Tag Archives: Fox

The Shampoo Theory of Hiking

Fox Kits at Lake Mercer

Turn around. Look behind once in a while.

Did you ever see a squirrel or a deer cross a road in front of a car? Yeah, they do that. And you know what? They cross behind you, too.

The same thing happens when you hike in a park. Every once in a while you’ll see a deer, or a squirrel, or a fox jump out on the trail ahead of you. Every once in a while they do the same thing behind you. If you hike in an area often enough, you’ll learn that they cross those trails in the same places time and time again. It’s like the highway signs that warn of deer crossing. Those signs aren’t random. Deer repeatedly use those areas.

Animals, like people, are creatures of habit. Deer wander close to edges, where woods and meadows meet, so they often can be spotted near park entrances, along creeks, or along hiking paths. If you’re hiking along a maintained trail, keep an eye out on the forest floor for subtle pathways where plants appear to be pushed down or trampled. Sometimes those are trails blazed by people, but often they are animal trails. Remember those spots, because animals frequently use the same trails repeatedly.

Bass on a nest

It’s like fishing. If you catch a big fish, return to that spot in the future. There’s a reason that fish was there – maybe food, maybe shelter, maybe both. The same thing is going on in the woods. Animals return to the places that provide food, shelter and safe passage. If you like taking photos of wildlife, then remember where you see the animals and return to those places with camera in hand.

Study the weather when you hike. Meteorological conditions can impact wildlife. There are times on a walk in the woods you won’t hear a single bird singing or see any animal movement of any kind. There are other times when every bird in the neighborhood seems to be visiting your feeder, every animal in the woods is in motion, and every fish in the lake is feeding. Consider what the atmospheric conditions are when wildlife is active – sunlight, temperature, cloud cover, barometer, frontal passages, wind speed and direction, and even moon phase. Return when there are similar conditions, and there will be a good chance wildlife will be active again. For example, largemouth bass usually spawn on a new or full moon in spring on the north or northwest banks of a lake where the sun shines longest and when rising water temperatures reach the high 50s to mid 60s. Walk along shorelines under those conditions and look in the shallows for round, white circles where the fish have cleared their beds. Look closely and you’ll see bass circling those beds. Those same areas will draw bluegills in to spawn next when the water temperature rises a few more degrees. You can count on that happening year after year under the same meteorological conditions. Nature is like that. The more you observe, the more fascinating and predictable it becomes.

The best hiking/wildlife day I’ve had in Fairfax parks came during fall a couple of years ago. During an early morning, 45-minute walk at Lake Mercer I spied raptors, fox outside a den, antlered bucks giving their equivalent of high-fives along the water’s edge, a box turtle and countless serenading birds. It was a quiet, calm, cool morning after several consecutive days of steady, calm weather. Spring walks produce choruses of frogs and wildflowers in predictable places as wet, warming conditions repeat year after year.

Atmospheric conditions also can help you predict when wildlife is not active. Consider Washington summers, when temperatures boil into the 90s and days get so hot that not even the air wants to move. Not much wildlife in motion then, either.

So when you head out for a hike in a park this summer, take along this shampoo theory. Lather, rinse, repeat for consistent good hair. On your next hike, enjoy, look, listen and learn. Repeat for consistently good experiences. And increase your odds of seeing wildlife by occasionally turning around and looking back.

Author Dave Ochs is the manager of stewardship communications for the Fairfax County Park Authority’s Resource Management Division.

IMA Volunteers Share Memorable Wildlife Encounters

One of the most exciting things about visiting Fairfax County parks is encountering wildlife. A family visit to a playground is made more special when a child points in awe at a deer moving quietly through the trees. A walk along a stream valley trail is more memorable when a fox scampers into view, even if only for a brief moment. And catching a glimpse of a bald eagle soaring high above a lake can make a bad day of fishing slightly more palatable. Wildlife is abundant on parkland, but you have to spend time in the parks for your best shot at seeing something extraordinary.

IMA volunteers work together to restore parkland by removing invasive plant species and planting native species.

One group that spends a significant amount of time in parks is our Invasive Management Area (IMA) volunteers, our frontline defense against the spread of non-native invasive plant species. These intrepid volunteers endure searing heat, stifling humidity, stinging plants, and painful thorns as they search for invasive plants to remove and replace with native species. Because their work often takes place off the beaten path, IMA volunteers also frequently encounter wildlife.

