Over the past few days, some of my wildlife photographer friends have been posting fantastic images of a Red fox family doing business in the part of Yellowstone National Park known as Little America. Having recently returned from a wonderful photo excursion to Yellowstone, I had no reason to envy these friends and their great opportunity to shoot these young foxes. But I was right on the verge of envying them anyway when it occurred to me that I know where there is a fox den here in Wisconsin.
I had no idea whether there were any kits present, but I knew from the recent excavation, the fresh tracks, and the unforgettably pungent aroma of fox urine, that the den was active. It has been for several years, but we only occasionally see the Dog and the Vixen. Unlike some other foxes I’ve known through the years, these two are a decidedly furtive couple.
For the last two days I staked out the den.
I set up low to the ground, draped in dead grass mats which do a remarkable job of camouflaging both my bulk and the sizable camera. It’s not quite a Ghillie suit, but it serves the purpose.
The first morning was useless. I was in the wrong place for the light, and it turns out the den opening I was watching wasn’t the the preferred entrance for the foxes. Better situated later, two more hours watching the den that evening still resulted in nothing more than a brief glimpse of something reddish in color darting into the upper den opening. Ultimately, I discovered there are three entrances to the den, and nearby there is a hollow log that doubles as an emergency hideout for the foxes.
The next morning, today if you are keeping score, I watched a small reddish blur dash into the log at my approach. I had high hopes that there was no other way out of the log other than past my lens, but foxes aren’t called “sly” for nothing. It turns out there was a side exit 15 feet down the hollow log, right next to the uppermost den entrance. I was completely unprepared when when my sure-thing-fox slinked out the side of the log and slithered into the den. Foiled again.
After a quick hike back home to air out Rosie-the-Labrador, I returned as stealthily as I could to the den site. Nothing of note happened for what I suppose was another hour or two. Without a phone or a watch, there’s really no telling how long I was there. What I do know is that I was on the verge of dozing off in the warm late-morning sunshine when I glanced up at the lower den entrance.
There on the freshly dug sand was a lovely young kit. He (no, I haven’t a clue whether he was a “he” or a “she,” but it looked like a he to me) was looking directly at me, not sure where this new lump of grass had come from.
But being young and indestructible, he quickly forgot about me and went about his business. His business was relaxing.
Rarely do I get so close to a wild critter without them at least watching me closely for an extended period. This young fox however, alone so far as I know, had better things to do than worry. For a long while he lounged on the warming sand. Occasionally he sniffed at some mysterious pieces of detritus near the den, and once he hunted the flies that relentlessly bothered him.
After a time, he tired of the familiar surroundings of the den opening and climbed the hill toward the hollowed out log. There he found a gift. A Gray squirrel, undoubtedly left by one of his parents, and nearly as large as he was, was lying next to the log.
Partially buried in the forest floor litter, I hadn’t noticed the squirrel before. To be fair, it was in a place which wasn’t conducive to viewing or photography, but through then lens I could tell something was going on. To my surprise, the kit showed no fear or hesitation. He pounced on the dead squirrel. And he proudly carried it back to the sand dune at the lower den entrance.
He sniffed at it a while, looked over at me, decided I was up to no good after all, and carried the squirrel into the den. That was all. One young fox. And it was enough.