to actually pee on the fox’s den. Oh, I suppose you could just collect specimens and dump them on there, but where’s the fun in that?

My problem with that solution is that I have no idea where the fox’s den is located. I should have followed tracks when there was still snow on the ground.

Putting out a live trap would catch more barn cats and raccoons than fox. The common opinion is that a fox is too smart to fall for that trick.

Last evening, after Cyndie brushed Delilah, she took all the dog hair down and distributed it around the coop. Delilah can’t stand guard there, but her scent can hang around all it wants, for whatever good that might do.

Frankly, we are growing more wary every day that a daylight attack on the chickens, similar to what occurred about this time last year, is not only possible, but likely.

In last night’s fading sunlight, I was hanging out with the flock as they lolled about between the coop and the paddock. Many of them showed a fondness for perching on the bottom board of the paddock fence, which reminded me of the behavior of last year’s flock, right before the June 16th massacre that dwindled their number.

For the time being, we’ve still got twelve chickens, and we are enjoying each of them to the fullest. And they seem to be enjoying us, as measured by their cute little hustle of approach when we are in their vicinity.

I wonder if they know how many visitors show up to their coop every night while they are sleeping.



Written by johnwhays

June 6, 2018 at 6:00 am

How About

with 4 comments

I’m taking a little evil pleasure in Cyndie’s report that she spotted a lot of fox tracks along the southern trail yesterday, because I know there are no longer any easy pickings to be had here.

Driving home past the neighbor’s farm, I took particular interest in how many of their chickens were wandering about in the thoroughly exposed wide open. I will be completely befuddled if the fox visiting us from the woods between our land and that neighbor’s has been ignoring their flock.

Hoping we get a chance to chat with them about it soon.

Meanwhile, I’ve been playing around with ideas on how we might proceed with our next twelve birds in light of the recent carnivorous outburst by the wild little member of the dog family. How about we domesticate the fox like we do dogs?

Allow me to stretch the boundaries of logic…

Here’s how it could go:

  • We trap the fox and attach a shock collar. We still don’t know if it’s a male or female. Since pups are born needing total care from the momma, it’s the father that hunts for the kits when they are young. Our visitor could be either.
  • We place customized high technology chips into each chicken, programmed to trigger the shock collar within 20 feet proximity.
  • Then we sit back and watch the perfect solution play out.

If foxes are so intelligent, it shouldn’t take long at all for this one to learn that our chickens are now off the menu.

It could even become a money-maker for us. We could offer to “chip” our neighbor’s chickens, too, for a small handling fee.

Maybe, as long as we’re stretching reality here, we could also have the collar release a scent of moles, voles, and rabbits after the fox leaves the chickens alone, to entice it toward a more preferred hunting focus.

In a world where we are moving toward driverless cars, smart speakers that control home life, and robots with unknowable artificial intelligence potential, my simple chicken protection/fox control idea seems downright quaint.

How about that?



Written by johnwhays

April 10, 2018 at 6:00 am

Quick Fox

with 20 comments

That didn’t take long.

From the looks of the feathers that flew, the Buff put up a fight yesterday morning.

Cyndie found the lifeless body beyond the hay shed, not far from our property border to the north. That is a long way from where the trail camera captured the fox crossing our trail in the woods, but it is in the same general northerly direction. We think we have a pretty good idea about what direction from which the threat originates.

Meanwhile, my relocation of the trail cam did not produce the hoped for results. I’m guessing the motion of moving branches was triggering the captures. I scanned 722 images and found one with a nice face shot of a squirrel and one blur of a smaller squirrel leaping through the air. Nothing else, beyond wiggling branches.

Having read about the superb cunning of fox behavior, and their ability to learn patterns of our movement, I’m even more impressed over the great snapshot we have from the morning last week when the two Barred Plymouth Rock hens were dispatched.

It is not lost on us that the elusiveness of this predator has kept us entirely blind to its presence, beyond the one picture. Even though it has obviously been active during the day when we are out and about, neither of us has ever seen it with our own eyes.

Foxy, indeed.



Written by johnwhays

April 9, 2018 at 6:00 am

Being Stalked

with 4 comments

She’s all alone, but not alone. Our sole survivor from last year’s brood, this amazing Buff Orpington, has finally ended her non-stop calling for her two most recent missing companions.

She has avoided death on multiple occasions, once even getting bloodied from a too close encounter within Delilah’s jaws. Now, left to fend for herself alone on the roost in single-digit cold overnight temperatures, she seems to be doing her best to tough out her rather dire situation.

The hungry spring predators appear to be stalking with unprecedented boldness. Based on our experience the last five years, the number of roaming tracks in the snow during daylight hours has picked up significantly.

Yesterday, every time we turned around there were fresh tracks showing up in areas we had recently walked, and they weren’t all the same. I would guess a dog or coyote, probably a cat, and definitely that troublesome fox.

I pulled the memory card from the trail camera, only to find the sly critter had completely avoided detection. Based on her travel pattern, I have relocated the camera, pointing it off the trail into the woods where I hope to catch her looking more into the view, as opposed to walking across it. This will also reduce the repeating shots of Delilah and us walking the trail that tends to clutter the results.

If you look at the shot of the fox I posted the other day, she was leaving our property with nothing in her mouth. Following yesterday’s tracks led us to two different spots where a large number of feathers revealed locations where the future meals had been stashed.

Cyndie wondered about putting extra effort to protect the buff against the obvious stalkers, and as a result, we did end up coercing her back into the coop early in the afternoon. One way I look at the possible inevitability of her fate is that it would save us needing to convince the year-old chicken to accept the twelve new chicks (now looking a lot like “tweens”) that will soon be moving to the coop.

By the time the next brood makes it to the free-ranging stage of life, the phase of ravenous spring predation will have calmed to the occasional massacre by some roving set of fangs like we suffered last June. Then we’ll find out which of our new birds are as cunning and lucky as the Barred Plymouth Rocks and our lone Buff Orpington were.

It’s no wonder why free-range birds are so precious.

It’s a jungle out there. So to speak.



Written by johnwhays

April 7, 2018 at 10:04 am