Monday, January 6, 2014

Flying Foxes

With short legs, flexible forearms, and recurved claws, gray foxes readily climb trees.   
What is the "fantastic fossorial fellow according to Roald Dahl" and the final flying visitor to the Dipper Ranch persimmon tree in 2013? None but Fantastic Mr. Fox, or specifically at the Dipper Ranch, the spirited, leaping and tree climbing common gray fox.

First evidence of their presence was fruit-packed and therefore crumbly scat on the roads approaching the Dipper farmyard and then in the yard and beneath the persimmon tree itself.

Fox scat in the fall - 3/8 - 3/4" wide and crumbly with lots of seeds and skin from fruit.   
Second evidence was the sharp-nosed, short-legged, brushy tailedness of them on the wildlife cameras aimed at the base of the persimmon tree.

First recorded visit of the fox on September 27.   
On October 26, a fox checks out the remains of a persimmon - just the cap - on the ground beneath the tree.   
And keeps searching for fruit for twenty minutes.   
But wait, there are two foxes.  Gray foxes are often in pairs or small family groups.   
A doe and a fawn tugging over persimmon leaves. Deer are also fond of persimmon fruit and may clean up any fallen fruit during the day. What's a nocturnal fox to do?  
And a few short hours after we had tramped all around the yard for Mothing Night, Mr. Fantastic Fox returns to the persimmon tree. First the fox sits down to observe its surroundings, then suddenly it turns around and leaps into the persimmon tree. Was it suddenly hungry or was it fleeing a predator? The rope hanging from the tree is left over from earlier in the evening when we were hanging sheets with UV lights for a moth survey. The fox just ignores the rope.

Although coyotes scrounge the ground beneath the persimmon tree for fallen fruit, deer fight over both its foliage and fruit, and raccoons are the first to climb its branches for ripe or unripe fruit, the gray fox is the only canine that actually flies and leaps into the tree to sample this lovely orange gooey sweet fall harvest.

It's a wonder this raccoon is eating a green persimmon. People shouldn't eat unripe persimmons to avoid the dry mouth  sensation from the tannins in the green fruit and possible a persimmon bezoar. A bezoar is a insoluble mass that may form in the stomach and they have been occasionally reported for humans with compromised digestive systems (e.g. diabetes) who ate large amounts of unripe persimmons. 
Finally, I placed a wildlife camera in the persimmon tree and got partial shots of Mr. Fantastic Fox's arboreal adventures.

Gray fox ascending the tree on November 2.     
A few minutes later the gray fox descends the tree. Elbroch in his animal behavior book describes gray foxes as either descending headfirst at a run or creeping down tail first. This looks like the former.   
A few nights later on November 4, a fox climbs the persimmon tree again.   
And twenty minutes later a second fox leaps into the tree.   
Showing off its brushy tail and agility.
Thank you persimmon tree.  Have a good rest over your deciduous winter.

Common gray fox, Urocyon cinereoargenteus
Columbian black-tailed deer, Odocoileus hemioanus columbianus
Raccoon, Procyon lotor
Coyote, Canis latrans

Mark Elbroch and Kurt Rinehart. Behavior of North American Mammals. Peterson Reference Guide Series. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2011. 

Mark Elbroch. Mammal Tracks and Signs. Stackpole Books. 2003.

George A. Feldhamer, Bruce C. Thompson, Joseph A. Chapman, editors. Wild Mammals of North America: Biology, Management, and Conservation. 2nd edition. John Hopkins University Press. 2003.


  1. Image quality seems pretty good for a trail camera. Certainly better than the Moultrie I'm using.

    1. The scat, raccoon, and persimmon tree photos are with my Nikon or I-phone but all the rest are with a Recon trail camera. Please note that I often adjust exposure and contrast, and sharpen photos from trail cameras to better "see" the animal. If I am specifically reviewing a trail camera in a post, then I do say what post-processing I have done on the photo, but otherwise, I don't always provide that level of detail and instead just focus on the topic at hand. There is a lot to understanding the light and animal behavior at a particular site and setting the camera accordingly. I'm still learning about that. And, as with all photography, one good photo out of fifty is to be expected.

    2. Ah! What fantastic pictures. That just boggles me, that they're such climbers. We think "dog" but they are so much more cat-like!

  2. I see that type of scat all the time on my hikes. I know now a fox was here. But I did not know they were so adapt to tree climbing.


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