Pandemic 2020: Sheltering in Place with Red Foxes Red Fox family (Vulpes vulpes) San Luis Obispo, Co. (no longer active at this location)
Every once in a while, you have the opportunity to capture and experience something truly magical. You keep the location to yourself for as long as you can, quietly appreciating the opportunities you have been given. Often times it can be a question of ethics, nesting birds, natal den site, or some other endangered species or subject that requires the utmost secrecy. You’ll hold off posting, knowing the moment you do, someone will ask, “Where did you capture that?” The internal battle begins, do you share the location? If you do, who will they share it with, and will the moment be gone? Other photographers will flock to the location once the word is out. Then competition to see who gets the best image begins. Who’ll get to post first, who has the best image, etc? Sometimes unethical photographers will somehow be in the grapevine and they will show up using calls, bait, and approaching too close, etc. They do more damage than good trying to capture “Their Best Image.” The beauty of the natural event you have been given witness to will be gone, in return, the ugly side of social media rears its head and the competition to post first, be the best, most informed, etc. begins. With it disappears the magic and beauty of the brief moment in nature you were privileged to observe. This is an unfortunate reality nature and wildlife photographers have to face. Does sharing information lead to a detrimental impact on the wildlife we so long to capture and love? What about the joy of having a moment all to yourself, unshared, unspoiled, and unsullied by the urgency to be the first on social media to post, or inform?
Recently I had the opportunity to shelter in place with a Red Fox family. A much-needed escape from the realities we are all facing. I did my best to keep the location to myself for reasons stated above. Current conditions being a pandemic, throngs of photographers just wouldn’t be best, plus as an active natal den site, it deserved respect. For the first month and a half, I would visit the family several times a week with a friend and his 13-year-old son, a talented nature photographer himself. Our approach always quiet, calm, and slow. When we began our visits, we sat low in one spot, not moving, not walking around trying to get the best angle, not disturbing the family by jockeying for position. Within a few moments, they would become accustomed to our being there. That was when the best moments would be shared with us and we had the opportunity to capture natural behavior. We witnessed, feedings, playing, nuzzling, and the entire family working and playing as a unit. We were given the opportunity to look through a window into their world and in exchange, we were given the opportunity to capture amazing images.
As the state began to open up a bit from the restrictions the pandemic required, foot and other traffic in the area increased. Construction nearby brought with it noise and more people. Early on, we noticed, that the trail that they were denned near was frequently walked by dog owners. Nothing wrong with that, everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy our open spaces. But the impact of those dogs was very noticeable to the family of foxes and when approached, their level of apprehension and awareness was marked. Thankfully everyone respected the leash laws and not one dog was running amuck. Good Dogs and great owners! Something that I think is important to note, just being out in the natural world we are visiting the homes of other creatures and we should respect that. It made my heart proud to see the level of regard paid. I think the majority of the dog owners and other walkers were also aware of the den site.
Change is inevitable, and as the world opened up, people in the area became more frequent. A construction project nearby mandated the necessary movement of heavy equipment. This required the grading of a road nearby and consequently the disturbance of the nearby den site. No, the den wasn’t damaged, but the close proximity of the work brought it to an unavoidable conclusion. Shortly after this, the fox den became stagnate, and as a vixen is wanted to do, she moved the nearly grown kits to another location away from the original den site, and our opportunity came to a close.
The last visit to the site, a colder summer morning in early July with sporadic areas of low fog. Sitting, waiting, we listened to the serenade of Rock Wrens and Rufus-crowned Sparrows, knowing full well that the chance of our seeing the foxes was slim and none. Several weeks had passed without a sighting, but one last visit was required to make sure they had indeed moved on. Situated on the edge of the trail, looking over the site where just weeks before so much activity occurred, I couldn’t help but reflect on each moment captured and also missed. Remembering naps taken over on that outcropping, kits pouncing on one another in this small grassy area, a stolen glove from the nearby construction site tossed playfully by another with mom bathing a reluctant kit nearby. So many moments to treasure, so many images captured, so many questions by a construction worker with only one glove. Of course, the greatest question of all, when to share and where…(More to come)