July is Parks & Recreation Month.

As we celebrate Parks & Recreation Month’s GET WILD theme, we thought we’d share some of our IMA volunteers’ incredible wildlife sightings. Enjoy these retellings and keep an eye out for wildlife in the parks and around your home. Your wildlife encounter, whether simple or spectacular, will be a story you can share with family and friends for many years.

Vivian Morgan-Mendez, a longtime volunteer at Nottoway Park, often sees bright orange Baltimore orioles and bluebirds flitting near community garden plots. She also remembers the afternoon a wild turkey flew out of the brush where her crew was working. “All five of us saw it. Pretty amazing!” However, sometimes wildlife encounters aren’t always fun; just ask Morgan-Mendez. “Several of my IMA volunteers and I were stung after we dug up a ground bee hiding place along with invasives. It was a very painful experience.”

Volunteer Jennifer Porter credits her proximity to Holmes Run Stream Valley Park for the abundance of wildlife activity around her home. “We have foxes around. They sashay down our pipe-stem drive at will at almost any time of the day or night. Our next door neighbor’s cat was forced to take refuge under a car to escape one fox that seemed too interested. Some years ago now, we had a fox on the front porch chasing our blind cat. A few days after that, another fox chased our second cat up the back steps.”

Porter used to be fond of gardening barefoot, at least until she nearly stepped on a copperhead. “Barefoot appears not to be a good idea,” she advises. One summer, Porter’s cats brought 16 small snakes into the house including one that tried to escape by crawling inside the piano pedals.

IMA Volunteer Renee Grebe photographed a pair of coyote pups as they crossed a creek on a downed log.

Those who venture into local green spaces have a unique window within which to see unusual things. Renee Grebe reports Clermont and Loftridge Parks are “alive these days – coyotes everywhere it seems.” Grebe has also encountered coyotes around her neighborhood, including a pair of pups she saw crossing a creek on a downed tree. Several times a week last summer, she began hearing the howls of a newly established coyote pack at dusk, and the howling has begun again. “The cacophony makes it sound like there must be 100 of them (though at latest report there may only be four adults and three babies).” She continued, “Also, it’s not unusual (and almost expected) that if an ambulance siren goes off, the coyotes will howl back.”

Grebe finds humor in some of her wildlife encounters. One morning she came upon a fawn that was standing a short distance from the path. The fawn seemed curious and crept closer as Grebe stood still. “But at one point,” she recalls, “it must’ve hit a spider web right on its nose because all at once it started snorting and jumping in place and shaking its head. It was so funny! I wish I had it on camera. It was just the reaction you’d have if you didn’t expect yourself to walk into a web.”

Wilson Harris was intrigued by a red fox that recently visited a bird feeder in his front yard. “The fox was just sitting placidly there. No sign later of any carnivorous activity” Harris has also seen box turtles ambling across his yard.

When Greg Sykes isn’t volunteering with IMA he’s taking photographs, and wildlife is one of his favorite subjects. While kayaking at Royal Lake he snapped a photo of a pair of egrets that came closer and closer to him. “I thought they might try landing on my boat!” he said. Sykes has seen foxes and kits by a den, sometimes with a dead goose or duck. On another kayaking excursion, this time at Lake Accotink with his dog, a bald eagle landed right in front of them.

Beavers are a common sight in lakes and creeks.

Royal Lake has been a particularly good place for Sykes to encounter wildlife. He has seen muskrats playing among wood duck chicks and he is one of the lucky few to have seen a river otter playing in a tributary in the park. Sykes remembers watching bats and beavers at twilight. “It was cool to watch the bats, and then a beaver swam up to where I was with a mound of vegetation and made a scent pile by the shore. I don’t think he knew I was there.” Sykes offered a tip to aspiring wildlife photographers. “You don’t always need blinds to photograph wildlife. I’ve used a camera bag and lay on my stomach to get some skittish animals, like hooded mergansers.”

Remember, Get Wild this summer and spend some time in the parks. You’ll be surprised and amazed by the wildlife encounters waiting for you there.

Have you had a memorable wildlife encounter in the parks? We invite you to share your story in the comments field.

You can view and print brochures about wildlife and other stewardship topics here.

 Written by Matthew Kaiser, deputy public information officer