Guide to Finding and Photographing Fox Kits:
Springtime is prime time for a wildlife photographer. The vast stark coat of winter is shaken off to reveal green flora and flowing water. As this cycle renews, so do the populations of your local wildlife. In spring you can begin to find lush nests and dens with bright eyed young ones. It is the finding though that can be tough. As a photographer living in Pennsylvania springtime brings to me one of my favorite subjects, fox kits. While red foxes can be found throughout most of North America, to find a fox den you first must understand the where and why of its location.
For me the two best places to photograph foxes are in meadows bordering farms and near the beach in sand dunes edged by marsh or maritime forest. A slow drive around sunrise or sunset around scenic farmlands is one of the best ways to find all types of wildlife. While that method relies on luck, there is another more surefire way that relies on understanding your subject. Red foxes begin to seek out their natal dens early in the winter. While they will sometimes dig their own den, a fox prefers to use what is already available. A groundhog burrow or old dilapidated farm structure is perfect. Foxes need food and water so a den will always be within a few hundred yards of a stream, pond, ditch or marshy area. Another important aspect to finding a den is timing. Foxes will usually meet up to mate soon after the turn of the year in January or February. While out and about in the wintertime I will often watch for tracks or scat in the snow, jot down the spot and return to the area to find the den that spring.
Pre-planning greatly increases your chances of finding a den early in the season. We know that the mother fox, or vixen, likely mated in January or February and with a gestation period of 49-58 days that means her kits will be born in March or early April. The kits are born blind and deaf so it will be a few weeks before they are grown enough to be out of the den exploring. Although kits have been known to start venturing out as early as three weeks old, you will usually see them older at about five weeks when they are out long enough to observe.
Aside from tracking them in the winter, one of the best ways to find a fox den is to just take a slow scenic drive out on some old country roads. Start looking in mid April when the kits are out and playful. The best times of day to find them are either very early or late just before sunset. I find that the kits usually spend midday sleeping deep in the den and then tumble out just as golden hour begins. They will pounce on each other and bound about or laze in the sun while they wait for mom to return.
If you’ve found your den by driving, the best thing to do is pull over safely so that you can use your car as a blind to photograph them from. Kits from a den by the road are used to cars going by but will likely be startled if you attempt to exit the vehicle. If you visit often they might get comfortable enough that you can slowly attempt a better position on the ground at a safe distance. Keep an eye on the kits and watch their behavior to know that you aren’t bothering them. If they suddenly perk up in fear, bark or huff at you, or simply run away learn from what you did to startle them. Give them more space and try your best not to disturb them.
If a low eye level image is your goal, there are a few ways to go about it safely. Kits that live in dens in public parks or populated areas are usually accustomed to seeing people so if you get lucky and find one, you can get great photos without needing a blind at all. Just keep in mind that these are wild animals so give them space and always observe them on their terms. This is when a long telephoto lens, think 500mm, is your friend! If the den is on private property a few kind words to the home or landowner, maybe offering a print usually gets you permission to go onto the property. You can set up a blind (search for them online or craft your own) either before sunrise or during midday when the foxes aren’t around. At first set up as far as you can to minimize disturbing them and enter it early to wait quietly for them to emerge. Luckily, fox kits are curious and accepting creatures. It shouldn’t be long before you are watching them play and explore. With a little bit of planning and patience you will soon be observing the kits grow up right before your eyes.
Good luck with your photo adventures and I hope that this guide helps you get your dream fox photo this spring!
"...As a photographer living in Pennsylvania springtime brings to me one of my favorite subjects, fox kits."