A few months ago, I shared the story of Harry McCarthy, who attracted a fair amount of Internet attention when he snapped some photos of a group of Canada lynx crossing his Aroostook County yard.
McCarthy was in the right place at the right time, and just happened to be looking out the right window to witness the lynx parade.
That’s usually the way it happens … or, at least, it used to be.
Nowadays, outdoor enthusiasts often capture memorable images without ever laying eyes on the photo subject themselves.
“How?” you ask.
Easy: motion-activated trail cameras have revolutionized the way some folks choose their hunting grounds, and have allowed people a behind-the-scenes look at areas that animals might simply avoid if a camera-toting person was lurking behind a tree.
Therefore, it wasn’t too surprising last week when reader Pete Lucas checked in from Lincoln with some photos that were certainly eye-catching. And it turns out that McCarthy’s lynx tale prompted Lucas to send those photos along.
“After having read the interesting story about Harry McCarthy videotaping Canada lynx in his driveway I got thinking about another seldom-seen mammal of the Maine woods, namely the elusive gray fox,” Lucas wrote in an email. “A few months ago my game camera in my Lincoln backyard shot some great pics of two grays.”
“At first glance many wondered what we were seeing,” Lucas continued. “Seasoned woodsmen around here told me they never had seen one while working outdoors. Grays are nocturnal and they are tree climbers!”
I sent those photos along to John DePue, the furbearer and small mammal biologist for the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, and he confirmed Lucas’s identification of the critters shown.
“Indeed that is a gray fox in the photos,” DePue said. “In the past few years we have seen gray foxes moving farther northeast from southwest Maine where there are abundant populations, including a few [that have moved] to the Bangor area.”
And, apparently, beyond: Lincoln is about 45 miles north of Bangor.
“Gray foxes are smaller than red foxes, and have relatively shorter legs,” DePue wrote. “Gray fox describes their [fur] color, as does red fox. Interesting the tip of a gray fox tail is black, the tip of a red fox tail is white.”
Further, DePue said their coloration isn’t all that sets gray foxes and red foxes apart.
“Gray foxes … and red foxes are in two different genera, which means the two species are not as closely related as one might think,” DePue wrote. “They are, however, in the same family, Canidae, the canine family.”
And the diets of the gray fox can differ from the diet of a red.
“Both fox species prey on small mammals — mice, foles, rabbits and hares, etc. — but interestingly gray foxes are highly insectivorous in the summer, eating grasshoppers and beetles.”
And DePue seconded Lucas’s report on gray foxes as tree-climbers.
“Gray foxes can climb vertical trees, and do so to escape predators and forage. Red foxes do not climb trees,” DePue said.
A final disclaimer: Readers may notice what appears to be food scraps in the photos, and may wonder if deer-baiting was going on.
Lucas clarified those points in a follow-up email.
“As you can see the pictures are dated Dec. 3,” Lucas wrote. “That, I believe, is within the muzzle[loading] season in our area. The camera and animals are in a no-hunting zone only 30 to 50 feet away from two homes and within the 1,500 feet (I think that is the law) of a school property zone. We commonly feed crows table scraps instead of landfilling them … no hunting intention or hunting is allowed in this area, ever.”