Masthead: Kaweah Range


Two Foxes and a Bobcat:  a Foothills Drama (continued)
Nate Stephenson, USGS Research Scientist, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

I’ve always thought that bobcats are bigger than gray foxes, but these looked similar in size. Perhaps this was a small bobcat, or perhaps the big bushy tails of the foxes gave them an illusion of size.

As the trio approached our wooden deck, I caught a fleeting glimpse of a fourth animal, slipping off our deck and under it. I’ll never know who this dusky fourth player was, though it was quite small. It might even have been a ground squirrel, though we haven’t seen any ground squirrels around our house for maybe a year. Regardless, the fourth animal had the attention of one of the foxes, who trotted over to the deck. But rather than poke his nose under the deck where the fourth animal had gone, the fox trotted out onto the deck, disappeared from sight, and then reappeared.

While the fox investigated the deck top, the bobcat ducked under the deck at a point about 10 feet away from where the fourth animal had ducked under. The foxes had been quiet for perhaps 20 seconds, and now both of them crouched about 8 feet from the deck, facing the point where the bobcat had ducked under. They stared intently under the deck, motionless. From my viewpoint it looked as if the crouching foxes’ bellies didn’t quite touch the ground – I took this as a sign that the foxes were ready to spring up, either to flee or fight.

The foxes had crouched staring under the deck for perhaps 5 or 10 seconds, when suddenly the bobcat shot out like a bullet and engaged one of them. From the lightning blur of the fight came deafening shrieks and yells, which I took to be from the fox. The other fox had vanished from view. I got a few seconds’ view of the fight before it moved from sight, and judging from the sounds, the fight continued for another second or two. Then there was silence for a few tens of seconds, followed by more shrieks and yells from the bottom of our dry creek bed (I could hear the fighters kicking up dry sycamore leaves). After many more tens of seconds, I heard more fox sounds, now from much farther away. Then nothing.

The scene of the fight was peppered with scuff marks, but I found no blood or fur.

The bobcat had in no way been cornered under the deck, and could easily have continued under our house to exit from the other side. Though I can’t know for sure, I also think the fox could have avoided the fight. As lightning-fast as the bobcat’s attack had been, the fox was crouched like a coiled spring; it seems like the fox could at least have made a mighty leap backwards. I can only conclude that both the fox and the bobcat could have avoided a fight, but instead chose to fight.

What was going on? Were the foxes herding the bobcat from “their” territory? Had the bobcat tried to snag one of their pups? Or were the foxes trying to snag one of the bobcat’s kittens? Could the ghostly fourth animal have been a bobcat kitten? I’ll never know.

These events remind me that in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, every day is riddled with wild dramas. We just rarely have the privilege to witness them.



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Masthead Photo from:
Kaweahs From Trailcrest, Kings Canyon National Park
© 2009, Howard Weamer