Foxes have become increasingly visible on some shore islands recently, including Ocean City, but not so much in Margate.
Which is why Kay Myers was surprised to see one in broad daylight Sunday morning, just outside the Margate Community Church on Ventnor Avenue.
“Yesterday morning at about 9:15, everybody comes early for choir, and all of a sudden a fox comes running across the yard and went behind the utility shed,” Myers, of Ventnor, said to church sexton Vince Williams on Monday. “Well you know me: no guts, no glory, so I went around the side. I didn’t see him, but I heard the rustling in the bushes and I said, ‘The heck with it.’”
Myers said it appeared to be gray in color, making it unclear whether it was a gray fox or the more common red fox, but at the time she was mostly concerned about seeing it in daylight.
“The first thing that came to mind was, ‘Uh oh, I hope it’s not rabid,’” she said. Only 14 rabid foxes have been found in Atlantic County since 1989, according to the state Department of Health and Senior Services, and the state does not allow animal control officers to trap and move a fox if it is healthy.
The fox sighting comes a year after a deer endearingly known as “Bucky” was seen wandering the streets of Margate and Ventnor. Margate even put the image of a deer on its beach badges. A deer, possibly the same as the Margate deer, was later shot and killed by police in Atlantic City in October.
As for the fox, Williams said he wasn’t surprised.
“I tell you, they’re becoming part of the landscape,” he said. “There’s no more woods to be found.”
Added Myers, “I figured there might be some in Longport, where there are rocks and a lot of bird nests. Here, there’s just rich people.”
While Margate Assistant Public Works Superintendent Franz Adler said he hasn’t heard any official word about a fox in town, Mayor Mike Becker said there have been occasional reports of a fox in a number of places over the past few weeks, from Kenyon Avenue to Clermont Avenue to the beach. Becker even shared a photo taken on the beach showing a red fox in the distance.
“There’s something going around,” Becker said, adding that this is the first instance he can recall of fox sightings in the city. “I just hope he doesn’t go up into (Atlantic City).”
Foxes have indeed become part of the landscape on neighboring islands, however. Ocean City received more than 40 calls about foxes during the spring alone, while in Brigantine, Public Works Director Ernie Purdy said foxes “have been here forever.”
“Foxes are basically like raccoons — they’re opportunists,” Purdy said. “Where the food source is, that’s where they try to head to. They’re in Atlantic City, by the marshes, and a lot of people don’t even notice them. For a fox, it’s easier to eat inside a suburban area compared to out in the wild.”
Foxes actually help to control the rodent population, Purdy added.
“There was an issue with piping plovers because of the number of foxes,” he said. “So the state came in and trapped all of them in the north end area, which they control. Soon, we’re seeing a spike ... in rats, mice and muskrats — and there’s a lot of muskrats around the golf course drainage area.”
Brigantine’s foxes came over long ago, from Galloway Township through the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge and onto the uninhabited Little Beach Island — “Little Beach is loaded with them,” Purdy said — and onto Brigantine.
“Brigantine’s population has been controlled,” he said. “A lot have been hit by cars or die off due to floods. The population on the whole island now is about 17. ... You see them down here at night on the beach. The dead fish the fishermen throw out, they scavenge them.”
As for Myers, she’s adding the fox to the long list of animals she’s spotted in the surprisingly zoological Margate.
“I move out of the country, and I see as many critters as before,” Myers said. “I’ve seen raccoons, squirrels — I’ve never seen so many squirrels as this year. But I haven’t seen a wild turkey here yet.”
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