foxy faces

I’ve been trying to photograph the fox family living in a friend’s backyard by sitting in my camouflage tent and spying on them.  The kits made their appearance last week and have been frolicking around the brush of “stump-henge” in the far backyard in the early morning and evening.

red fox-kits

Fox kits from a previous year — April 5, 2013. This bunch was a little older, and the parents were a lot less wary of my presence (hidden in my camo tent).

Mr. (or Mrs.) Fox keeps a keen look-out for any dangers to their rambunctious bunch, and consequently ushers them back into the burrow whenever I am in my tent.  I haven’t figured out how the adults know I’m there, as I peer out a small slit in the tent window (smell? sight?).  Watching the adults watch me, I see a variety of “expressions” in their gaze, as they change the position of their ears, their head, their body stance.

How would you label these fox face “expressions”?

red fox-

First day of observation – first shot after entering the tent.

red fox-

Moments later, after “thinking” about this new object that appeared in the yard.

red fox-

These three images above were taken over about a 5 minute time period, but there is an obvious change in attitude over that time.

red fox-

How about this one? It’s a windy, chilly day — the late afternoon sun feels pretty good.

red fox-

Watching me closely from “stump-henge”.

I’m hoping the adults learn to ignore my presence, and I can get some shots of their offspring soon.

Fox hunt

My backyard is overrun with squirrels and chipmunks — probably because there is so much bird seed available.  But that seems to make it an attractive place for the red foxes to hunt for a meal.

Red Fox, Vulpes vulpes

Sometimes I find them sitting on the edge of the garden waiting for some small mammal to move.

Red Fox, Vulpes vulpes, hunting

Sometimes its just a matter of stalking the prey to its hole.

Red fox hunting

A chipmunk dashed into its hole here — a missed opportunity.

Red fox hunting

Sometimes its a mad dash to catch that squirrel before it gets to the safety of a tree.

Red Fox, Vulpes vulpes

Another chase, another miss — better luck next time, Mr. Fox.

Red fox running

I have seen our local red fox only occasionally this winter and spring.  I thought the coyote had driven the foxes away, but every now and then, a fox shows up in the backyard.  This fox was on a tear, racing up and down the hill, darting here and there.

red fox

He or she finally stopped for a breather.

Looks out of breath from all that chasing around.  I wonder what he/she was after.

Looks out of breath from all that chasing around. I wonder what he/she was after.  Is that open mouth panting, or just pure frustration?  The fox might have been yipping but the windows were closed, so I didn’t hear anything.

Checking me out...even though it is dusk, and I'm sure he/she can't see me in the darkened porch.

Checking me out…even though it is dusk, and I’m sure he/she can’t see me in the darkened porch.

After catching its breath, the fox began exploring more of the backyard, but ran into three deer, who chased it away.

And that was the end of the red fox running around the backyard.

And that was the end of the red fox running around the backyard.

Update on red fox activity

The red fox family is still occupying their den, and the kits are more active than ever, at all times of the day.  So much for their “nocturnally active” descriptor.  The fox kits like to get out and tussle in the middle of the day from about 10 a.m to 2 p.m. and again in the evening from about 6 p.m. well past midnight.  Some nights they are active all night, so I’m not sure when they are sleeping.

The game camera captured many images of fox play on this gloomy, overcast, snowy morning a couple of days ago.

red fox and kit 0410

red fox and kits-0411

red fox kits -0411

They have grown quite a bit in the past three weeks.  This one has the hunting posture down pretty well.

The kits have grown quite a bit in the past three weeks. This one has the hunting posture down pretty well.

Mother Fox keeps a watchful eye either from the den entrance or the top of the compost pile to the far right.

Mother Fox keeps a watchful eye either from the den entrance or the top of the compost pile to the far right.

The camera captured Father Fox trotting up the hill, head down, like he might be carrying something, but he was turned away from the camera and I couldn’t see if he had caught something or not.

I will be away for the next two weeks traveling, so this will be the last fox update.

