It was a warm Winter day... warm enough that I thought my kids and I might have a shot at some snakes at dens. Of course, we would have to wait until the sun warmed the ground long enough to coax them out.
All of my kids have seen foxes, but always at a distance. With no new birding opportunities available, the stars aligned to take them to a local beach where the foxes get close. Of course, they are ruined mammals. They tolerate people because of illegal feeding. I told the kids I would not partake in this, not that it mattered much. I tried to impress upon them... Just because you could, doesn't mean you should.
So we set off for the coast. We weren't going to feed them, but the silver lining was that they did provide some awesome photo opportunities. We rode up and down the barrier island trying to find some foxes that were more "wild" and not just hanging around cars hoping for a handout. We succeeded in finding one after two passes.
We spent some time on the beach. It was still chilly, but the sun was fighting through the clouds. Surf and Black Scoters, Long-tailed Ducks, and Common Loons were afloat on the water. Gulls flew by, but nothing other than the normal brigade. I decided to make one more pass before heading into the Pine Barrens.
We saw one more fox on the blacktop certainly hoping for some food. I took some shots, but didn't get out of my truck, as I was aware of people looking for someone breaking the law. I had nothing to give to it, but why draw attention to myself, I thought.
We pulled into a parking lot just to see where it lead. Bingo - this was the action. Multiple cars, multiple multi-thousand dollar lenses, and multiple foxes. It was neat. I can't deny it. Neat, and sad. But I put on my rose-tinted glasses and enjoyed it and more importantly, enjoyed watching the kids with them.
Before we left, there was one fox in the middle of the parking lot. We watched another run with vigor towards it. I even said to the kids, "Guys - it looks like something might happen." And it did! It was such a cool thing to witness. They were so vocal and animated. In such a canned experience, it seemed like the only natural behavior we had witnessed all day! The best I've come up with after a conversation or two was that it was a male approaching a female who wasn't ready to breed yet. Whatever it was, all I can say was it was AWESOME. I overuse that term, but I bet I watched with my mouth hanging open.
So that was something! Onto the Pines...
The day had warmed up a bit and the sun was on and off. I wasn't extremely sure that we'd find anything, but as always, I was hopeful. It turned out that we would find three snakes laying outside of their dens, trying to soak up a little heat. I couldn't have asked for anything more. One snake would have made my day, but oh yeah - the foxes already did that. It was already a glorious Winter day.
And the prize for the day... The largest corn snake I've ever seen in NJ. I will provide a photo next to my sneaker (10.5) to show the girth of this girl. If it wasn't Winter, I would have swore she was gravid.
On the way home, just to add to our red-thing bonanza, we observed the first red screech owl I've ever seen during the day. Some days are just too good to be true.
I've had good days and I've had not-so-good days in the field. There's never a bad day. This was a great day and having the kids with me was the icing on top! I would have hated experiencing all this on a weekend I didn't have them.