Wildlife Notes

9. Fox Cub Foray

Article text
The foray started on a May Friday evening, I had just finished my weekly nature reserve feed and was sat against a tree watching the world go by. In the distance I could see one red bundle of fun emerge from a hedge, then another and another. After a few moments 5 cubs and a mother were visible, the Mother supervising the rough and tumble and at times being forced to take part. I watched them through my binoculars for a good half hour while I made plans to catch-up with them early the next day.

When I arrived home I busily sorted all possible items I may need for the foray, including a kitchen sink. My alarm was set for 3.00am (to enable me to set-up the hide in the dark to minimise disturbance) and before falling asleep I pondered possible hide positions depending on expected wind and light.

3.00am arrived soon enough and I set off on the 30 minute drive to meet with my photographic subjects for the day. Once at the parking space I then considered my options and selected appropriate gear - 2 Canon 7d bodies, Cannon 500mm F4 and 300mm F2.8 plus 1.4x Extender and 2x Extender, lens cleaning gear, hide, seat.....you get the picture. As I stumbled off into the darkness I was glad it was only a 20 minute walk, the weight of glass and gear seems to get heavier and heavier with each passing year. Mid way through the walk I had to negotiate a big patch of nettles and a barb wire fence, my trousers were no match for the stingers and when I reached the fence my legs felt like they were on fire, I then failed miserably with the fence and managed to catch my leg on it.

Stumbling on once again I reached a position 40 or so yards from where I had seen the cubs playing and where the wind was blowing into my face. I estimated that would be the best compromise point balancing distance from the subject, wind direction, light, hide concealment opportunity and desire to get up-close images. I put my hide up as quietly as possible and began the wait.

As the sun rose I realized I had incorrectly estimated its positioning and that it would side light my subjects for much of the morning. I was just going to have to make the most of it. It was about now that I realized my leg was still really hurting but not so much from the nettle stings but something else. It was now light enough to investigate and I found that my leg was wet as I pulled my trouser leg up I then saw a nasty 2 inch cut on my leg. Yep, that would mean why it was still hurting.

As light levels rose I migrated from the 300mm f2.8 at ISO 640 to the 500mm f4 then finally my ideal option of 500mm f4 plus 1.4 Extender (f5.6) and ISO in the 320 to 400 range to catch any action. It was now 8am and no sight of any cubs. I kept myself amused taking pictures of a Pheasant and Rabbit as they blissfully carried on with their morning activities.



Canon 7D
Canon 500mm F4 L IS plus 1.4x Extender
F5.6
ISO400
1/320th
Tripod
Evaluative Metering Exposure -2/3




Canon 7D
Canon 500mm F4 L IS plus 1.4x Extender
F8
ISO320
1/200th
Tripod
Evaluative Metering Exposure +2/3


Then at around 9am, as if by magic, a cub appeared closely followed by the rest of the siblings but no supervising Mother, I assumed she must have been watching from inside the hedge where I could not see. They played with boundless energy chasing each other round and round and up and down the area in front of me each encounter being an opportunity to practice their fighting and hunting skills. They also played and squabbled with their toys, bits of rabbit skins. I wondered how great the feeling of space must seem for them after being confined to their den for most of their lives until now.

Once they were playing it was time to gently introduce them to the camera shutter, I clicked once then waited , then again. They stopped and looked over. I left things for a moment then clicked again. Within a few minutes they were not bothered by the noise and carried on. The playing continued for I guess half an hour and I clicked away busily when suitable poses, expressions and action presented itself.



Canon 7D
Canon 500mm F4 L IS plus 1.4x Extender
F5.6
ISO400
1/500th
Tripod
Evaluative Metering Exposure -2/3




Canon 7D
Canon 500mm F4 L IS plus 1.4x Extender
F5.6
ISO400
1/640th
Tripod
Evaluative Metering Exposure +2/3



Canon 7D
Canon 500mm F4 L IS plus 1.4x Extender
F5.6
ISO400
1/640th
Tripod
Evaluative Metering Exposure +2/3



Canon 7D
Canon 500mm F4 L IS plus 1.4x Extender
F5.6
ISO400
1/640th
Tripod
Evaluative Metering Exposure +2/3



Canon 7D
Canon 500mm F4 L IS plus 1.4x Extender
F5.6
ISO400
1/500th
Tripod
Evaluative Metering Exposure +2/3



Canon 7D
Canon 500mm F4 L IS plus 1.4x Extender
F5.6
ISO400
1/500th
Tripod
Evaluative Metering Exposure +2/3

Then I guess their Mother must have given them some kind of instruction and they trotted back into the hedge one by one. I sat wondering what would happen next, was their playing a Morning and Evening activity only I wondered! another 10 minutes or so passed by when along trotted what I guess was the dog fox with a fresh rabbit kill. He was much more suspicious of the shutter than the cubs stopping for a moment when he heard the first burst but then carrying on as normal.



Canon 7D
Canon 500mm F4 L IS plus 1.4x Extender
F5.6
ISO320
1/2500th
Tripod
Evaluative Metering Exposure +2/3

The time was now around 10am, as the day passed not much else presented itself wildlife wise to capture, I spent the time editing the images on the back of the camera and watching 2 videos on my iPod with the sound off. There was no sight of the cubs but on 2 more occasions I could hear them in the hedge. It was now 6pm and I could hear them clearly, they were the other side of the hedge, the sunlight had now passed from my side to the other and they were making the most of its warmth. It was not possible to go through the hedge so I packed up quietly and left them to their playing.

Over the next few weeks I kept an eye on them from a distance as they grew rapidly, at the last sight of them they had lost their cub looks and playing boisterousness and spent their time in practice hunting mode. I felt very lucky to have seen them, they had certainly made my May and June for 2011, providing me with some great memories, super images and a 2 inch scar on my leg for life.

Some general fox info follows.

Text adapted from – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_fox

The Red Fox is the largest of the true foxes, as well as being the most geographically spread member of the Carnivora, being distributed across the entire northern hemisphere from the Arctic Circle to North Africa, Central America, and the steppes of Asia. Its range has increased alongside human expansion, having been introduced to Australasia, where it is considered harmful to native mammal and bird populations. Because of these factors, it is listed as Least Concern for extinction by the IUCN. It is listed among the 100 “world’s worst alien invasive species”.

The red fox originated from smaller-sized ancestors from Eurasia during the Middle Villafranchian period, and colonised North America shortly after the Wisconsian glaciation.

Red foxes are social animals, whose groups are led by a mated pair which monopolises breeding. Subordinates within a group are typically the young of the mated pair, who remain with their parents to assist in caring for new kits. The species primarily feeds on small rodents, though it may also target leporids, game birds, reptiles, invertebrates and young ungulates. Fruit and vegetable matter is also eaten on occasion. Although the red fox tends to displace or even kill its smaller cousins, it is nonetheless vulnerable to attack from larger predators such as wolves, coyotes, golden jackals and medium and large felines.

The species has a long history of association with humans, having been extensively hunted as a pest and furbearer for centuries, as well as being prominently represented in human folklore and mythology. Because of its widespread distribution and large population, the red fox is one of the most important furbearing animals harvested for the fur trade.

The earliest fossil specimens of Vulpes vulpes were uncovered in Barany, Hungary dating from between 3.4—1.8 million years ago. The ancestral species was likely smaller than the current one, as the earliest red fox fossils are smaller than modern populations. The earliest fossil remains of the modern species date back to the mid-Pleistocene in association with the refuse of early human settlements. This has led to the theory that the red fox was exploited by primitive humans as both a source of food and pelts.