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Fox watching

PUBLISHED: 14:52 25 June 2014 | UPDATED: 14:52 25 June 2014

Fox images by Andrew McCarthy

Fox images by Andrew McCarthy

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A chance to encounter led to weeks of fox watching for Devon photographer Andrew McCarthy

"The ‘naughty cub’ became so confident he"

As a nature photographer I have long cherished an ambition to photograph wild foxes, but they are not easy to find or photograph reliably in the wild. Last May, while driving home one evening, I was delighted to see a vixen and her young cubs at play in the early evening sun in the middle of a local field and realised this was an opportunity not to be missed.

I first needed to find the foxes’ den - a burrow in which the vixen would be sheltering and feeding her cubs. After securing access permission from a helpful local farmer and after walking some distance to locate what I thought was their main den (foxes often use more than one), I set up my hide.

Fox images by Andrew McCarthyFox images by Andrew McCarthy

This was positioned so the foxes would be lit by the evening sun but would hopefully not see me. How wrong I was.I settled down to wait and after an hour of inactivity I heard rustling behind me and turned to see all four cubs watching the hide! After slowly wriggling round by 180 degrees I managed to get some pictures, including one of a confident little chap I soon learnt was ‘the naughty cub’. He spent several minutes stalking my hide, before settling down to keep an eye on this strange camouflaged ‘lump’, in case it moved.

A few days later I realised the vixen had a second den a short distance from the first, in the grounds of a local house. The householders were extremely helpful and allowed me to spend considerable time with the fox family over the following weeks.

Fox images by Andrew McCarthyFox images by Andrew McCarthy

By mid-June, and after spending many hours with vixen and her cubs, they were sufficiently relaxed that I was able to sit quietly and photograph them without the hide. The vixen in particular would almost pose for pictures and her confidence seemed in turn to relax the cubs.

By the end of June the original litter of five cubs had shrunk to three, with at least one having been run over on the nearby lane. It was wonderful to watch the cubs mature over the following weeks and eventually the ‘naughty cub’ became so confident he would come right up to the camera - as well as to any visitors I might have with me. My photography sessions continued until July, when it became clear that the cubs were almost independent and were spending most of their time away from the den.

I am aware my enthusiasm for foxes is not shared by everyone, as in a rural county such as Devon the fox is seen as a pest which needs to be controlled. I can well appreciate this point of view, especially from farmers who have a livelihood to protect, but I have to say as a photographer I remain captivated by this handsome and adaptable mammal and look forward to the next time I am lucky enough to find a fox family to spend time with.

Andrew McCarthy is a nature photographer and professional ecologist based just outside Exeter.

You can see more of his work at andrewmccarthyphotography.com

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