Fun with Foxes

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I think it’s fair to say that the red fox is one of our most persecuted mammals. Even hunting with dog packs, outlawed in 2004 is back on the table according to our Prime Minister (10 March 2017). Is it any wonder that in rural areas, where a recent study has shown the country fox to be in decline, foxes are extremely shy and give humans a very wide berth. Only in our towns and cities has this resourceful animal found us to be a little more tolerant, but even here pest control operators kill hundreds of foxes each year. Even our largest conservation bodies kill foxes to protect nesting birds or allow game shooting on their land, which inevitably involves predator control. All this makes the fox, particularly rural ones, difficult to photograph. Even when regularly fed and habituated to humans they usually appear nervous and wary.

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A couple of years ago, I heard about a population of foxes in the Netherlands that had become completely relaxed around people.  In the absence of persecution, traffic and dogs these foxes go about their business of establishing territories, hunting rabbits and raising cubs safe in the knowledge that we mean them no harm. In April this year I finally got around to a visit, accompanied by my good friend and fellow pine marten aficionado, James Moore.

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Although I knew where the reserve was we had no further information and did a lot of walking that first morning. It’s a big area and although we saw lots of other wildlife including huge numbers of fallow deer we didn’t see a fox. It was only when we came across a very helpful Ranger did we find out that although there are foxes throughout the reserve, there is really only one area where foxes and people meet. And he very kindly invited us to jump in his truck and drove us there. I asked why the foxes come to this particular place and he said that people used to feed them here but it’s discouraged now.

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Over the next couple of days we would walk into the reserve and simply wait for the foxes to turn up. Sometimes it would be one at a time and occasionally two or even three together. When the foxes meet, there are great opportunities for behavioural shots. Clearly some people still feed these foxes the odd titbit as the first thing a fox does on arrival is walk straight up to you to see if you have anything for it. If you have nothing it goes on its way or sits down to see if it will have more luck with the next person to come along.  The photography is pretty intensive between periods of waiting for a fox to arrive. Once one does turn up it may be there for a few minutes or a couple of hours. During the quieter periods, there are plenty of other animals to photograph including the many fallow deer. Too many actually as there is serious overgrazing in parts of the reserve. There are also many wetland birds including swans, geese and a large cormorant colony.  I was surprised to hear bittern booming and one even flew over us.

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I think over the next few days, I took more images of foxes than I had in the previous twenty years. I’ve been photographing both urban and countryside foxes a long time but I’ve never seen any as relaxed as these. You could literally lie down beside them just a couple of metres away. It was lovely to spend time with these gorgeous mammals knowing they weren’t eventually going to meet a sticky end at the hand of man.

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Working with the official photographer/guide for the reserve I’m putting a tour together to return to these foxes next Spring. If you’re interested in some intensive red fox photography in a lovely setting please get in touch.

N.B. Most of these photos were taken with a 70-200 lens on a Nikon D500. Usually around the mid zoom range. A couple were shot on a 300 to get a more diffuse background.

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