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Fox family saga at Harris Acres

Regular readers of my Blog posts will have caught the occasional glimpse of Foxes captured (photographically), with both traditional and remote camera trap set ups, here at Harris Acres.

Some may I even recall that I promised a full Blog post dedicated to those efforts ? .... well ... here we go then!

Come dine with me!

Having uploaded some of my favourite shots of the Foxy activity on the grass clearing at the front of our house, I realised that I will need to work harder to pick the best shots, if this Blog is not to rival War & Peace in length! I guess the number and range of photos from which I can choose is an indication of just how much fun I've had observing and recording developments over the past few months.

Where did all this begin then I hear you say!

Well, probably on a cold evening sitting in a pop up hide in the little piece of woodland that's in front of the house; a place where I'd seen the Foxes on trail-cam footage. The Foxes assiduously avoided showing up where they could smell 'human', and I worked out that Plan A was 'epic fail' and I needed a Plan B!

Remote camera-trap shot in our woodland (smelly human safely tucked up in bed!)

It became clear to me that Plan B needed to understand that if I couldn't go to the Foxes in their territory without spooking them, perhaps I'd have to tempt them to come closer to me, in mine!

Some patient night time supplementary feeding with a small handful of high quality RSPB peanuts and only the best organic dry dog food, placed gradually nearer the house over a period of weeks, finally tempted our Fox pair to come closer. My plan was to set up in the downstairs guest bedroom and shoot through the window across the driveway to the grass bank in front of the house, c 25m away.

I knew that the Foxes would come closer to the house, because I'd caught glimpses of early morning visits as early as a snowy late winter morning, when I'd left some peanuts in a tree stump positioned for that purpose.

Snowy early morning visitor - quick shot from the front door

I'd taken shots previously under some cheap builders LED lights, but the outcome possibilities were limited and the shots were very noisy, as the low light meant the camera and lens had to work really hard to reveal the action.

Finally I took the plunge and invested in some 'off-camera' flashes that could be operated on low power providing enough light to expose the shots, without disturbing the very easily spooked rural Foxes.

Previous Blog posts have covered my early attempts to use remote camera trap equipment as a way of getting close up views of the Foxy visitors.

Too make a long (very long) story short, I'm not sure I have the requisite patience to set up night after night only to get a blank outcome, fuzzy, blurred and usually out of focus failures by the dozen, just to get one reasonably focused interesting shot.

Here's my favourite shot achieved with the remote camera set up, taken in our paddock where I had set up to try and take pictures of Tawny Owls at night and Buzzards visiting at dawn. It was here that an inquisitive Fox found the Pheasant, (a natural casualty found dead in a neighbours garden), used to encourage the Buzzards to visit.

"None left for me I see !"

With (finally), this success in the bag, I turned my attention to my new flash set up in front of the house.

I started to get some decent results as early as February, after much trial and error and with the adult Foxes in the winter coats and grateful for the small supplementary feeding, starting to turn up to a predictable routine within an hour or so of proper darkness.

Fox on a chilly February night.

Early Spring brought even more regular visits and although I only set up to take photos every 10 days or so, it became clear that there were a pair of Foxes visiting together in the wee small hours (trail cam evidence confirms), but rarely showing in the ambient LED light (there to enable camera focus) at the same time and at a sensible 'before bedtime' time.

The good news however, was that the low level flash power (often 1/16th of normal power) was tolerated well by the Foxes, important because wildlife photography should have the minimum or preferably zero impact on normally displayed behaviour. In fact I realised that the noise of my camera shutter release seemed to get their attention more than the flash lighting - cue silent shutter mode and no further problems.

Spring visits from the adult pair

Adult with Ox-eye daisies under the Ash tree

An optimist would hope that the 'pair' of Foxes seen would prove to be just that and who knows .... perhaps the patter of tiny paws could be hoped for ??

As the Spring turned to Summer, I had almost given up on the idea, when on an early June evening I caught some movement through the kitchen window, whilst cooking. A more purposeful stare through the wooden blinds revealed a couple of smallish Foxy shapes moving around, (unusually) on our gravelled drive .....

"Cubs!!!" was the shout that startled both Sarah and the young Foxes - oh dear!

So it was then that a very excited wildlife photographer set up the following night, hoping that he could display a little more 'field craft' (at least within his own house, Doh!) and that any cubs had not been scared off permanently.

I shouldn't have worried, because as night fell the cub (was there more than one?) showed confidently in front of the apple tree where I'd placed some special (super healthy) treats.

