Retiree feeds wild foxes in urban Armistead Gardens


January 11, 1993|By JACQUES KELLY

Close to one o'clock every morning, a man on Federal Street performs an unusual task. He deposits eggs outdoors for his friendly neighborhood fox.

Paul M. Watson, 69, lives in the Armistead Gardens section of eastern Baltimore. His street dead-ends at Herring Run Park, a natural stream valley greensward that curves through several highly populated city neighborhoods.

"I can say this about the foxes, I haven't seen any rats around here. And you'll never see a rabbit," says Watson, who retired a few years ago as an Amtrak baggage handler. For many years before this, he worked for the old Railway Express Agency.

He uses a variant on the line about the fox being in the hen house. He takes raw eggs, walks across Federal Street and leaves them at a grassy clearing.

"I put the eggs out and some dry dog food. Any scraps I might have, too. Then I go across the street to my kitchen window and turn out the light.

"In a few minutes, the foxes come and eat. Sometimes cats come, too, but the foxes and the cats don't fight. I've seen the foxes run around in circles trying to chase the cats away from the food," he says.

An interloping raccoon will "shoot up a tree" at the sight of a fox, he notes.

Watson has observed that foxes like to suck on the raw chicken eggs. As proof, he never finds broken egg shells.

If the foxes don't show up one night, crows pick at the undisturbed raw eggs after daylight.

Watson says the first time he saw a fox it was walking late one night on the Erdman Avenue concrete median strip just a short distance from his home.

"I was coming home late after having a few beers. I thought I was seeing something -- maybe a cat. But I realized by its beautiful tail that it was no cat," he recalls.

Some nights, he has observed as many as five foxes dining on the meals he's provided at the edge of the wooded section of Herring Run Park.

The park runs close to Erdman Avenue, the Harbor Tunnel Thruway, the CSX rail line and several industries.

At first glance, it does not seem a likely wildlife preserve.

Other gray foxes have penetrated westward along the Herring Run Valley. They have been known to dart across busy Belair Road in the wee hours of the morning.

There is also a den in the Stony Run Valley near the Guilford and Wyman Park neighborhoods in North Baltimore.

"It's amazing, right here in the city, on Federal Street, I've seen a deer run right down the block. One got hit by a car at Erdman Avenue the other year. I wouldn't be surprised if the foxes didn't live all the way up the stream as far as Morgan University," he says.

He believes that the animals come out of the deep stream valley when they are disturbed in some way. He thinks the presence of a sand and gravel mining operation, as well as a dump, caused some of the animals to move around.

Watson has lived in Armistead Gardens for the past 40 years in a home originally constructed by the federal government to ease the World War II housing shortage. Since that time, the homes have been sold to individuals under the aegis of a neighborhood corporation.

He's a man who takes physical fitness very seriously. He's a former professional boxer who still works out at the Downtown Athletic Club. A few years ago he was attacked by three muggers on Kenyon Avenue. He punched them so hard they got in a car and drove away.

As part of his daily physical regimen -- especially when he's not pumping iron at the athletic club -- he takes long walks around the neighborhood and through the park where recent rains have made Herring Run move along briskly, occasionally overflowing its banks.

"I get annoyed when people bring guns down here and say they're going to shoot the foxes. The foxes don't hurt anything except maybe the rats," he says.

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