Not-so-rare sightings in the habitat of the urban fox

JACQUES KELLY

December 18, 1992|By JACQUES KELLY

The other morning, two hours before dawn, my cab was charging through the darkness on Belair Road a few blocks north of Erdman Avenue. At that hour, when only the milkman and baker are up, a graceful animal darted across the street.

It was a gray fox. Wildlife sightings like this one just aren't supposed to happen well within Baltimore.

Few dogs could catch up with this speeding beauty. Its tail floated straight out. The scene could have been from an old print. Only the hunters and their horses were missing.

The fox --ed across Belair Road in the dip between Chesterfield Avenue and Parkside Drive, where Herring Run Park cuts through Northeast Baltimore.

It was reassuring to think that our city parks are still healthy enough that a fox would want to live there.

About 10 days later, on a Sunday afternoon, what should appear at St.Paul Street and Stratford Road? This time, it was a red fox, out for a daylight run in Guilford. It took off across the property of the Second Presbyterian Church and headed for a clump of evergreens near Highfield Road.

It's now three days later and we're just off North and Mount Royal avenues, near the Central Light Rail Line's platform. There's a clump of brush near the gray stone arches of the North Avenue Bridge. On one side are the lanes of Jones Falls Expressway traffic. The Chessie System's main line to Philadelphia is to the other side. Light-rail trains come through the center of the picture every 15 minutes.

A different fox lives here. It has taken up residence in an area that could almost be termed inner city. It has become such a familiar sight that light-rail operators know not to be surprised when it charges across their tracks.

There was nothing planned -- or connected -- about the three city fox sightings. They just happened within a brief period of time.

All three locations -- Belair Road, Guilford and North Avenue -- have something in common. Although each locale is highly urbanized, they are all part of, or adjacent to, the natural stream valleys that cut through Baltimore and give us some of our more most handsome scenery.

Herring Run Park cuts through Morgan Park, Lauraville, Northwood, Arcadia, Belair-Edison and Armistead Gardens. At first, this part of the city might not seem like a vulpine retreat. There are block after block of rowhouses and apartments facing the stream valley. This part of Baltimore stopped being countryside about the time of World War II.

The Guilford neighborhood dovetails with the valley of Stony Run, a small stream that meanders through North Baltimore and meets the Jones Falls at the Hampden-Remington neighborhoods. It's possible that the red fox spotted in Guilford had worked its way south from Lake Roland. Or maybe it just prefers to live among the stockbrokers and lawyers.

The fox seen at the Second Presbyterian Church seems to have no fear of city traffic. Automobiles fly down St. Paul Street. And while this neighborhood is stately and green, it too hasn't seen a farm since the days before World War I.

In some respects, the North Avenue fox is the most logical. While the animal may reside less than a mile from the heart of downtown, the sides of the Jones Falls Valley in the area remain quite natural. There have been numerous attempts to chew up and disfigure the hillsides and stream bed, but somehow this natural asset has retained touches of the wild.

It wouldn't be unusual for foxes to be all over Druid Hill Park, about a quarter-mile above North Avenue. But this cagey resident is apparently quite happy in the urban underbrush. It has learned to survive amid the traffic, pollution and lack of hen houses.

The fox's dinner? Every so often a big box turtle waddles around. Sounds like terrapin stew.

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