Urban Nature

Gray Fox Spotted in Presidio for First Time In More Than a Decade

February 20, 2015

Presidio Trust biological science tech Jonathan Young was working out of the Trust’s Fort Scott office early Wednesday morning when someone pointed out a pair of coyotes in the large meadow outside the office. One of the coyotes ran off and so Young followed it for a while, taking pictures with his iPhone through binoculars, until coyote and biologist reached the bluffs above Baker Beach.

The coyote was hunting a gopher when it pricked its ears and took off down the Batteries to Bluffs trail, and Young, following along, saw it stop at the base of a pine tree and look up. He followed the coyote’s line of sight and there, clinging to the branches at the top of the tree, was a gray fox — the first one officially recorded in the Presidio since two were recorded in 2004.

The interaction was telling, in a way: gray foxes were once much more common in the Presidio, but coyotes prey on them, and as coyotes expanded into the area in the early 2000s the foxes disappeared. Young says he’s not sure whether the fox he saw is a remnant that has survived in the park all these years, or a migrant that came in via an urban wildlife corridor — across the Golden Gate? Along the coast? Up 19th Avenue and Park Presidio?

Shot with an iPhone through binoculars, a gray fox watches a coyote from a tree in the Presidio. (Photo by Jonathan Young, courtesy Presidio Trust)
Shot with an iPhone through binoculars, a gray fox watches a coyote from a tree in the Presidio. (Photo by Jonathan Young, courtesy Presidio Trust)

Young went back to the office and looked for other records, and found little. In fact, he couldn’t find any records of gray foxes in San Francisco since the last sighting in the Presidio. His interest piqued, he’s hoping to put out some camera traps and see if he can observe any more.

“It’s hard to say whether it’s possible to have both of these species occurring in this little park,” he said. “Coyotes are pretty mobile animals, and pretty slender, and they can get into some thick brush. I don’t know how that compares to the gray fox, whether the coastal bluffs would provide habitat that would allow them to keep to themselves and keep a safe distance from coyotes.

“It definitely warrants some more investigation,” he said. “Monitoring through time will hopefully tell us something.”

He’s hoping enlightened hikers can help.

“I’m sure someone saw it before I saw it, it just wasn’t recorded anywhere,” Young said. “That area of the coastal bluffs is very active for hikers. It’s just a matter of people being aware of this interface.”

About the Author

Eric Simons is a former digital editor at Bay Nature. He is author of The Secret Lives of Sports Fans and Darwin Slept Here, and is coauthor, with Tessa Hill, of At Every Depth: Our Growing Knowledge of the Changing Oceans.