I witnessed an interesting animal interaction event today while running my pup, July, in one of my rabbit spots. July is ten months old and I like to run her alone in order to make her less dependent on the hawk and older dogs. She worked rabbits all winter and is very keen to track them, but she also knew to watch for the hawk in order to find the fresh scent, or she would hark into the older dogs. Now I wanted her to do her own work. The field I ran her in today is huge, an old farm field bordered by a parking lot on one side, a vast open weed field ending eventually in a railroad line. The place I park has two long sections of very tall, thick blackberry canes. This is where the rabbits harbor, then when pushed by the dogs they run out into the field, which has weeds just tall enough to hide the rabbit from the hawk's eyes. It's a great place for long runs on rabbits as they will leave the briars and make huge laps around the weed field.
I let July out and she promptly hit the briars, looking for rabbits. She's been in this spot before so she knows where to search. She busted a rabbit out and took off after it as it ran into the big field. I stood still and listened to her run. She is fairly vocal and I could hear her a good distance away. She circled this rabbit and brought it back to the briars. She ran it out again and off they went. This time the rabbit must have gone a slightly different route because July's voice drifted toward a tree line. In the meantime three other rabbits came sneaking out of the weeds and into the briars. The place holds a good number of cottontails. Suddenly July started barking, a varmint bark, not a rabbit bark. She was in one spot, barking at something. I listened for a bit, then called her. I know red fox live in the far end of the field, but so do deer, woodchucks and sometimes a feral cat. The barking stopped and pretty soon I could see July heading my way. She saw me and took a ninety degree turn into a strip of weeds leading to a berm of dirt and sand. She just wanted to see me and then keep hunting. She seemed to hit a rabbit line and took it up along the berm and out onto a big dry sandy area. She worked a long time trying to figure out the line, drifting back and forth, re-starting, working and working, though silently.
As I stood and watched her I saw some movement in the weeds, along the first part of the berm. As I thought, it was the red fox. It was watching July track. When the dog disappeared up the berm and into the weeds, the fox started tracking her. It would sniff where she ran, look, listen and watch for her. I don't believe this was a predatory kind of tracking, I think the fox was curious about the dog and where it was going. I'm fairly certain the fox has a den in some piles of cement slabs nearby as I had found a lot of fox sign there this past winter. The fox could have easily overtaken the little dog if it wanted to catch her. I was glad it wasn't a coyote. I would have interfered right away.
July kept working on the rabbit track, going back and forth, going backwards and re-working the scent line. The fox stayed on slightly lower ground, nose to the ground, tracking July. The dog had gone silent so the fox wasn't sure where she was. It continued to track and listen and look. It was interesting to watch. The fox tracked without wagging its tail like a dog does. It simply put its nose down and followed July's scent. It didn't quarter or drift the track, it seemed very accurate.
Being a wild animal, the fox was very aware of its surroundings and since I was standing in the open, it eventually saw me, did sort of a double take, then turned around and took off. July never did know the fox was behind her. Just as well. I wouldn't want her chasing it out to a road. There's always something interesting to watch when running a hound.