It may be frigid outside, but those willing to brave the cold may be able to spot one of Arlington’s more elusive mammalian inhabitants — local wildlife watchers have some of their best chances to spot a red or gray fox in the winter time.
Foxes were a recent topic of discussion in an Arlington neighborhood email list.
“Although foxes are primarily nocturnal, it’s not unusual to see one out hunting during the day in winter,” wrote Long Branch Nature Center Natural Resources Specialist Cliff Fairweather. “Nonetheless, foxes are elusive and seeing one is an uncommon treat.”
Red foxes are all over Arlington but hard to spot, according to another county naturalist, Alonso Abugattas. They are not native to the county, but they have since “naturalized.”
“The bottom line though is that we do not know exactly how many red foxes we have in Arlington, though they are very plentiful and inhabit almost every one of our neighborhoods,” he told ARLnow.com.
Gray foxes are native to Arlington, but much less prevalent and stick mainly to the areas around the Potomac, Abugattas said.
So how does one know if a fox is in their midst if there’s no red or gray bushy tail in sight? Fairweather says foxes tend to leave their “scat,” or feces, in “obvious” places to mark their territory, and their urine can smell like a skunk. Their scat “is usually dark and often twisted to a point at the ends and the contents reflect seasonal variation in fox diets. In winter, it is usually composed of hair from small mammals,” according to Fairweather.
Although foxes are peaceful animals and tend to be afraid of humans, they are omnivores and talented scavengers, according to Abugattas.
“They get to know the trash days and routes and stake out restaurants for the leftovers, unsecured trash, and rodents they attract,” he said.
If you do spot a fox and it approaches you or “acts unusually tame” — as opposed to running away — it might be a sign of rabies and should be avoided, Fairweather cautioned.
Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf
The flyer at the left was recently posted at the Washington & Lee Apartments (2200 2nd Street N.), threatening “legal action and fines” against those who feed the squirrels. Sandra Rose, who has been the apartment property manager for 18 years, stresses she’s not trying to be nasty, but the animals have been causing thousands of dollars worth of damage to the property.
“People think they’re cute and cuddly, and they are. But they don’t always understand they’re a rodent,” Rose said. “As a rodent they do rodent type damage.”
The squirrels recently have chewed holes in roofs on the buildings and residents have complained about the animals getting into their attics. Rose said she has had to hire exterminators to try to capture the animals once they’re loose in the building.
The roof damage isn’t the only problem with the squirrels the property manager has encountered. Rose said in the past, she’s sent out similar flyers when the squirrels managed to get into residents’ car engines and strip spark plug wire material, which they then used to pack their nests.
Rose said one of the exterminators actually spotted residents feeding the animals, which is why she sent out the flyer. She recommends other property owners inform their residents of how destructive the squirrels can be.
“I think they should let tenants know not to feed them because that’s domesticating them,” said Rose. “When they become domesticated they become dependent on you and won’t go away.”
Arlington County Natural Resources Manager Alonso Abugattas shared Rose’s concerns. He said feeding any wild mammals, squirrels or others, is a bad idea.
“In a nutshell, with mammals the overall idea is it’s not a good idea to feed them,” Abugattas said. “When you start feeding more unusual wildlife — squirrels, deer, foxes, raccoons — that’s a bad idea. It changes their behavior, and not only will they hang out in places where they shouldn’t, but they lose some of their fear and healthy respect for humans. Wild foods are always healthier for the animals anyway.”
While contracting rabies is a rare occurrence, it could be a possibility if the animals become so domesticated that they approach people, and perhaps bite them. Abugattas said it’s one of the many health concerns stemming from feeding wild animals. Another concern is the the spread of diseases to pets.
A smaller acorn crop in Virginia and West Virginia this fall is prompting squirrels to change their behavior this winter, Abugattas added. As a result, squirrels and other animals have been seeking out non-traditional food sources to make up for the lack of acorns.
The pond has already begun draining after Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services removed the stop logs on the pond’s weir, after which the county will begin the construction bidding and plant treatments.
Construction to the “new and improved pond design that will provide stormwater treatment benefits, as well as improved habitat for wildlife,” is expected to begin in spring 2014, according to Arlington Stormwater Outreach Specialist Jen McDonnell.
The pond will be drained to encourage the wildlife to find new homes during the construction. When construction is complete, stop logs will be placed back in a new weir, and the pond will refill naturally from Lubber Run, McDonnell said. The pond will still receive water flow from Lubber Run until the construction begins.
“Draining the pond will not have any long-term impact on the animal habitat,” McDonnell wrote in an email. “The construction and subsequent addition of native plants will result in a ‘new’ pond that will provide a better variety of wildlife habitats and improved stormwater treatment.”
Christmas has been saved for one Arlington household, after a raccoon tried to block Santa’s impending arrival.
As the video above shows, the Humane Society was recently called to a home to help “evict” the raccoon from the chimney. Said Humane Society of the United States spokeswoman Kaitlin Sanderson:
“As stockings are being hung, trees decorated and children anxiously await the arrival of Santa Claus, one home owner in Arlington needed help making sure Santa could deliver presents Christmas morning. The Humane Society of the United States’ Humane Wildlife Services was called to help an Arlington family with ‘Raccoon Claus,’ a little raccoon who decided to turn Santa’s entry-way into his home for the winter.”
