Every fox is different – different in the color of its coat, in size, in facial markings and in personality. This particularly endearing little fellow, we call Speck.
We’re lucky to live in a village where, by and large, people are at peace with their wild neighbors. Moose, caribou and the occasional duck and ptarmigan are harvested for food, and everyone takes advantage of the surfeit of salmon that ascend the river edging the village of Chignik Lake, Alaska, but most of the rest of our wild neighbors are left free to go about their business. River Otters swim the lake in pursuit of starry flounder and other fish, foxes keep the local population of voles in check, and some of the largest brown bears in the world amble unmolested right through the village as they head upstream and downstream in search of salmon which spawn from late March through November. Nesting boxes are liberally scattered throughout the village, awaiting the return of the swallows that will raise their chicks here and in so doing help to keep the mosquito population down – without the use of pesticides. Recently, Tundra Swans have begun showing up on the river and lake, suggesting to everyone that at last Spring is approaching.
In addition to the distinctive freckles on his snout, Speck has exceptionally white cheek patches, a confident personality and intelligence.
Red Foxes are locally abundant, and several have taken up residence in or near the village. This has provided us the opportunity to really get to know this species, so much so that, as field biologists often do, we’ve learned to distinguish among individuals and have given them names. Guido is instantly recognizable by his dark flanks, lean build and furtive personality; Frost, the smallest and most vocal of our resident foxes, has a lot of frosty white coloring in her coat and on her face; Hank could pass for Speck’s brother (and may well be) with his freckled face; Skit’s eye injury is improving, but he’s had a tough go of it this winter; Kate is older and larger than the other village foxes and doesn’t often show herself, but when she does it’s obvious – Kate is drop dead gorgeous.*
Speck began showing up around our house at about the same time Frost began coming around. He combs the lakeshore for whatever scraps may be there, hunts the nearby open areas and likes to sun himself on the grassy bank in front of our home. Although his ears constantly and independently move like two radio dishes in search of sound as he rests, he’s a confident little guy and has become habituated to both our presence and, remarkably, to the presence of Buster, the big lovable village dog who frequently visits our house.
Speck appears to be a fairly young fox and he’s fortunate to have made it through the harshest of the winter weather in very good condition.
Soon voles and hares will begin multiplying in earnest and salmon will return to the Chignik River. Later in the summer, salmonberry and blueberry bushes will load up with ripe fruit and there may even be ground nesting birds to catch. All in all, Chignik Lake is a good place to be a wild fox. With any luck, we might discover a den with litter of kits in the coming months and thereby continue learning about these fascinating animals.
*Disclaimer: short of rolling a fox over on its back and performing a close inspection – which is out of the question with a wild fox -, we know of no practical way to determine if one is male or female. Thus, our naming system is arbitrary regarding sex.