Sunday, July 26, 2009

Why I *Heart* Texas

After you live somewhere a long time, it's easy to forget why you love the place. Yesterday I had some reminders of why I love living in north Texas.

My good friend Maria had a housewarming yesterday. I drove an hour east of the D/FW area where she and her husband Greg have purchased a spacious home on six acres of heavily wooded property.

Maria's new house includes lots of tall windows that overlook the forest surrounding the place. She also has a long, wide screened-in back deck that commands a terrific view of the property. We spent some time sitting in comfortable chairs, looking out at the dense wall of tall pine.

A quarter of a mile away from Maria's new home is a private big cat preserve. Every day at dawn and dusk, the loud roars of the lions disturb the silence. Maria says she was told there has been only one lion that escaped during the past six years. That animal was unfortunately shot when he was found nearby by another neighbor who had small children and was not pleased to look out and see the gigantic beast lounging on her front porch.

The neighbor across the road from Maria has a herd of thirty alpaca, which--now that I think about it--may explain why that lion went AWOL. Maria plans to construct a pond on her six acres and then purchase a few goats.

The group of neighbors had a lively discussion about the continuing problems presented by the local possum and raccoons. Raccoons will wait patiently on the other side of a wired fence for a guinea hen or chicken to come close (Good sense is apparently not a poultry trait). The raccoons then use their strong little paws to drag their hapless victim through the wire mesh. [Ugh]

After I made my goodbyes, I returned home, making a stop along the way at an outlet mall with a Rockport Shoe store. When I got back, I went next door to visit with my own neighbors, Linda and Ken. I wanted Linda, a Spanish teacher, to review a form I had created in both English and Spanish. Spanish verb conjugation is not my strong suit.

Linda asked if I had seen the foxes yet. I had not. My own heavily wooded and hilly neighborhood boasts a stream with numerous caves where coyotes have dens, but I haven't seen a fox out here in over ten years.

I waited until after midnight and then went outdoors. Following Linda's advice, I paused at a spot where I could look down a steep hill to another neighbor's property.

The deck around my neighbor's swimming pool is well-lit. And, sure enough, there were two gray foxes sprawled out in comfort nearby. I made a deliberate waving motion. One noticed me and stood. The other just looked over a shoulder, but didn't bother to get up.

I assume they are a mated pair. If so, we may see the return of the gray fox to our neighborhood. The info below gives an important clue as to why this may be happening. Here's a photo and some info on them, courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service:

The gray fox is essentially an inhabitant of wooded areas, particularly mixed hardwood forests . . .

This fox is adept at climbing trees, particularly if they are leaning or have branches within 3 m of the ground, and it is not unusual for it to use this escape device when pursued by hounds.

Contrary to common belief, gray foxes are not strictly animals of the night, but they are much more active then. They have been observed on many occasions in the daytime under conditions that suggested they were foraging. When so encountered, they often move to one side behind a protecting screen of vegetation and wait for the intruder to pass.

Gray foxes usually den in crevices in the rocks, in underground burrows, under rocks, in hollow logs, or in hollow trees . . . In central Texas, a den was found in a hollow live oak with the entrance about 1 m above the ground . . .

The gray fox is omnivorous; the food varies with season and availability. Based upon the stomach contents of 42 foxes from Texas, the winter food consisted chiefly of small mammals (cottontails, cotton rats, pocket gophers, pocket mice), 56%; followed by insects, largely grasshoppers, 23%; and birds (doves, quail, sparrows, blackbirds, towhees), 21% . . . In late summer and fall, persimmons and acorns led with 30%; insects, 26%; small mammals, 16%; birds, 14%; crayfish, 14% . . . Consequently, as judged from these analyses, the usual food habits of the gray fox do not conflict much with man’s economy.

Of some interest is the possible relationship between gray foxes and coyotes. In sections of Texas where coyotes formerly were numerous, the gray fox was scarce; now, after elimination of the coyote, the gray fox has become abundant. Perhaps the coyote tends to hold this fox in check under conditions where they both occupy the same area.

1 comment:

Maria Zannini said...

I'm so glad you came over, Maya!

Next time we'll make it just you and me. Maybe we can do some live critiquing, followed by mass quantities of margaritas. :o)