A division of the Humane Society of the United States recently helped an Arlington household that had a family of raccoons trapped in their basement and chimney.
Experts from Humane Wildlife Services, a wildlife conflict solution service provided to homeowners and businesses in the Washington, D.C. area, helped remove the raccoons from the home, then helped reunite the raccoon family — a mom and her four babies — while ensuring that they found a new home.
The Humane Society produced a video about the incident. The video “really shows the strength of the maternal bond between a raccoon mom and her young,” according to a narrator.
A resident of the High View Park neighborhood, just north of Virginia Hospital Center, tells us that neighbors have been buzzing with talk of a bunny boom.
“I’ve noticed something odd in Arlington this summer and the more I talk to other residents the more aware I become that this is happening all over the county (at least north Arlington, anyway). Namely, there has been an explosion in the rabbit population this year,” he writes. “I’m used to bunny sightings being a very rare thing, but this year I keep seeing them on a regular basis. I’m spotting rabbits more frequently than I have spotted squirrels.”
Those observations are backed up by Arlington County Parks spokesman Nathan Spillman, who confirms that naturalists have observed a rapidly increasing rabbit population.
“It is indeed a boom year for rabbits in the county,” Spillman said, “Rabbit populations here are cyclical and about every seven or eight years you see a large spike in the population followed by a relatively steep (and quick) decrease as the boom attracts predators like foxes and hawks which bring the population down… It’s likely the decline will start to become noticeable as early as this November,”
According to a just-released inventory of wildlife in Arlington, the rabbit population in Arlington (made up mostly of Eastern Cottontails, pictured) typically moves in cycles with the population of its primary predator, the fox. That’s consistent with anecdotal evidence cited by Sean, our tipstser.
“[A relative] who lives near Marymount University mentioned that she has seen dead foxes on the road numerous times and speculated that the loss of these predators might have resulted in the rabbit increase,” Sean wrote. “That seems to tie in with this article about the loss of predators in general.”
The population boom may not be limited to Arlington. Earlier this month, a Washington City Paper article declared that “bunnies are everywhere” in parts of Montgomery County and Northwest D.C.
“The manicured lawns of Chevy Chase are covered with rabbit families munching away on annuals and woody plants in the early morning,” a member of a neighborhood listserv is quoted as writing. “Early runs in various neighborhoods sometime remind me of Watership Down or the ‘tribbles’ in one of those Star Trek episodes.”
Photo via Wikipedia
The funds will allow Arlington and Alexandria to create new wetland areas near the stream, thus adding needed habitat, enhancing aesthetics and improving water quality.
“This federal grant will help us fund the crucial first phase of the comprehensive restoration of Four Mile Run,” Arlington County Board Chairman Christopher Zimmerman said in a statement. “Restoration of the wetland and stream banks in tidal Four Mile Run, which we expect to begin work on next year, is central to the effort to return the stream to a more natural, better functioning waterway that will serve people from across the region.
Arlington’s estimated share of the larger Four Mile Run Tidal Restoration Project is $3.7 million, including federal funds.
“The Four Mile Run watershed encompasses approximately two-thirds of Arlington County and forms the southern border with the City of Alexandria, creating a shared waterfront resource,” the county said in a press release. “The tidal restoration project is the central element of a comprehensive effort by the two communities, with the help of the federal government, to restore the lower section Four Mile Run, which was channelized by the Army Corps of Engineers in the 1970s.”
An oasis of wetlands and wildlife, tucked between the office towers of Ballston and the traffic of I-66, is safe from highway construction impacts, the county’s Department of Environmental Services says.
The Ballston Beaver Pond, as it’s called, was initially designed to collect stormwater runoff from I-66. But that started to change in the 1990s when beavers moved in and dammed up the drainage system, creating a pond and wetlands to form. The Beaver Pond is now a habitat frequented by muskrat, geese, ducks, heron, egrets, redwing blackbirds, fish, turtles and the occasional beaver.
The Beaver Pond is located next to a bike trail that connects Ballston and the Custis Trail, just north of the ramp from Fairfax Drive to I-66.
Residents of the nearby Waycroft Woodlawn neighborhood have become fond of the pond and became worried when a bulldozer arrived in the area as part of the I-66 widening project. But not to fear says Aileen Winquist, of the county’s Environmental Management Bureau.
“The Beaver Pond is not in danger from the current I-66 spot improvement project and widening of westbound I-66,” Winquist said in an email.
Winquist noted that the design work on a planned restoration of the Beaver Pond will begin this fall. The restoration will clean up trash and sediment from the pond and provide better water quality treatment. There will be several public meetings held to educate residents about the project.
Although the Beaver Pond will be largely unaffected by the I-66 widening, a VDOT-owned stormwater retention pond across the street will be impacted. Construction is planned for the facility, but details about the exact nature of the work were not immediately available.
More photos after the jump.
With all this talk of blizzards and groundhogs seeing their shadows, now might be a good time to willfully escape from reality and dream about spring (which is exactly a month and a half away.) Tonight, naturalist Greg Zell will lead a presentation about the wide variety of natural habitats and unique wildlife that reside within Arlington’s borders. Imagine, while everybody else is fighting for bread, milk and toilet paper at the grocery store, you can be learning about natural wonders that exist in your own backyard.
Starts at 7:00 PM
Arlington Central Library Auditorium
1015 N. Quincy Street
(2 blocks from Virginia Square Metro)