I was afraid that I was going to again strike out this year. It’s been a few years since I’ve had the chance to photograph a fox den, and I was having a terrible time finding one this year. Fortunately, my social network came through, and a fellow photographer Matt Hoffman keyed me into an active den in his neck of the woods…and I was off!
I found the den rather easily, as the kits were out sunning themselves on a big rock when I got there. The parents were nowhere to be seen, presumably out hunting for their brood of five. First order of business…allow the kits to be comfortable with my presence. This involves a lot of sitting, and yes, talking to them. The animals clearly knew I was there, so I always figure talking can help break the ice. After about an hour, I had slowly worked my way towards a clear shot of the den. I only moved in close enough for my 300mm lens to get some environmental portraits, and then lay on the ground considering the light and getting a few shots as they quietly played.
And then they were off…
Mom came back, and everyone scrambled to the far side of the rock from where I was. I assume in the time she was there, about five minutes, she was nursing, as I briefly saw her nursing upon her second return. When the kits failed to return to the den, I went out to the road, and found them all playing roadside on the rocks in the bright sunshine. They were good about avoiding the road…never venturing upon it, and hiding every time a car came.
During this time, I began to see that each of them had their own personalities…some brave and adventurous, some timid, one mischievous. Quite the social dynamic…even forming individual bands of two and three respectively.
After about an hour of playing, they all went back to the other side of the rock, under a hemlock, in the darker forest. I crept around the back, and found four of them in a pile taking a nap. The mischievous one was sleeping alone, and every once in a while, venturing out, keeping watch, and biting one in the pile. The slept for about an hour and a half, and during that time, I was able to sneak in fairly close for pictures. The pile rarely stirred, which surprised me, and required lots of patience to shoot when the did briefly wake…
When mom came back again, everything stirred suddenly, including the surrounding forest. Rodents and birds sounded their alarm calls. One of the kits, so excited to see mom, and forgetting that I was there, ran right at me. I initially froze, but I didn’t want the kit that close, and I knew that mom was behind me somewhere (subconscious fear of attack?). So I motioned for the kit to stop. And it did, and I managed this one shot of a way to close fox kit. I wish I didn’t chop the ear, but it happened way to fast.
Mom didn’t stick around long again, likely not wanting to feed with me there, but the kits were active again. They mainly stayed in the forest area, which now had a nice even light as clouds had filled in. I struggled to keep the shutter speed high enough for their motion, but got a few more nice shots as they played and rolled around.
When mom came back again, I knew I’d likely overstayed my welcome, and slunk away for the day. I had spent over five hours sitting quietly with a family of foxes, observing, learning, and capturing the scene as best I could. Couldn’t have imagined the day going any better!