Friday 9 January 2009

Think ahead and get prepared

Although now is a great time to get some fox photography in as they have their loving thick winter coats its also the time of year when i start to get preperations underway for when the cubs arrive,Foxes and badgers will now be breeding or may even be pregnant and in a couple of months will start to get the dens/earths ready,So its a great time to start looking in your local woodland for signs of activity,Around early March time Dens will be redug from last year or new ones for this year,The foliage is still low and muddy tracks help to see footprints,Fox and badger use the same trails for getting to one place or another and in doing so will wear the grass away and if you look hard enough you will see these trails all over the forest floor,check for foot prints and follow them to see if they lead to the den,
Badgers live in colonies so the den will have many entrances/exits whereas foxes are solitary and live above the ground all year except for when giving birth,A Fox earth will normally have one entrance and i exit but that doesnt mean that a fox wont live in an abandoned badger sett,So if you find a sett with many holes that doesnt guarentee that it will be badgers living there,
If you find a new den/earth approach with caution,Make a note of where it is and return making sure that you are not being watched,its still early days and you need to find a few sites to keep an eye on over the coming months until you decide what ones will be best for photography,Don't forget what looks like a nice open bright area will in a few months be covered from the tree canopy and possibly ferns and bracken,At the moment we just want to get a feel of what's about and where,If there is freshly dug earth at the hole have a look to see if there are any foot prints and try and tell if they are from a badger or a fox,Drop a small handful of soft dog food biscuits/peanuts or raisins and leave,Go back the next day and see if the food has gone and repeat if it has, I don't normally start to bait until around the end of March,
I have found over the years whilst photographing and observing foxes that they seem to prefer the woodland edge especially if it borders with a field/meadow and most setts/earths or within 50m of the edge of the woodland, Badgers prefer to den on a slope,and although i have seen dens on flat ground a sloping area is where i would first look,If you see a lot of activity on private land please seek permission before going onto or shooting on that land,Farmers are normally very good and will allow you free access-if they dont then find somewhere else,If you do get permission then once you have some good shots in the bag its nice to get a couple framed and given to the farmer as a gift,This should mean unlimited access for years to come,Last year I had 4 sets that i kept an eye on from January until June,2 of them turned out to be un-photogenic due to heavy tree canopy/low light or a difficult angle to get a decent shot in and even though I had watched the foxes coming and going from the holes i left them to it.I had 2 chances left, 1 being a sett i had shot at a year before on some private farmland and the other a badger sett just down the road,so easy to keep an eye on both, Even though i had seen the parent fox coming and going on a regular basis i still put a small amount of food out every evening at the same time so that the fox would get into a routine and i would get the shots i wanted at the time i wanted and in the light I wanted.Time put in waiting and watching is not wasted,You will see what direction the foxes come and go,their favourite hang out points-where they sleep during the day and where they scent mark their territories-all valuable info that you can only get through observation,How do you tell if the holes are being used by a fox or a badger-well firstly you can normally tell but how tidy a place is-foxes will bring dead rabbits,birds,food bags etc. back to the den and leave the bones/rubbish around the den site,
Badgers don't do this and are very clean and tidy animals,drop to your knees and have a sniff in the hole-foxes smell!!,Check for footprints,foxes are small and dainty,badgers are big like a dog but their 5 toes are in a line not offset like a dog and because they have large claws you can normally see the claw marks in front of the footprint-once seen never forgotten,foxes will come and go to the den all day and badgers are known for being nocternal although some do come out during the day don't bank on it,A good time to watch the site is last thing just as its getting dark,Observe from a distance with the use of binoculars,Dont be put off if you dont see the animals straight away,if the food is going then they are there,Food is the key and a fox or badger will not turn down a free meal,a word of warning-DO NOT OVER FEED,Do not make the animal dependent on your handouts,Its a treat-something that can be eaten in a minute or two and that's all,When you come to the photography part i normally break the food up into tiny morsels and put then i a couple of chosen positions to keep the animal in the area longer,If you are shooting foxes then use a hide,especially if there are cubs present,a fox will move the cubs to another location if you are seen especially if you are close and all the hard work will have been in vain,if the fox does move the cubs-LEAVE THEM ALONE,Don't try again-you have blown it,The intention is to observe and get some shots and that's all,not to change their behaviour in any way,Whatever you do do not try to hand feed or socialise the animal-it will lead to their downfall as they will associate humans with food and become a pest,Badgers on the other hand do not need a hide,sitting quietly away(downwind) from the sett will suffice,Let them come to you,So now we have watched and waited and have a feeding plan going-around May/June(but could be as early as April depending on weather conditions) time there should be the pitter patter of tiny feet-or in the badger case not so tiny, I will continue this in the future with how i go about getting shots of daytime fox and night time badger

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