June 18, 2008 Cross Fox & Family

While traveling through Lake Superior State Forest in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, I am photographically prepared for wildlife.  In the summer of 2007, I saw a Moose and a Black Bear in this forest, and want to be prepared for whatever I see.  So I travel with the camera ready with a 500mm lens with a 1.4x extender.  This is a good combination for wildlife, but I find that I still have to get close to a creature to get a good picture.  Anyway, I was an Eagle Scout, so my motto has to be “Be Prepared.”  And today it worked out well.

Late this afternoon, as I approached a sandy road cut in my vehicle, I saw movement ahead and quickly counted four kits and one adult fox playing much too close to the road.  I pulled over when I could, and meanwhile the foxes had scrambled for safety up and over the embankment and into the forest; several looking down at me from their higher perch.  Then I drove to a nearby side road and saw the family again, this time gathered in a meadow.  I stopped and got a few pictures before the family went back into the forest.  When I first parked the vehicle to try and get a picture, the adult was relaxed enough to be laying down, eyes half-closed in a squint that looks so restful.  My sequence of pictures shows the adult laying down along, then one kit coming up and nuzzling, then the adult looked directly at me.  Then the adult rose when it saw I was staying and stared with eyes wide open and intent on me and my intentions.  Eventually it decided to leave and took the kits with her.

I later went back to the main road and discovered the fox den on the other side of the road from where I first saw them, near the top of the sandy road cut.  This is the second den I have located in Lake Superior State Forest, and each one has been near the top of a steep (but not very high), sandy road cut.  In each case the den entrance was in the open, without any obstructing vegetation.  The fox knows to dig the den just below the root line of the trees and other plants; this allows easy digging but provides a stable roof of soil held in place by the roots.  This fox didn’t pick such a good den location, however, being right at the edge of an asphalt highway–upon which I later saw two of the young foxes playing.

These Red Foxes interested me because the adult was not red; two of the kits were not red; and the two remaining kits were the typical Red Fox warm golden-red hue I’ve seen before (except in Alaska’s Denali National Park, where I saw a jet-black Red Fox).  The coloration here was varied in shades of dark gray and black and reddish ochre that is known as the “Cross Fox.”  There is a black line down the back and another black line that goes over the shoulders and down the legs; I suspect that when trappers skinned out a fox of this coloration and laid it out flat, the cross looked distinctive.

As I’m sitting here at the picnic table in the campground, I’m less than 100 yards from the fox den.  In fact, twice since I’ve been in camp an adult fox trotted by.  The second time, the fox was briefly curious enough to walk up hesitatingly and check me out from about 25 feet away.

I should mention the habitat.  In this sandy soil the tree cover consists mostly of Jack Pine, Paper Birch, and Bigtooth Aspens, with a lot of bracken and reindeer lichen as ground cover.

I’ll see what tomorrow morning brings.  [Note:  the next morning I saw a single young Cross Fox outside the den in a drizzle, with the others probably warm and dry inside.]

Also today I saw a pair of fresh Sandhill Crane tracks crossing a road.  I also saw a wet path roughly a foot wide crossing a road from wetland to wetland; I’m sure it was made by either a River Otter or a Beaver.

As I’m typing this at deep dusk, a whippoorwill is calling across the lake and mosquitoes are hovering around me with their incessant whine.  It is a chilly June evening, and I’m wearing a layer of down.

This is part of a weblog documenting my travels and photography. I am primarily a nature photographer and you can see more of my work at http://www.leerentz.com

Click on the photographs below to see a larger version with captions.