Plants & Animals
Nocturnal and secretive habits make this stealthy animal a true delight to see in the early morning hours.
Last summer, my friend Krista asked me if I’d like to photograph a pair of gray foxes on her property in Franklin County. Intrigued, I responded with my usual barrage of questions including, “Are you sure they’re not red foxes? Do you see them in the morning or evening? Is there cover nearby that would serve as a hiding place? Have you seen any kits?” As Krista answered my questions with both confidence and patience, I determined that her gray foxes were the “real deal” and that I’d need a pop-up blind to get close enough for a shot in the open habitat she had described. I thanked her for the opportunity and made plans for the next morning.
I arrived at the property a good hour before daylight, and headed toward the pasture where Krista and her husband Matt had been observing the foxes. Before I even made it through the livestock gate I saw something moving along the edge of the field where it met a patch of woods — a fox! The gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) is nocturnal, so I wasn’t surprised to see one foraging the tree line under the cover of darkness. I hoped I hadn’t ruined my chance at seeing it again later in the morning. I hurriedly assembled my blind, with a little help from Krista’s friendly horse, and dived inside to begin my stand. It was a dead calm morning in early July so it wasn’t long before I was soaked with perspiration. I wasn’t too concerned about the miserable conditions of my hide because I knew it would all be worthwhile when I made my first photograph of one of Missouri’s most gorgeous mammals.
About 15 minutes before sunrise, a creature materialized near a deadfall that Krista had described as a favorite of the foxes. I wiped the sweat from my eye and looked through the lens to verify my suspicion. There it stood, a gray fox, watching me with huge, cartoon-like eyes, perfectly designed for its nocturnal lifestyle. It was still very early with scant light available for a sharp image. I had to make a decision to either wait for more light or try to capture the fox with a very slow shutter speed. Already on alert, I didn’t expect the fox to stick around much longer so I clicked the shutter. Startled by the sound, the stunning fox with dark eyes and a rusty neckerchief gave me a raspy bark and faded back into the woods. I sat for awhile in the steamy blind before I finally mustered the courage to look at the single image on the back of my camera — a keeper.
I returned the next morning for another session and my good fortune continued as I was able to photograph the gray fox’s mate. Later, I shared my success with Krista and Matt and even gave an apple to their friendly horse. We wondered where the kits might be and delighted at the difference in appearance of the adults. Once again, I was reminded of how nature has a way of bringing folks together.
—Story and photo by Danny Brown
We help people discover nature through our online field guide. Visit mdc.mo.gov/node/73 to learn more about Missouri’s plants and animals.