Part of the island is a big prairie with a forest edge on one side & the ocean on the other. We had heard it's a great place to spot foxes and European hares so after we set up camp we headed over for a day in the field.
Almost as soon as we were out of the van we noticed up on one of the hills a rusty brown object moving along the grass. It was our first fox of the day. We watched it trot along and then find a place to lie down & soak in the morning sun. Our adventure was already off to a great start so we headed off to explore the rest of the landscape.
We wandered through the fields looking at wildflowers, signs of European hares, and watching the antics of harriers & crows fighting over voles(that's another story). After wandering for about an hour we came across an area where there were pockets of shrubs segmenting the zone of the field we were in. There were lots of edges & good hiding places for birds & other wildlife.
As we were walking through this area we suddenly spotted an animal in a stalk along the edge of one of the shrubby pockets. At first it looked like a cat because it was black and moving slowly along like a hunting feline.
We lost sight of it and fanned out to see if we could spot it again. That's when I noticed a small bird pop up maybe 3 ft into one of the shrubs. Then another one popped up on a different shrub across an opening. It looked like some sort of sparrow but it wasn't any sparrow I was familiar with. They didn't make any sound of alarm but they had obviously been forced up by something on the ground.
When we got a sight-line between the sparrows we saw our mystery animal. It had a long snout, big pointy ears and a white tip on it's tail. It was definitely a red fox... but why was it black? We discovered that a large portion of the foxes on the island are a dark morph of the typical red fox. It's strange to see families of foxes where brothers and sisters from the same litter can be two completely different colors. Who would have thought?
The fox trotted off and weaved through the bushes. It was impossible to see as it moved along but if you raised your eyes and looked out towards the area it was moving through you could see sparrows popping up one by one as the fox went along.
This experience really taught me how important the use of the eyes can be for tracking bird language. Anyone who didn't keep their eyes up & vision stretched out would miss the flickers of activity as the sparrow flew up popcorn style to show where the fox was moving through.
To wrap this whole sequence as I followed the trajectory of the fox by watching the sparrows I managed to catch one last glimpse of the animal and confirmed my interpretation of the bird language.
That evening we were back at our campsite finishing our meal. It was dusk and we were sitting around the fire recounting the stories from our day. We chatted about wildflowers, hares, all the great tracking & just as someone brought up the foxes who should trot into our campsite and sneak along the edge of our circle but one of the dark morph red foxes. What are the chances of that happening?
It was awesome to develop those connections with the foxes and that was just one of the highlights from our experience on San Juan island. I'll share more soon.