Encounters with the red fox along Little Crum Creek tend to be sudden, swift, and unexpected.

Early risers get the best looks before dawn, commonly reporting a fox resting on a dark porch or trotting across moonlit lawns.

As morning wears on, however, healthy foxes generally retreat to their dens or to the brush and cover of the creek corridor.

On this spring morning a fox rests on high ground for a good vantage of the stream below.

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One summer day, I watched a fox trace and retrace a widely meandering circuit up and down the same slope, seemingly intent on stalking several mallards.  Passing within 30 ft of my seat a few times, it padded by with nary a sniff or glance, and its creekside splashing rained no harm on the vigilant ducks.

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Roles reversed this fall.  Absorbed in a branch of tube-tailed thrips, I barely noticed a fox’s distinctive trot come to a nearby stop.  At last moment of pause, I managed this over-the-shoulder shot before the curious fox withdrew.

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By fall’s end, such encounters had become common. The cause was probably sarcoptic mange, an infectious disease of mites burrowing in the fox’s skin.  Several sources indicate that infected foxes present a raggedy coat and irritated white skin.  They also lose sleep and the ability to control their body temperature as a weakened immune system fails to fight infection and parasites. Consequently, the restless, preoccupied, and normally nocturnal (and often crepuscular) fox is forced to seek warmth and sustenance all day long.  While not aggressive toward humans, the fox’s needs make it considerably less wary of human activity.

In late fall, a friend and I were observing a four-point buck when this fox approached for a drink. Notice the irritated skin and wiry tail. 

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Since then, unmoved by their vulnerability and the protests of barking dogs, a few foxes have openly curled up in the warming sun.

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Just a few weeks ago, before our first snow,  I watched a red fox feast on squirrel for half an hour.  After thoroughly licking its paws and trotting across Little Crum Creek with the emptied pelt swinging from its mouth, the fox returned to sniff around. 

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This time it was not alone.  An eight-point buck occupied a local scrape. When the fox wandered too close, the buck rose, bent its nose to the ground, and charged with his rack hovering a few inches above the earth. The fox hopped deftly aside and trotted downstream.  The buck settled back into his seat.

Just about now, compromised foxes might fail to withstand winter’s freezing temperatures and persistent snow.  They have, at least, escaped further notice.  

In their place:  an occasional, bushy-tailed, red-coated fox trotting over Little Crum Creek’s snowy white slopes — healthily, for now, too elusive to photo.  

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