Sat 5 Dec 2009
Postal worker Kathy Runnion was sorting mail in the Point Reyes Station Post Office Thursday morning when she looked out a back window and saw something move on a roof at Toby’s Feed Barn next door.
Kathy in her off hours heads Planned Feralhood, which catches and spays or neuters Point Reyes Station’s feral cats. She tries to find a home for most of them; only those who have been wild too long to domesticate are returned to the street — at least unable to reproduce.
At first glance Kathy assumed what she was seeing was a feral cat that hangs out at Toby’s, but then she realized it was a gray fox. Fortunately she knew how to respond in situations such as this: she called me.
I rushed downtown with my camera and hustled into the post office. Just as Kathy was showing me where to look, a second fox appeared on the roof.
The roof is over a small wing of Toby’s that houses the garden room, and the foxes were roughly eight feet off the ground. Kathy had seen one fox hop onto the roof and told me it had first climbed through racks of pipe in the Building Supply Center lumberyard.
After casually looking around, the foxes in their winter coats curled up with each other apparently to warm themselves from the night.
This is hardly the first time foxes have taken an interest in downtown Point Reyes Station. In the early 1990s, there were so many foxes in town I’d see one trotting across a street around twilight every week or two.
Foxes frequented the gap between the Palace Market and the Building Supply Center. One evening in 1992 when I published The Point Reyes Light and Don Schinske was my partner, he was surprised to see a fox cross Mesa Road right in front of the office.
At my cabin, foxes would take shortcuts across the deck at night.
Unfortunately, outbreaks of canine distemper in 1994 and of an unidentified virus in 1996 killed off many of West Marin’s foxes and raccoons, and their populations remained low for the next few years.
By now, raccoons are back in full force, and it is not uncommon to see a fox along a West Marin road at night.
Foxes are again taking shortcuts across my deck, and last June I was lucky enough to photograph this one in his summer coat just outside the window.
What I fear is that fox and raccoon populations will again become so dense that distemper or something like it can easily spread among them, decimating their numbers.
Proliferation interrupted by periodic die-offs may be nature’s way of keeping the number of foxes and raccoons in check, but if so, it gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “vicious cycle.”