It is playtime on the prairie. Two swift fox pups dash to and fro in a game of tag. Six feet away, two more pick up the action and chase each other, round and round. Two others wander about while sniffing the ground, likely looking for edible tidbits. Finally, one fox stands still, looking about, as if on alert to danger should anything or anyone approach unexpectedly. I suspect that is mama fox, making sure her youngsters remain unharmed.
I watch from about 150 yards away; close enough to enjoy observing the fray, but far enough away they pay me no mind. Watching seven foxes is a true delight and one of those special Wild Kingdom moments.
I’ve been watching two swift fox dens the last six weeks with daily delight. My highest fox count at one den is six. The second den is harder to view due to terrain, but has at least four youngsters.
Seeing these seven foxes at one time makes me wonder if the two dens might join up from time to time for a little play time. This morning they were about halfway between the two dens, so maybe meeting up is a thing for them. I have no idea what is actually occurring; I just enjoy the show.
I watch a few more minutes as the sun rises behind me before hopping back on my bicycle to continue my morning ride along Roger Canyon Road.
I pedal this route, heading out on Ninth Street as it rolls into Roger Canyon Road, every morning when I’m in town. It is the perfect start to my day to not only get a nice workout, but to also get treated to nature’s wonders. We are truly blessed to have such opportunities literally out our front doors.
While I’ve seen swift foxes out on the route in years past, this is the first time I’ve watched a den daily; it is the highlight of my ride each morning. Often the youngsters aren’t out as I pedal past the first time. I figure they are late risers – typical teens – and nearly always appear on my return trip.
Some days they lounge atop their burrow, which was originally excavated by prairie dogs. They are inert or just raise a head as I stop and watch. Most swift foxes I’ve found in my work as a wildlife biologist have been on prairie dog towns. They prefer open grasslands with a good view where they can scan the horizon. Denning on an active prairie dog town has the benefit of being surrounded by their prime food source. Dinner is easy to find.
A few weeks after I first spotted this den, I noted the second one about a quarter mile away. Now that I know where to look, I spot those foxes regularly.
As we head into late July, my fox-ogling may be over. Two mornings in a row there have been no foxes at the first den, although I still spotted a few at the second den. It is that time of year when youngsters roam and, eventually, head out on their own.
Even with the daily fox show on the wane, there’s still plenty to watch in the mornings. Pronghorn are especially numerous this year. While I don’t name them all, I have dubbed a couple that stand out.
There is Bubba, a magnificent buck who roams his territory, looking regal and proud. Dolores is a rather ratty-looking doe, in need of a good brushing to pull off the fur she appears to be shedding. She stands out as the one pronghorn that rarely startles when I pass.
There are the twins, new fawns this year, who skitter together across the prairie and make me smile. That their little legs can move so fast and so quickly is adorable.
At the far end of my route is a bachelor herd of pronghorn. This frat party of males hang out in a group of anywhere from about 6 to twelve animals. The number varies but they rarely wander far from “their corner.”
I also keep an eye out for Bonnie and Clyde, the two Swainson’s hawks that nest within a line of pine trees. The nest has been active for a few years now and I enjoy keeping track of the activity. I have yet to see more than two hawks at a time this year, so I suspect the young have yet to venture out of the nest.
As mid-summer turns into late summer, the wildlife activity also changes. While my route may be the same each morning, the view and opportunities to view Mother Nature vary each day. I never know what I might find, and that keeps the route fresh and entertaining even if it’s the same pavement each day.