Scamps: Isle Royale Foxes

Isle Royale foxes both annoy and delight. Even while they can prove to make a hiking excursion really uncomfortable by digging in your pack and eating your food or running off with one or both of your boots, I have to admit that they are the cheekiest and most entertaining bandits on the island. While the beavers are industrious and the wolves sound off eerily, the fox prances and entertains, even while it acts the pest.

Red Thief

The other year when we were camped at Three-Mile Campground, having debarked the Ranger at 4:00 at Rock Harbor. We wanted to get a little bit of a start on our itinerary and get out of the “population hub” on the island.

The day was warm, and we set up our tent quickly in the group sites. Our late arrival meant that all shelters and individual tent sites were occupied. As we set up, we noticed a red fox with black feet on the edge of the site, peeking at us from beneath an evergreen tree.

We left our food stowed and sat at the picnic table, watching the fox as it watched us. Before long, it emerged from the woods to sniff around the picnic table, apparently looking for food scraps.

Before long, a solo female hiker came into camp and set up her tent. She went off to the shore to get water, leaving her pack on the table. The fox took particular interest in her pack, and we shooed it several times while she was gone. She returned with the dirty bag from her gravity filter system and hung it from a tree. For the moment, the fox was not visible. We thought it had moved on, but we told her anyway so that she wouldn’t leave her food available to him.

She had hiked in from Moskey Basin and was tired, so she retired to her tent while her water was filtering. We heard her sleeping bag zip, and quiet snores emitted from the tent.

Once she turned in, we took a walk to the shore to filter water. We were using a pump filter, so we couldn’t just scoop three or four liters into a dirty bag. Instead, we had to remain at the shore operating the filter until we had filled our bladders and water bottles with clean water.

With hands filled with water, we navigated the rooty, rocky trail back to our campsite that was set back in the woods. As we assembled our assorted water vessels on the picnic table, we observed a darker colored fox brazenly digging in the woman’s gear with some purpose. Of course, we shooed it away, but it didn’t want to move along. Unlike the redder fox, this one seemed intent on finding whatever good tasting there was in her gear. Rattling our trekking poles finally induced it to duck into the underbrush.

Fox Checking the Gear
Fox Checking for Dinner

Satisfied that the fox had left our campsite, we dug out our cooking gear and proceeded to rehydrate our dinner. No sooner than we had opened the packages, there was the fox again, this time at the end of our picnic table, looking for scraps or whatever we might have dropped on the ground. Duane shooed it away.

Once we finished eating, we washed our dishes (the single spoon needed to eat directly from the pouch of rehydrated food). Because we don’t cook anything and only heated water in the pot, rinsing our the spoons was all that was needed. We took great care with our trash, though, as the pouches do contain food residue and can give off odor, even if we seal them closed and store them in a plastic zipper bag. Still, we keep them securely stowed in the back pouch on our packs. Our vigilance in taking care with our trash seemed to deter the pesky fox.

We place our securely closed backpacks on our camp chairs under the vestibules on either side of our tent, which we zip closed, and we tie our boots to the leg braces to at least make noise if the fox tried to run off with them in the night. If the fox is not extremely stealthy in the heist, it will shake the whole tent as the boot upends the chair with the pack and lands on the tent. This has never happened, but we would prefer it to happen rather than losing a boot to a pesky campsite fox.

As evening approached, our site partner emerged from her tent, clearly having had a good nap. As soon as she started cooking her dinner, both foxes appeared at the edge of the campsite. We observed her careful address of her dishes and meal packaging, which left no scraps to tempt the two. With her housekeeping complete, she opened her tent and brought in her book, announcing that she was going to read and settle in for the night. She secured her pack but left it with her trekking poles on the ground next to the table.

Before long, we found ourselves ready for bed, too, and settled into the tent, sheltered from the cool, damp air at nightfall, listening to the soft lap of the small waves on the shore. In the night, however, Duane was awakened by rustling. He popped out of the tent, expecting to see the fox trying to get into our gear. As he shined the light around the campsite, he saw the fox trying to get into our tent site partner’s pack once again.

Her trash was accumulated from her hike from Windigo over some five days, so it must have been irresistible to the fox in spite of her care in stowing it. Before Duane could shoo it away, the solo hiker emerged from her tent and moved her pack in with her, zipping the tent closed behind her.

I smiled as she pulled her boots and trekking poles into the tent.

The next morning, we met the redder of the two foxes on the boardwalk. It pranced toward us as we headed toward Daisy Farm, not giving way or even acting as though it cared that we thought we should use the boardwalk. It did not deviate until one of the people in our party rattled their trekking poles and another clapped their hands.

As it trotted straight towards us, I prepared to step off into the mushy ground to let it pass along the boardwalk, but the fox turned abruptly about six feet in front of us and headed straight toward the water and disappeared into the bushes.

We were pretty sure it was going to greet new arrivals coming in from Rock Harbor or those ending their excursions who were coming off the Greenstone Ridge Trail to take a dip in Lake Superior before heading into Rock Harbor for departure.

Look-at-Me and the Fox of Opportunity

Our stay at Siskiwit Lake in the year of the pandemic was made much more delightful by our encounters with two foxes. As we arrived from Feldtmann Lake, the redder of the two lay under a tree alongside the trail, almost posing for us inviting us. We called it the Look-at-Me fox. Its inviting image greeted us on our arrival and bade us farewell at departure as it smiled at us, eyes mostly closed like a coy suitor or precocious child who knows he is irresistible.