The shot below is my very first shot of a Fox cub on our own property and I can't tell you what a huge thrill this was. Rural Foxes are FAR more timid than their urban cousins who are surrounded by human activity and noise at all times.

Whilst still cubs, my best guess was that my first sightings were of cubs around 8-10 weeks old, led by their parents away from their Den to explore the world.

First sighting of a Fox cub at Harris Acres

Needless to say - I set up to take photos a little more frequently for a few days as well as observing quietly on 'no-photo days', to understand their behaviours.

It appeared that the adults would watch and 'supervise' the cubs activity, scolding them gently if they did something that the adult perceived to be incorrect Fox behaviour.

The two shots below capturing this behaviour at the far reach of the light from my low power flash.

The cubs would sit or lie down when scolded and displayed submissive behaviour, until the adults released them from the moment.

I can't begin to tell you (except of course that I can and I am!), how great it was to sit in the downstairs bedroom, looking through the open window at the Fox Family Saga playing out each night. I didn't set up to take photos every night, but simply looking out from the kitchen window when getting ready for bed to see the Foxes happily sharing some Fam' time was incredibly fulfilling.

I couldn't quite work out exactly how many Foxes were in the the Harris Acres family. Fast moving, it was difficult to count the individuals even when they were cavorting around only a few metres away.

It was also not as easy as you'd think to identify the adults separately from the "cubs", not least because although at first the size difference was noticeable, young Foxes grow quickly, especially when taking advantage of a modest supplementary feeding diet of the very best organic grain free dry dog food and high quality peanuts!!

It appeared to me that the adults took it in turns to supervise the cubs, rarely appearing in front of the apple tree at the same time.

The cubs however, were a delight to watch, happy to appear together from time to time and fascinating to see their play behaviour which seemed to establish a pecking order through dominant and submissive roles. My best guess is that there were 2 Adults and 4 cubs in total, albeit I think I only saw a max 3 cubs at any one time for certain, although my sense was that I was seeing 4 cubs interchanging.

I'm sure Chris Packham, David Attenborough or any qualified naturalist could have explained the patterns I observed far better than me, however I quite like the opportunity to 'learn-as-you-watch', making it feel like you are the first one to see the scene unfolding in front of you.

Fox cub siblings at play

Brave cub investigates the gravel driveway only 10m away

Growing up fast - ever alert

The unexpected bonus arising from 'enticing' the Fox family closer to the house, is that some other nocturnal visitors cottoned on too!

I had seen a Hedgehog when camped out in my unsuccessful pop up hide tent attempt to photograph the Foxes in our woodland.

I'm pretty sure the Hedgehog(s) had set up a nest underneath a huge log pile I had established just in front of the house - no further than 15m from the apple tree. Sure enough, I began to see not one but often 3 different Hedgehogs, joining the Fox family for some supper. Swapping the peanuts out for some specialist Hedgehog food (to better suit their Hedgie digestion) from then on, it was great to see just how well the two species got along.

It was utterly enchanting to watch the cubs encounter the 'Hedgies', inquisitive yet tolerant of each other.

"Hello little Hedgie ... my spiky little friend!"

Here's a few from some happy Summer evenings watching great British rural WILDlife simply, doing it's thing!

Here's probably my favourite shot of the Fox / Hedgehog evening Dinner, with on orderly queue forming !

As the Summer months drew to a close, the visits from the Fox family changed to become visits from individual members. My impression was that in the late Summer, the juvenile Foxes waited until either adult had visited before showing up on their own, with an occasional excited romp with a sibling chasing each other around the apple tree, becoming a rarer sight.

Fox siblings

... oh those eyes!

So there we have it - a photographic record of the joy of sharing your home with some beautiful wild neighbours.

I'm proud to say that (as far as I can tell), the Foxes didn't ever see me putting the food out and hopefully then will not associate humans, with food. Certainly, if the bins needed to be put out, or some other reason arose for interrupting their presence, they did what you would hope wild rural Foxes would do in beating a hasty retreat, until humans were once again absent.

I'll keep up with a modest amount of supplementary feeding throughout the Autumn and difficult Winter months, albeit their family is likely to disperse a little over that time, as they establish territories of their own and having already developed their natural ability to feed themselves independently from their parents support.

Now .... how do I get the a similar project underway with the local Badgers, without them digging up my lawn as a consequence?

Thanks for reading and here's to the next WILDlife blog.

PS your comments are always welcome and I'd particularly like to know which is your favourite picture and why!


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