Cunning is a word used often to describe red foxes. They’re wary, and virtually live in our back yards without us knowing.
They even dig dens, or enlarge the dens of woodchucks, and raise families in rather obvious places. But until the kits, or pups, begin to romp and play outside the dens we don’t have any idea that a litter is growing in our space.
Such was the case with a fox den dug into the side of a hill not far from my home. I regularly drove past the location. The den was only about 100 yards from the road, but I never saw either adult.
Then, one day, I noticed two pups playing. Looking back, I should have spotted the foxes’ home because of a dirt pile outside of the entrance. That was a clue that I didn’t pick up on right away. I guess I figured a pair of foxes would not take up residence that close to the road. Yet I’ve seen foxes den in culverts under roadways.
As for the kits, they were rather shy. As I approached them, they quickly dove underground.
So, my alternative was to place a tent blind within photography distance of the den. I put the blind downwind from the entrance. Foxes rely heavily on their noses to detect danger. I left the blind for a few days so that the colorful canines became accustomed to its presence.
One morning when the wind was right, I entered the blind. A horde of mosquitoes followed, and a few wood ticks clung to my pants. The morning sun was partly obscured by hazy clouds, but still the sun heated the inside of my hideout to near sauna conditions. I situated my camera equipment and sat back to wait for a kit, or even one of the parents, to appear.
It wasn’t long. One kit crawled out of the den and almost immediately lay down in the grass next to the entrance. Darn. Most of the young canine was obscured. My only option was to wait.
Then I had an idea. I pursed my lips together and emitted a high-pitched sound by sucking in air. The little fox sat up, and I was able to get the image on this page, plus several others.
Soon one of the parents showed with a 13-lined ground squirrel in its mouth. Apparently the wind had changed direction because when the adult came near the den, it dropped the squirrel and quickly ran out of sight over a hill before I could photograph it. The pup dove for the safety of the den.
I exited my blind and walked to the den entrance. There lay the squirrel. A dead young porcupine, too.
Later, analyzing my photo of the kit, I noticed it had a few porcupine quills in its nose.
Despite the uncomfortable conditions in my blind, I had a satisfying and interesting morning.
Bill Marchel, an outdoors writer and photographer, lives near Brainerd.