Losing sleep small price for getting close to nature


June 09, 1996|By Brian Sullam

EVERY MORNING between 5: 30 and 6 for the past five days, I have witnessed a very bizarre spectacle.

Just about the time the sun rises, a horrendously loud and excited cawing of crows breaks the morning silence. The noise starts far down my street and builds into a screeching and harsh crescendo as the flock flies toward my house.

By the time they arrive at my property and perch in the maples and pines, the racket is loud enough to wake everyone in the house as well as those that may be buried in the ground.

It seems that these crows have taken on the job of announcing that a red fox is up and about and making her rounds.

As best as I can tell, the fox is a female because it hasn't been marking territory the way males do. Her coat has a dirty blonde coloring. Her ears and bushy tail are tinged with black fur.

I live within the city limits of Baltimore, which most of us think would be the last place to see wild animals. In the past several years, my yard has become a veritable menagerie. Aside from the entertaining variety of birds that are about pecking, walking and preening in the grass and the trees, rabbits, possums, raccoons, chipmunks, squirrels and moles have also made appearances.

Wildlife experts say there are two dynamics at work here: Efforts to improve the quality of the environment are paying off, and human development is encroaching into wildlife habitat.

Recent efforts to clean up streams, preserve woodlands and eliminate the use of toxic pesticides and herbicides are beginning to show results.

On some mornings when I drive to work, I routinely see ducks flying along the Jones Falls. A decade ago, a duck anywhere near the stream was a rare sight.

From the presence of ducks, herons and other birds that feed on plants and animals found in water, it is logical to infer that the water quality of the Jones Falls has improved in the past few years.

At the same time, as residential and commercial development pTC spreads to open spaces, we encroach into the wild animal habitats. Some of them flee into areas beyond the development. Others make their accommodations with humans.

Mallards in Hunt Meadows

Last weekend, while sipping cocktails and listening to chicken sizzle on the grill on the rear deck of a friend's house in the Hunt Meadows development on the edge of Annapolis, a pair of mallards flew into the woods behind the house. They paraded and quacked long enough for us to finish our drinks.

Our friends said they often see deer and other wild creatures, which lived in the woods long before the bulldozers carved up the land to create a subdivision.

It certainly is an exhilarating experience to see wild animals close up without having to take a trip to the zoo or the wilds of the mountains.

However, when I related the fox sighting to the neighborhood worrywart, she immediately raised the specter that the little vixen might have rabies. She wanted animal control officials to trap it.

So much for communing with nature.

Admittedly, though, visiting wildlife can have its destructive side. Many suburbanites have lost expensive plants to browsing deer. Others have had their pools fouled by migrating waterfowl. Several local boat owners were unable to use their vessels this spring after ducks decided to use them to raise their broods. Under federal law, these migratory waterfowl could not be disturbed until the ducklings had left the nests.

One of my colleagues had his vacation house in Delaware attacked by a marauding band of flickers who wanted to make burrows under the eaves of his house. He was able to drive them away before they did much damage. But his neighbor wasn't so fortunate. They damaged insulation and wiring that cost several thousand dollars to repair.

As best as I can tell, the fox hasn't done any damage to neighborhood property. No one has reported missing pets.

After doing a little research and finding out that rodents are a favorite food of foxes, I hope the little critter continues to make her rounds -- even if it means I will continue to lose some sleep.

Brian Sullam is The Sun's editorial writer in Anne Arundel County.

Pub Date: 6/09/96

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