Protective parents

After comparing photos from two night sessions of photography in the blind, I think I can identify color differences between the two parents that help tell them apart.  The fox on the right was seen the first night; the fox on the left was seen the second night.  Can you see the differences?

The vixen (left) has a grayer chest and faint gray-white fur above her eyes, missing in the dog (on right).  In addition, the vixen has grayer fur on her flank than the dog (more obvious in other photos).

The fox on the left has a grayer chest and faint gray-white fur above its eyes, missing in the fox (on right). In addition, fox on the left has grayer fur on its flank than the fox on the right (this is more obvious in other photos).

Now, how to tell which fox is which sex of the pair.  Belly fur hides the anatomy you might use to determine sex, but their behavior around the kits is distinctly different.

During my first night session, one parent rested on the ground next to where the kits were playing, and I didn’t see it until it got up to take a look at what was making all the  clicking noises off in the distance (my camera).  The photo shows what could be interpreted as protective behavior, but no nose-to-nose or eye contact with the kits, which I observed in the other adult the next night.  After staring at me for a minute or so, this parent disappeared and was not seen again.  Apparently it did not  sense a threat from the blind.

I didn't see this parent resting behind the tree until the head popped into view.

I didn’t see this parent resting behind the tree until the head popped into view.

The kits looked up at the parent momentarily, but immediately lost interest.

As the parent stood up, the kits looked up at the parent for just a moment, but then immediately lost interest.

During the second night session, one parent ran up to the top of the compost pile several times over the course of 30 minutes to check on the blind and what the kits were doing.  This parent made nose-to-nose contact with the kits, especially the smallest one, and continually turned its head to stare fixedly at particular ones as it stood on the top of the compost.  The smallest kit attracted a lot of the attention from this parent — is the developmental delay of concern, I wonder?

red fox 0404-1735

Watchful parent

Watchful parent: watching me, and watching the kit.

Watching over the smallest kit.

Watching over the smallest kit.

Based on these scanty observations of behavior, can you guess which fox (gray chest or white chest) is which sex — and why?

For those interested, here is a photo of the blind on the site location at which I took the photos appearing in the last three days of blog posts.  It was the cheapest and lightest blind I could find at our local farm and garden store (Mills Fleet Farm) — a Grizzly G-10 ground blind, weighing just 8 lb!  No poles are required, and it sets itself up once you take it out of its sack.  Just stake it down, and you’re set.  Windows open on three sides, with the door on the fourth.  You can see the port hole I was shooting out of.

The blind was about 75 feet from the compost pile where the kits played.  Photos were shot at 270 mm, ISO 400, f-6.5 to get shutter speeds above 1/100.

The blind was about 75 feet from the compost pile where the kits played. Photos were shot at 270 mm, ISO 400, f-6.5 to get shutter speeds above 1/100.  Time of this photo is about 6:45 p.m. CDT, with dusky evening light.

How to attract a fox?

Last night I scattered bits of hot dog around the neighbor’s backyard hoping to entice the adults and kits closer to my blind.  It didn’t work very well because the adult fox was much too wary to approach and the kits apparently couldn’t smell the hot dog or didn’t associate it with something to eat.  Every now and then, they would pause and stick their noses in the air, as if they detected something, but then ignored the stimulus and kept playing.  The adult, on the other hand, immediately located the several bits that were closest to the compost pile and gobbled those up before dashing back to the safety of the hill.  No doubt more experience with the processed remains of human food will sharpen the kits’  olfactory senses.  But it’s probably not a good idea to teach them to raid garbage cans!

There's something good smelling over here.

There’s something good smelling over here.

Yes, I can stop and pose for a photo.

Yes, I can stop and pose for a photo.

The out-of-focus dash back to the safety of the compost pile with a morsel of hot dog.

The out-of-focus dash back to the safety of the compost pile with a morsel of hot dog.

What's all the fuss about?  I don't smell anything.

What’s all the fuss about? I don’t smell anything.

I smell something but I can't tell what it is -- maybe just deomposing grass.

I smell something but I can’t tell what it is — maybe it’s just deomposing grass.

