Twenty years ago, the Gray Fox was rarely seen in the North Woods of Minnesota. But they have now arrived! This is the second and third Gray Fox I have photographed in the Sax-Zim Bog in the last year. The first one I photographed was along the Creek Road in summer of 2013. I had seen something cross the road up ahead, and I thought it might have been a Pine Marten. I stopped the van, got out and gave a few calls on my predator mouth call. Within seconds, a Gray Fox burst out of the woods, looking, presumably, for the source of the call. I got a decent shot, but I was not really prepared. The first proof I had of a Gray Fox in the Sax-Zim Bog was one I “caught” one on my Trail Camera in the winter of 2011-12, very near where these two were photographed.
I first became aware that the Sax-Zim Bog Welcome Center feeders were being visited by this rare animal back in December. I found some scat that I couldn’t immediately identify. It was canid-like, but composed of sunflower seed shells and rodent hair. The only winter mammal I know that eats both is the Gray Fox.
Then in early February, some visitors got glimpses of a Gray Fox towards dusk. My friend Jason Mandich even managed to photograph one. The next day, our Welcome Center host, Heather-Marie, discovered that there were TWO Gray Fox coming to the feeders. The next afternoon, I was there…Ready and waiting…INSIDE the Welcome Center.
Then before 3pm, one arrived! …and then a second! Must be a mated pair as they seemed to get along quite well, feeding under the same feeder for quite a while. We barely breathed as we stood inside the Welcome Center. Then one headed our way, making its path for the feeder closest to the building. I shot through the windows of the Welcome Center, crouching down so I could shoot eye-level to the small fox.
FUN GRAY FOX FACTS: These very small canids are about two feet long, plus the 12 to 15 inch long bushy tail. Adults weigh from 8 to 14 pounds…the weight of a large house cat! They are found across the southern and eastern U.S. and south through Mexico, Central America to Columbia and Venezuela in South America.
What do they eat? Well, we’ve established that they will eat sunflower seeds (Note this guy’s got a shell on his face). My friend Karl Bardon recently watched on eat for over an hour at his feeder. The scat I found at the Welcome Center is filled with sunflower seed shells and rodent hair. They are also reported to eat Cottontails, newly-dropped White-tailed Deer fawns, mice, voles, fruit and insects.
The MN DNR website says that “breeding occurs in late winter, and gestation (time required for the young to develop) is about two months. Litter size averages four, and the young stay with their mother until autumn. Red and Gray Fox do not cross-breed in the wild.”
[ALL IMAGES SHOT THROUGH WINDOW GLASS! Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t shoot great wildlife shots through your windows. But you need to remember a few things:
1. Make sure your windows are clean! No smudgy kid finger and hand smears. Glass cleaner and crumpled newspaper works great.
2. Shoot straight through the glass…Make sure your lens is perpendicular to the glass. Shooting at an angle through windows often results in lower image quality.
3. Pray your subject is in good light…full morning or late afternoon sun, or high overcast. Deep shade reduces contrast and sun-dappled light makes for difficult exposures.
[all with Canon 7D and Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, Most at ISO 400, f5.6 at 1/640 second, AI Servo AutoFocus mode (to track the moving subjects).]