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Thanks to spring blooms that fed the bees
that pollinated the flowers that produced fall’s fruit,
a gray squirrel dangles from hind legs, to pluck a ripe crabapple,
and nibble the food in its paws on a nearby branch.

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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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The mulberry was a popular tree this spring, hosting a bevy of birds and squirrels each day in its fruit-filled branches.  Gray catbirds were most numerous.  Flitting quickly from perch to perch, they’d pluck and swallow berries as big as their beaks got wide.  Robins fed here too.

If correctly identified, three of these trees seem like a good representation of how mulberries are distributed in the southern portion of Pennsylvania.

100_5873cropHNearest the creek, one tree’s leaves are primarily lobed, feeling finely-haired on the bottom and more like sandpaper on top.  Red and purple berries hang between them.  These traits characterize our native red mulberry tree whose edible fruit was valuable to both Native Americans and European settlers. Bark and roots were used medicinally, fibers were good for rope and weaving, and its wood made good fence and boating material.

100_4960cropHA little further from the creek, at the bottom of a slope, is a smoothly oval-leafed variety of mulberry.  Its white unripe berries were one of the catbird’s favorites. But these berries also ripened to pink, red, and purple this spring.  Unlike our native red, the white mulberry tree hails from China. Entrepreneurs brought it in the 18th and 19th centuries to feed the worms and ambitions of a silk industry that never spun a fortune. The white mulberry subsequently spread so extensively that it often outnumbers the red.  Many call it a weed.

multi-colored berries, click for close-up ... hybrid tree?The white and red trees have even hybridized, making identification particularly difficult.  That brings me to the top of the hill and a mulberry with variously shaped leaves. They are not as smooth on top as the white mulberry, and not nearly as gravelly as the red. Some feel a bit hairy on the bottom. Others, not so much.  Berries turn from white-pinkish to purplish-black.  I’m not sure which to call it–a hybrid perhaps.

Whatever variety, the mulberry perfectly hosted many in its branches this year.  Its fruit came plentifully and has now gone the way of spring. The robins, squirrels, and catbirds are finding new spots to feed.