This past spring, I got a call from a friend that had a pair of red foxes and a den on some property that they had access to. They asked if I wanted to come by and spend a morning photographing the foxes. Of course the answer was a resounding YES!!
Red foxes are included in the list of the world’s 100 worst invasive species. This is due to their ability to quickly adapt to their environment. Red foxes are found the world over and are not uncommon in suburban settings. Although the name implies the color of their fur, they can be found with other colorings as well. Their widespread population has made them one of the most important furbearing animals harvested for their fur.
On this particular day, I was not interested in harvesting any red foxes. I was just there to observe and photograph. I was told that the adults had an active den with 2-3 kits seen at different times. If an exact count of the family had been made, I wasn’t aware of it before I showed up.
When I arrived, one of the adults was foraging in the homeowner’s garden in the backyard. This was both exciting and scary as I didn’t expect to be able to walk up on one. Having never photographed foxes before, I wasn’t sure how aggressive they would be. Once the adult looked up and saw me just 6 feet away, he scampered down the hill and disappeared. Click the images to view larger.
The den was located in a small wash or gully behind the home. There was evidence of more than 1 den, and I had no idea which den might be active that morning. As I setup my gear, a little head poked out of one of the dens and I knew then where to focus my attention. I had brought my blind and a stool, so I got setup and covered up and proceeded to spend the next 4 hours under the blind. It was a cloudy, drizzly day, which kept the temperature inside the blind nice and cool. It also provided nice even light for photography. Without the direct sun, I wasn’t in danger of over exposing the white fur on the foxes or having ugly shadows cast.
Initially, all I saw was one adult and one kit. Before long, a second kit showed up and became curious about the clicking noise it could hear under the blind and the giant eye sticking out.
The two kits alternated paying attention to me until one of the adults brought in a rabbit for breakfast. After breakfast, they continued posing for me and were unconcerned about my presence. After all, they couldn’t see me and all they could hear was the click of the shutter in the camera as I took different photos.
Although the two kits would play and run around the den area, they never ventured too far from the den. All the while, one of the adults sat on a small hillside watching over their activities.
I’m certain that the adults knew I was nearby as they have a keen sense of smell. At one point one walked within 10 feet of me with a squirrel for an early lunch. He was so close that I couldn’t focus the camera. He casually walked right past me while the two kits kept trying to snatch the squirrel from his mouth. When he dropped the squirrel, one of them picked it up and the chase was on! After becoming bored with the squirrel, the two kits resumed their positions outside the den and tried again to figure out where that clicking noise was coming from.
After about 3 and 1/2 hours of sitting under the blind on a three-legged stool, I was getting stiff and tired. I decided it was time to pack up and head home. Just as I was about to remove the blind and make my way out to the car, here came the other adult towards the adult and 2 kits that I had been watching over the last couple of hours. Tagging along behind this second adult was 4 more kits! I had no idea that there were a total of 8 red foxes in the area. The other 4 kits must have been tucked away in another den somewhere.
When the 4 siblings joined the other two, the festivities went in to full gear. All the kits were now quite playful and started chasing each other and playing. It was quite a treat to see. The only downside was that the rain had started up again and the light was pretty poor. I just couldn’t muster enough shutter speed out of my 7D to capture some great images of the kits at play. I needed a fast shutter speed to freeze the action, but even with a wide open aperture, I couldn’t keep the shutter speed up and the ISO down to get some quality images.
Although I didn’t get all the quality images I wanted, the experience was well worth sitting under the blind and cramping my back and legs. It was an amazing encounter that I will remember for many years to come. The best part was when I finally removed the blind and started to pack up. Once the blind was off, the foxes could see me. They all stopped playing for a few minutes, sat, and stared at me. As I slowly packed up and began to move away, they went right back to playing with each other and couldn’t have cared less about me. Even the adults who were sitting nearby simply looked at me and never made any indication that they were concerned.
And that’s the way wildlife photography should be. If you can sit and photograph the wildlife without disturbing them or causing them to change their behaviors, then you will have an excellent encounter. This one certainly ranks up as one of my best 2 or 3 encounters.