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Red Fox Den

by Andrew Turnbull 8 months ago in Nature

A Mother Fox Feeds Her Young

“Have you seen her?” A fit, outdoorsy-looking woman, with a Nordic accent and lovely dark hair dyed red and tied back in a gauzy beige kerchief, had stopped her bike to ask me what I’d seen and told me about the fox who lived among these fields and ponds.

“I come across her often as I ride through here,” she continued. “She usually has her mouth full of mice or something. I saw her earlier and she was headed this way.”

I answered that I hadn’t come across her yet, although I’d been hoping to, thanked the woman for the info and pointed the way to where you could often see a beaver family foraging at sunset, which is where I was headed to then.

A week or so later, I came across the vixen fox one evening as she was trotting down a lane that led out toward the far point of the Leslie Street spit.

The spit is a long, curving tongue of naturalized land that extends into Lake Ontario and shelters Toronto Harbour from the east. Previously a dumping site for demolished construction, its shores are still cluttered with broken concrete and bricks; but the neglected spit had, in effect, been reclaimed by nature and was now known as Tommy Thompson Park, a nature preserve.

The vixen was travelling at a quick pace down the road when I saw her, black-footed and with her russet fur shining softly in the sun. Suddenly, she stopped. She pricked up her ears and stared into the grass beside the road. Listening, she cocked her head slightly to one side, then gathered her haunches under her and nimbly sprang over the tall, roadside grass into the deep meadow. As she pounced she extended her paws in front to pin and hold her catch, and dispatched it with a quick snap of her jaws. It was a vole that she’d heard as it scurried through its tunnelling pathways through the matted grass of the meadow.

She emerged from the meadow with the large vole in her teeth and continued on her way down the road. I was surprised to see that she didn’t eat her catch there and then or at least retire to a snag in the meadow to feed, hidden from view. Instead, she trotted off at the same brisk pace down the road.

After a while she stopped, put the vole that she carried down in the dust of the roadside and leapt, once again, into the tall grass. She re-emerged with another prize, picked up her first catch where she’d left it, and started out again at a steady trot carrying two voles now, eating neither of them. It dawned on me then that she was carrying them someplace and so I continued following to see where she was going.

She repeated the process one last time and, with her mouth now “full of mice or something,” as the woman had described, she trotted to the end of the dirt road to the den by the edge of the lake and her five fox kits (also called pups), who came spilling out of their hiding place to see what their mother had brought them.

It was a remote and beautiful location for a den, protected behind big boulders that were embedded in the earth. The embankment faced west overlooking a stoney beach and Lake Ontario, with the city across the bay. There were several entrances to the den and a long distance between them; perhaps thirty yards from one entrance to the other.

At the mouth of the den, hidden behind the big rocks that lined the shore, she dropped two of the voles for the pups, keeping one for herself.

The wild fox kits tore into their meal with ferocity, each snarling at the others, squabbling over their share. Every now and then one would try to dash away with a carcass only to be bowled over by one or two of the others before they’d got very far. Soon the meal was finished and the kits were belly-full and happy and it was time to play.

Fox Kits Playing At Sunset

The photos in this post were taken during this time. It was delightful to see these little foxes at play as they gambolled over the rocks and grass chasing each other, play fighting, grooming each other and cuddling; their eyes and fur shining in the setting sun as they played along a stretch of bank at the edge of the lake.

After awhile they all grew tired and one by one returned to their den, disappearing into the rocks.

It was getting late and the sky would soon be dark. It was time to leave, and we rode away feeling that it had been a wonderful thing and a gift to watch them playing in the sunset; tearing after one another for a moment and then lolling on the grass or stones, lazing in the setting sun.

Nature

Andrew Turnbull

I take out my camera, screw on the telephoto lens, and start walking.

Letting go of thoughts or worries, I silently ask, “What is beautiful and interesting today?”

The answer to that question is what I photograph and write about here.

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