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Tales from the Dump: We could use a Life in the ‘Knife field guide


A blood-curdling scream of a banshee pierced the darkness of the night.

It sent a shiver down my spine like fingernails running down a blackboard.

Beware, because folklore says that when you hear a banshee scream, you or someone close to you will die a horrible death.

One of course has to be careful with folklore because things often get exaggerated, usually to try to scare children into being good. Fortunately, as far as I know, I have never seen or heard a banshee. So, this rather disturbing sound must be coming from something or someone else. Throwing caution to the wind, I go outside to investigate because our feline companion is out there as well.

I hear the sound again and, using my flashlight, I scan the area and something furry jumps away. I hear the call again and recognize it as a fox’s mating call. While humans find the call more than a little disturbing, apparently other foxes might become enamoured by it. It also means that a fox has a den or burrow ready for a new brood of kits, pups or cubs.

The next day, I spot the vixen sitting on our bird feeder, looking all prime and proper. No doubt about it now, we have a resident fox living nearby. It is quite amazing that we share the city with wildlife and, in fact, many critters take advantage of the things the city has to offer — and their numbers are consequently higher.

The foxes like the city because they have more food here than in the bush. There is litter and garbage to feast on. Plus, some people put food out for them. Another consideration is that most bigger predators like wolves, coyotes and bears tend to get chased away. So, it is slightly safer for foxes, and I have even heard of them making a den under someone’s porch or house. Also, foxes often have more than one den in an area and move from one to the other.

Now, when I first came to Yellowknife, one didn’t see many foxes in town because there were more trappers around then and a lot of people carried guns in their vehicles and would shoot them if they got the chance. We were a frontier town back then and a lot of pickup trucks would have a visible gun and no one found this unusual. It was a different time with different sensibilities.

Then the municipality banned hunting within city limits and people’s attitudes changed. So now we have quite a few foxes living in the city and seeing them is routine. I am a little amazed that the foxes and dogs seem to have some sort of truce and don’t chase each other. With cats it’s a little different. If you do a search on the internet, there are lots of sites which claim that foxes don’t bother cats very often. I’m not so sure about that because I have seen them go after cats and even kill them.

Foxes are omnivorous critters and they prey on birds, small mammals and rodents, but also eat berries and fruit. Some outdoor cats are bush savvy, others not so much, so outdoor cats are at risk.

Someday, I hope someone writes a field guide for Life in the Knife. It would include all the species of birds, mammals, fish, insects, plants, trees, fungi, mosses, lichen and humans that can be found within the city limits with pictures, descriptions, interesting facts and any noises or calls they make. In the chapter on humans, they should include the daytime and nighttime calls. Mating calls, territorial calls (“Get off my grass”), belligerent calls, upset with the world calls, calls of intoxication or kids at play. It is amazing how many different calls humans have. We really do need a field guide.