In Yellowstone National Park, the Junction pack’s Slough Creek Den failed. They had had four surviving five-week-old wolf pups last seen on the day of my arrival in Gardiner. The pack has since abandoned the den site. Winter was rough even by Yellowstone standards; long and cold with deep snow. The Junction pack has fifteen – fifteen! – yearlings that they are caring for and had to care for through the winter. Speculation is that poor nutrition during pregnancy and infancy resulted in the death of the pups. The pack has since been hanging around Lamar Valley, where they are successfully hunting among the throngs of bison.Every few days, the wolves meet with success. The wolf watchers are camped out behind spotting scopes, hoping to catch the action which has been taking place in the evening after everyone is gone. Even when benign spectators are a mile away, wolves are wary.
Yesterday, I heard about a fox den just outside the Park. Rumor has it that someone (or many) had been feeding a vixen through the winter. It was not a great surprise then when she had a HUGE litter of pups under a dilapidated cabin this spring. So I went to look for these smaller canine puppies.
Driving the northeast entrance road, I encountered a red fox trotting along the road with a rodent in her mouth. She moved purposefully, using the road as an easy path through the thick forest. She veered off, presumably toward her den. At the Park entrance, another red fox on the road with a full mouth trotted past me too fast and close to get a good look. I grabbed a quick picture as she passed me. I take these sightings as good omens.
A Cabin of Foxes
I arrived at the old cabin (“tuxedo shop opening soon”), where two fox kits were out back.
They were pretty quiet, mostly watching the onlookers watching them. They are skittish. Loud engines and people walking across the street send them scurrying back into the den. It’s great that they don’t seem habituated to people. I stayed until they disappeared for good. The vixen and the six other kits were no-shows.
The following day after looking for wildlife without success at other spots, I meandered back to the den site. All was quiet. No foxes, no paparazzi, just two photographers idly chatting. I wandered a bit, photographing mountain chickadees, ravens, and Steller’s jays.
And then an adult fox comes trotting across the yard! She appears to be hunting for the kits! A man emerged from the home next door, put kibble and birdseed on a stump, and disappeared behind the house. This immediately gets the fox’s attention. She checks out the stump, isn’t excited about what she finds, and also disappears behind the house where the man went.
When she reemerged moments later, her mouth was full of hotdogs! So much for not being habituated to people. This doesn’t bode well for the long-term survival of the family. Her offspring will learn to look to people for food. When wildlife learns to approach people, it usually ends badly. Mama fox pokes her head into the hole under the back wall of the cabin. The food is gone in an instant. Eight kits scramble out. Mom immediately leaves again. The energetic, curious kits wrestle and play with sticks, grass, an old hose, and pieces of plywood.
They run, pounce on each other, chase songbirds, and watch the people watching them. They are captivating. So much is happening at once that I don’t know where to look! This goes on for an hour.
Watching Me Watching You
All the while, they were keeping watch for the next mouthful from mom, never venturing too far from the safety of home.The vixen comes back with another mouthful. She had crossed the street and reappeared from behind the cabin. This time, it’s a mouthful of French bread or rolls. It’s gone before it hits the ground. How is she sustaining so many??
Despite the kits wanting her to stay and play, she’s off again.
A semi-truck stops in the road right in front of the old cabin, then starts backing up with that loud warning beep. The kits who didn’t run for cover at the presence of the noisy engine darted away now. The truck does a u-turn on this two-lane road, bumping onto the far-side shoulder. The crowd is visibly disappointed by this odd, disruptive occurrence.
The kits would not reappear today. I returned to the field where I first saw the hunting fox an hour ago. She is hunting back there. Hunting rodents again.
What a fantastic experience! Watching this wild fox family living their lives and seeing how they interact and exist in a busy small town roadside was enriching and soul-satisfying. The wild canids are my favorites in (and around) Yellowstone National Park this year.
If you’re interested in purchasing or licensing any images you see here, please email me: SNewenham at exploringnaturephotos.com, and I’ll make it happen.
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