Tom, our guide, opened the gate to a field in Iver (Buckinghamshire) and told us to continue past the stables to our left, following a well-trodden path shaded by a large canopy of trees. Further along, the path narrowed with overgrown foliage, nettles and weeds, and then opened into a small grass field. It was the beginning of June; the spring had been cool and damp which meant that the grass was tall and reached to our knees. To our left were farm buildings with large timbers resting up against them, and to our front and back the field boundaries were lined with trees. We moved to the right and ahead we could see a pylon located in the adjoining field. About 50 metres on was the small structure in which my fellow photographer, Peter, and I would spend the next five hours.
The hide appeared to be made of cement board and was set back near the tree-line not far from the adjoining field. About 6ft tall and 8ft wide with just enough space for two, it contained three wooden chairs and had two low openings at the front covered with camouflage netting to shield us from the foxes. We eagerly attached our large lenses to our cameras, placed them on their tripods and positioned them under the netting near the openings.
In front of the hide a large grassy area had recently been mowed. There were visible trails through the longer grass which were the regular routes created by the foxes leading to where they knew food would be found. Tom showed us his bucket of butchers scraps to tempt the foxes in and, as we prepared ourselves, he scattered the contents in front of the hide. Before Tom left us alone he explained that there were two vixens with cubs, one of which lived behind the trees in front of the hide, on the golf course, or among the farm buildings, and the other lived under the pylon. This was my second visit. A few weeks earlier I had spent five hours in the very same hide on a beautiful warm sunny afternoon but had seen nothing but a magpie! As I settled down, my thoughts wandered back to my last visit and I hoped I was going to be luckier this time. Cubs had been seen in the field less than thirty minutes earlier so our hopes were high.
I didn’t have to wait long as from the tree-line ahead a small fox cub appeared and moved into the long grass. It disappeared from view from time to time, but occasionally we would catch a glimpse of a pair of ears moving towards the clearing. It was hesitant as it reached the opening. We didn’t know what to expect whilst we quietly waited hoping that the cub would stop to eat on our prepared stage. It was a smash and grab job; the cub took a piece of pork belly fat bigger than itself and, with difficulty, dragged it back to the trees and disappeared from our view!
The heavens soon opened and the rain dampened our hopes. Luckily it only lasted for a short period before the sun returned. We didn’t have to wait long for the next encounter; a very damp cub made its way towards the clearing. This time I knew what to expect and with my finger hovering above the shutter button, as soon as the cub came into view, I squeezed and rattled off a few shots. Again, it was a smash and grab with the fox picking up a surprisingly large amount for such a small mouth and, once more, quickly disappearing from view to stash the food for later. The afternoon continued positively with cubs frequently visiting to take food away. After a couple of hours had passed we had our first visit from a vixen. With greater confidence, she sprinted in and filled her mouth with multiple scraps and sprinted back towards the pylon (presumably to her waiting cubs).
Tom kept in touch throughout our time in the hide, checking that the foxes were visiting and to know how much food had been taken. Around 6pm it was decided that he should replenish the food. He returned again with his bucket, this time containing dog biscuits. He hoped this would keep the foxes in the clearing for us, as they would have to eat the small biscuits there rather than disappearing with their hoard of food.
Sometimes the cubs would be nervous on approach because of our camera shutter noises, and they would stop at the edge of the clearing to assess the surrounding area. When they looked towards the hide it gave us the chance to take some great shots with their heads raised and faces towards us. As the evening wore on the visits from the two vixens increased and sometimes a cub would accompany them. On one occasion the two vixens appeared at the same time and, startled by each other, one backed off into the long grass to wait for the other to leave before moving back in.
The sun lowered in the sky behind the hide and trees and the shadows grew over the clearing. With the light and visits diminishing we called Tom to walk us back and gathered our gear together. With around 500 shots each on our memory cards we both felt elated and privileged to have shared some time with these beautiful wild animals.
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