A Blue Fox !
The high mountains of New Mexico and Colorado are currently displaying a magnificent show of fall colors. Everywhere I look the light takes my breath away. As the angle of the sun changes backlit shimmering aspens transition to a mosaic of pastel colors. Camping out at 10,000 feet the air is cool, below freezing, although not too uncomfortable. The colors of the forest are even visible under starlight.
My iPhone alarm wakes me up at 5:00AM. It is pitch dark out except for the sliver of the crescent moon. I am sleepy after staying up until midnight photographing the Milky Way galaxy. The main bright area, the galactic center of the Milky Way, dips down below horizon in October and returns in the summer. This year has been a dud for me and Milky Way photography. Clouds and storms have been the norm. The mountains are happy though. All the moisture has left the forest floor moist and green.
As I contemplate whether I really need to get out of my warm sleeping bag I listen to two Great Horned Owls calling above my tent. Motivated to capture an image of the silhouette of an owl against the moon I begin wandering through a spruce forest with my tripod and 600 mm lens. The owls continue to call, ignoring, or laughing at me. Too dark and too close for an image with the moon I abandon this plan. Next time… My real focus of this trip is landscape photography of the brilliant fall colors.
Fall splendor in the high mountain forests of Colorado
Hiking up to a good vantage point I wait for the sun’s rays to just kiss a ridge and light the tops of the aspen trees. Ready for that quick moment when the first rays of light appear with my wide angle lens and tripod I watch the sun line creep across the valley below me. Since I am taking a panorama of 10 images stitched together I need to move fast once the first sun rays appear. There it is, the first ray glimmers over the ridge. Go! I move as fast as I can to complete the series of images so the illumination does not vary across the panorama. When I am about 3/4 through the series of images a bluish-black fox with a huge white-tipped tail runs up the slope and behind me. Being half-asleep it takes a minute to register. “Wow, a black fox!”. “You have the wrong lens on the camera, finish the panorama…” I tell myself. Luckily, some blood slowly flows through my half-asleep brain and I think “Wait a minute… that is a BLACK fox!!!” Go get a photo of it!
It is a risky proposition at this point. I need to hike back to my truck, get the long wildlife lens, and then find the fleeting fox. Wildlife photography is like this. You have to take risks and “go for it”, realizing that you might strike out. There is always that chance though that you will get another glimpse of the subject. Hiking as fast as I can I make it to the truck, grab the big lens (600mm), move as fast as I can to regroup without dropping expensive photography equipment, and head back out into the woods. Now is where the stealth and patience come into play. I finally reach a vantage point above the valley and sit down. Time ticks away very slowly and I see nothing for 30 minutes or more. My panting breath fogs the air after rushing back up the mountain.
As I sit I remember the foxes I have photographed in the past. They wander all over the place, very fast. They seem more like a cat than a dog to me. My hope is that this fox will pass through the area where I saw it again. This is the first black fox I have ever seen. At one point I even wonder if it was really a fox that I saw run by me?
Movement is the thing to look for. I see a dark spot in the forest below “move”. It is still dark in the recesses of the valleys and canyons at dawn. I swore I saw something move. Relaxing my eyes and scanning the forest floor between the groves of aspen and spruce I finally see a bluish-black fox hunting in the vegetation for rodents. It is a long shot for me and there are lots of trees and shrubs in the way. It disappears like a magician, blending into the dark forest.
I sit quietly and wait another full hour. Trying to pursue a wild fox to get a “closer view” is a fool’s game. It is also not my style. This would also impact the fox’s behavior. Although I would love to get an image of this beauty, I am already over-joyed that I even saw it.
Bingo! The foxes crosses a slope in front of me. Still far away and in the shade. Beggars will not be choosy though! I am able to capture a few images as this beauty nimbly moves over the steep terrain with ease. The fox does not know I am there. These 5 seconds have made my trip! The memory of seeing the fox and then waiting patiently for it to reappear is forever etched.
Blending into the shade and shadows of the forest I only got a quick glimpse of this beauty.
The “blue fox” that I admired from a distance is dark morph of the rare (in the wild) silver fox. Silver foxes are melanistic variants of the red fox (Vulpes vulpes). If a silver fox breeds with another silver fox they will produce silver fox cubs. If a silver fox mates with a red fox, their cubs will be fiery red with blacker markings on the neck, ears, and belly as compared with a pure red fox offspring. The silver fox trait can be passed on when a fiery red fox mates with a silver fox.
Photographing wild foxes has always been a real treat for me. I have only been able to do that outside of New Mexico, in places like Alaska and Wyoming. New Mexico still allows trapping, unfortunately. This archaic and totally unnecessary, indiscriminate killing of any mammal (or domestic dog) that happens to come across a baited jaw trap needs to stop.