Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Foxes return to Hugh Taylor Birch State Park

By David Fleshler Sun Sentinel
Gray foxes return to Ft Lauderdale park after years of absence
After disappearing for years, gray foxes have returned to Hugh Taylor Birch State Park in Fort Lauderdale.
The bushy-tailed predators vanished after the twin blows of Hurricane Wilma in 2005 and a wave of distemper that swept through the park's raccoon population, said park services specialist Mark Foley. The last sighting was reported in 2007.
But about a month ago, someone claimed to see a fox. Then there were more sightings, and last week a park maintenance worker photographed them.
Gray fox
Gary Busch, Hugh Taylor Birch State Park
A gray fox photographed last week at Hugh Taylor Birch State Park in Fort Lauderdale.
A gray fox photographed last week at Hugh Taylor Birch State Park in Fort Lauderdale. (Gary Busch, Hugh Taylor Birch State Park)
"We're happy to have them here," said park manager David Dearth. "They're native to the area. They're definitely an animal we want to protect and see flourish here at the park."
Dearth said he saw three scavenging around the assistant park manager's grill late one afternoon. And in the most hopeful sign for the park's restored fox population, he said a park employee saw an obviously pregnant female.
Most sightings have been in the remote southwest corner of the park, and most have been either in the early morning or toward dusk. Unlike raccoons, foxes are shy and try to avoid people. If you see one, you should keep your distance and refrain from feeding it.
"Ultimately, the return of the gray fox to Hugh Taylor Birch State Park is a wonderful and touching reality for us," Foley said in an email. "We had been saddened by their loss following hurricane Wilma in 2005 and then an assumption that distemper finished off their small population in our confined state park (surrounded by urban infrastructure)."
Gray foxes, which can be seen at other coastal South Florida parks, generally eat mice, rats and rabbits, although Foley said they were probably also dining on the park's lizards and crabs. Dearth said they dig up iguana nests for the eggs, assisting in the control of a non-native species that has colonized the area.
During Wilma, a mother fox was seen taking shelter under a canoe with her babies. But the canoe was overturned in the storm, and they weren't seen again.