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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It’s hard to think of a new way to photograph a species that’s been covered as often and in as many different ways as the red squirrel. Sitting, running, jumping, reflected, wide-angle and tele, it’s all been done extremely well. When working on pine martens, often nocturnally with remote cameras, I try to make the most of my time by also photographing the red squirrels that frequent the same forest . But how to portray them in a way that hasn’t been covered many times before? Red squirrels have always struck me as an essentially arboreal species and although they come down to the ground to cache food, much of their time is spent high in the trees. That’s where I shall photograph them I thought, perhaps ambitiously for someone who is not that comfortable with heights. Now, although red squirrels are small, lithe and agile, it’s probably fair to say that I am not. So I found a Scots pine which afforded a nice forest backdrop, backlit in the morning, with a branch squirrels could be bribed to run along and another close enough to clamp camera and flashguns which I triggered from the safety of the ground. I think it worked out OK but it’s not nearly high enough for the effect I wanted. What I need to do now is get the camera much higher, preferably into an emergent tree looking out over the canopy. I think I’m going to need a longer ladder.
Many thanks, as always, to James Moore for access to his squirrel site.
Note the health and safety application of gaffer tape. What would photographers do without this essential accessory?
Male Squirrel scent marking where another squirrel passed earlier.
I love horses. Everything about them. The way they look, the way they smell, the sounds they make, the history. I tried to learn to ride once. English first and that went badly. A friend who trained quarter horses tried to teach me western and that went a little better but not much. So, no life on the open range for me. So now I just like to photograph them every opportunity I get.
The ancestors of Icelandic horses were brought to the country by the Vikings (who else?) and have bred true for over 1000 years. The import of horses into Iceland is banned, even exported horses can never come back, and so this is the only type of horse found in the country. Originally they were used more as beasts of burden but now are mostly bred for riding and figure prominently in the tourism industry. They are also eaten occasionally. Icelandic horses, and it is a horse not a pony, have an unusual extra gait called the tölt which looks like a very fast walk. I suppose the most obvious thing about this breed, especially when seen in winter, is how hardy they are. And you can see them pretty much anywhere in the country as there are around 80,000 of them which in a country of only 300,000 people, is a lot of horses.
More on the Icelandic horse here. www.fhb.is
There are so many big stories in Iceland: The effect of ocean warming on the species and numbers of fish and how this impacts on seabird and marine mammal populations; Whaling and whale-watching; Tourism and the economy. This is a wee story though. I was hanging around Grundafjordur Harbour in a blizzard waiting for something to happen when I saw this small fishing boat coming in. A lone fisherman, he unloaded his catch and walked over to the Harbour Master’s Office to arrange its collection. As he walked back to his boat I asked him how he had done. He shrugged and said “Oh, not so good, just 150 fish”. They were not big fish and I have no idea how much 150 mid-sized cod are worth to him but however much it is, it looked hard won.
I never did get the shot I really wanted from this mini project. One of the bat researchers I work with quite often called me to tell me about a house he had just surveyed where the house owner feeds badgers and foxes in his garden. And they come and feed together. And sure enough, when I visited to check it out I was proudly shown a whole series of trail cam videos of badgers and foxes, badgers and cats and cats and foxes. These videos were shot over a period of a couple of years though. With expectations running high I set up a camera trap in the area where the food is put out. Initially I wanted to set up with the house in the background to give more of an urban feel to the photos but it just wasn’t possible to do that, light it the way I wanted and provide clear access for the critters which all seem to come from different directions. So I set up with the garden shed in background and lit the interior with a gelled flash. I got a badger on the first night which enabled fine tuning of the lighting and camera position and then I was all set for endless multi-species action. Alas it was not to be. You never quite know how foxes are going to react to multi-flash set ups. Some, urban foxes in particular, are often very easy going about stuff appearing in their environment whereas rural foxes are normally extremely wary – of the flashes, the camera noise, the physical presence of the equipment or a combination of all the above. Badgers rarely care. In the couple of weeks the camera was in place I only got two shots of a (nervous-looking) fox. Many badger photos though, of several different individuals, and hundreds, literally hundreds of photos of the neighbourhood cats including quite a few of cats feeding quite happily with badgers albeit at a respectful distance. From what I can tell from the images, the cat was more relaxed about this than Brock.
Come October and the voles are stocking up the larder for winter. A favourite for this are yellow flag seed pods. When stored in underground burrows I guess they last really well, the outer skin protecting the multiple seeds inside. I had noticed that whenever a vole would find an intact pod they always take it underground whereas a split pod would sometimes be eaten straight away. The yellow flag in the corner of the walled area had produced a nice crop of seeds high up in the plant. I knew the voles would get them eventually as they fell off but I wanted to photograph the process, so I lowered one of the bunches to just within reach. The breeding female from this territory, once she found them, took every one back to her main burrow under the wall. And she did this all in one operation and didn’t stop until she knew she had the lot, coming back a couple of times to check there were none left.