Foxy frolic

Play is an important activity in honing future hunting and fighting skills in birds and mammals.  The  activity level of the fox kits on the compost pile above their den must have been building their aerobic endurance as well as their hunting skills, as they chased each other over and around the pile, every now and then pausing to check out which sibling to attack next.  They reminded me of my own children’s frenetic activity around dinner time — noisy, chaotic, and uncontrollable.  Here are a few glimpses of what the action looked like.

poised to attack

One is poised to attack

Three kits continually engaged in chase and wrestle maneuvers.

Three kits continually engaged in chase and wrestle maneuvers.

Locking jaws with one another was also a popular game.

Locking jaws with one another was also a popular game.

Practicing the pounce maneuver...

Practicing the pounce maneuver…

Aha!  it turns out there are actually five kits in this litter.

As more kits join in the fun, I was able to see that there are actually five kits in this litter.

The more I watch them, the easier it is to see that there are three fairly large kits aggressively attacking each other, and two more submissive and smaller ones.  Is this a sex difference?

The more I watched them, the easier it was to see that there were three fairly large kits playing quite aggressively with each other, and two more submissive and smaller ones.  The kit in the center of the frame seems to exhibit dominance behavior toward the smaller, submissive kit in the lower right:  ears slightly back, raised upper body, head and eyes staring down.

I think this is the small, runty one from the previous photo.  Developmentally, it is not as far along as the others:  short muzzle, less black markings, short legs.

This might be the small, runty one from the previous photo. Developmentally, it is not as far along as the others: short muzzle, less black markings, short legs.

Compare studly big boy here with the previous photo.  This is one of the dominant, aggressive kits.

Compare the physique of studly big boy here with the previous photo. This is one of the dominant, aggressive kits.

Is there anything cuter?

Is there anything cuter?

Now, if you’re really into this foxy frolic, here’s a YouTube video I made for my little grand-daughter (and for Marcia, too, who loves foxes).

Regal Red Fox

fox and kits

red fox 0403

Luck was with me tonight as I sat in the my newly purchased blind in my neighbor’s back yard to watch the evening antics of the fox family. They reappeared right on schedule at 6 p.m. and kept up quite a show for an hour, with the kits scampering up, over, and around the compost pile, and the adult checking on them once in a while. The light was getting dim, but gave the scene a rosy glow. Click on the photos for best viewing.

Babies!

The fox kits made their (first?) appearance two nights ago.  I think there are three of them.  They were very active all night outside the den on Easter eve, and outside several times during the day on the 30th and 31st.  I think that would make them about 3-4 weeks old at this point (according to Wikipedia).  A litter size of three is on the small side for Red Fox, but the litter size is supposed to be directly related to expected mortality.  That is, the higher the mortality of a breeding pair’s offspring (in the previous season), the greater the number of kits the female will produce.  Of course, it could also be related to the female’s  nutritional levels when she became pregnant last fall, and if she were under-nourished then, she might carry fewer young to term.

fox kits

fox kits

fox kits

Two kits playing near a bush and one back on the ledge in front of the den.  The camera illumination is infra-red; they are not getting blasted with a flash.

Two kits playing near a bush and one back on the ledge in front of the den. The camera illumination is infra-red; they are not getting blasted with a flash.  The time is actually 8:19 p.m. CDT (daylight savings time).

Early one morning one of the parents brought food to the ledge in front of the den, and the kits appeared in the next frames the camera shot (i.e., 10 sec).

Zooming in on this frame, I can just barely detect something large and gray in the fox's mouth (possibly a squirrel).

Zooming in on this frame, I can just barely detect something large and gray in the fox’s mouth (possibly a squirrel).

The kits are a lighter buffy color, but are starting to get vague splotches of red in their coat.

 Chow time!  The body of one parent is blocking the view of hungry kits wolfing down a meal. This frame was labeled one minute after the previous one.

Neighbors have reported seeing both adults basking in the sun on the lawn space behind the den.  In the photo below, I think one parent is sitting on the ledge in front of the den while the other approaches.

It was 11 a.m., but a cloudy day with deep shade over the den area.

11 a.m., one parent resting while the other brings home the bacon.