Look-at-Me Fox

We hiked in to Siskiwit Lake from Feldtmann Lake on our September 2020 excursion during the pandemic when the only way to the island was to take the seaplane. We recommend the service for its convenience and versatility, which allowed us to keep our consecutive years on the island intact.

The eleven-mile hike from Feldtmann is not all that friendly. Parts are overgrown, and it ascends and descends the Feldtmann Ridge. For the last three miles just coming into Siskiwit Lake, the trail can be tricky as it is overgrown with saplings. At this point, though, the trail goes straight, following an old road, so hikers should simply stay between the big trees.

On this excursion, Duane was hanging back to get photos, and I was ahead, pushing to get in. The weather was cool, so hiking fast helped me to stay warm. I got in a few minutes before Duane and noticed the pretty fox under the tree near the campground. It seemed to smile at me. I smiled back and greeted it. “Hi, there.”

It smiled and winked.

When Duane rolled in with the camera, he shot the photo. The fox, apparently, was waiting for its cameo, its beguiling demeanor captivating. Before long, we noticed that there were two of them, one that seemed to pose and welcome us and the other that checked into every opportunity at the campsite. Look-at-me seemed to distract us with its dynamic demeanor, and the fox of opportunity took advantage of our paying attention to the beguiling one and searched our campsite for tidbits of food.

We stayed in Siskiwit only one night, but the campsite fox gave us its full attention, likely because we were the only ones in the campground. As we set up, the fox of opportunity trotted into our site, as though he were a guest. He checked the table and sniffed at the pack. Then he checked the tent.

Fox in Siskiwit Checking Our Campsite
Fox Checking the Gear

“Scat,” Duane said, but the fox of opportunity thought a little while before heeding. Duane had to shoo him twice. I was more inclined just to observe them both, given that we didn’t have any food or good-smelling gear within reach of the curious creatures, and the two of them were indeed cute.

While we made dinner, the fox of opportunity kept a close eye on us from the edge of our tent site. I could feel its disappointment when we cleaned up and stowed everything, giving it nothing but close attention to make sure we did not drop even a scrap to tempt him to come in closer.

After dinner, we walked down to the dock to filter water and passed by the look-at-me fox still smiling and napping in the late afternoon sun, or at least appearing to nap. When we walked past, I saw it peek at us through partially closed eyes, following our progress along the path next to it.

That night, we did not have an incident with either of the foxes trying to make off with our gear, but we had taken our boots in for the night and double-bagged our trash that was tucked into our packs to ensure a minimum of smells to tempt our red campground hosts.

In the morning, we packed up quickly so that we had plenty of time to navigate the shoreline which is difficult because of the loose gravel and the creeks we had to cross. As we packed up, we were escorted down the path from the tent site to the main trail by the fox of opportunity.

As we passed by the area near the dock, the look-at-me fox followed us. Each time we stopped to look back at it, it would lie down and give us its “who me?” look. Duane captured our final view of it as it lay in the bushes watching something of interest through the trees, only a few feet from where it greeted us the day before when we arrived.

Look-at-Me-Fox Looking at Something Else

The hospitality of the two made us want to stay and hang out with them for awhile, but our short stay would not permit the zero day, so we hiked out toward Island Mine and then on to Windigo the next day for our flight back to the mainland.

Duane’s Black Socks

In the summer of 2023, Duane first met Black Socks on a guiding excursion at Windigo. He and our clients were set up in Washington Creek Campground, Shelter 9, ready for moose viewing after dinner. They were at the picnic table setting up the stoves and rehydrating dinner when Black Socks joined them. Boldly, it sat next to the table, expectant like your household spaniel for treats to be delivered. Of course, they did not share with the precocious beggar, so it went along to the next site.

The second time, Duane came through with clients, Black Socks showed up exactly the same, trotting in when food was being cooked, and disappearing when nothing was provided to him. On that trip, Duane watched as Black Socks visited each campsite consecutively, from one end of the campground to the next. He had to wonder how successful the fox’s begging was, given that it was so punctual in its rounds.

When Duane and his group hiked over to Windigo, they saw the little beggar heading up to the employee quarters, where our friend Marty captured him on video and posted the video online of the fox sitting on the front steps of his duplex. Marty and the Windigo crew called him Foxy and had enjoyed his antics through the season. It appeared to be quite young, last year’s kit, who was just on his own and learning where food comes from.

As Duane’s group sat and enjoyed their snacks on deck at the store, Black Socks stopped by the Visitor’s Center and checked out the area near the laundry/shower building, sniffing into every corner and crack. Once the group finished their snacks and headed back to the campsite, they enjoyed an escort by their little red and black friend.

Not surprisingly, Black Socks showed up to breakfast the next morning, prancing in, nose to the ground, but he was again shooed out of the campsite. His persistent begging and hanging around in camp made it clear that some people were giving in to his wily good looks.

The last Duane saw of Black Socks was at breakfast on his last morning in Windigo as his group set out to complete the Greenstone Ridge Trail. Black Socks remained in the campsite, no doubt awaiting more “generous” tenants.

The Park Rangers make sure to remind everyone not to feed the animals. If they see people as the sources of food, they will not fare well during Isle Royales brutal winters. In actuality, it is a kindness not to feed them.

Book an adventure with us at Wise Old Man of Isle Royale Guide Services. And remember, the “Wise Old Man” is sometimes a woman.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: