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The beautiful Arctic fox, also known as the white, polar, or snow fox, is a small mammal, native to the Arctic regions of the North, inhabiting the Arctic tundra. It is an incredibly hardy animal, superbly adapted to living in this harsh, inhospitable, cold environment where temperatures can drop to -50°C and below.
The Arctic fox has short ears, a short muzzle and short limbs together with a compact, generally rounded body shape, minimising the amount of body surface area exposed to the Arctic cold, preventing heat loss.
Those wide, front facing ears also afford the Arctic fox with an incredible sense of hearing, allowing them to locate the precise position of their prey under the snow. When they find their prey, they leap into the air and pounce , effectively punching through the snow to catch their unfortunate victim.
The Arctic fox has deep layers of fur, its coat thickening and turning a beautiful white in winter, providing both superb insulation and highly effective camouflage against its snow environment.
Its paws are covered in thick fur also, effectively acting as snow shoes and also allowing them to walk on snow and ice in search of food whilst preventing the pads from sticking. That reddish discolouration of the paws in the image above, incidentally, is caused by staining from the Arctic vegetation of its environment.
The thick tail or brush provides the Arctic Fox with further protection and refuge against the cold when resting and curled up, as well as excellent balance for running.
Arctic fox populations fluctuate depending on the lemming population which forms its staple prey item. We were extremely lucky that our visit to Churchill followed an explosion in the lemming population in the summer. This meant a very successful breeding season for the local population of Arctic foxes, taking advantage of the over-abundance of availability of this little rodent.
Local people we spoke to said they had never seen so many foxes in fact. At one time I counted six or seven foxes running around us. Arctic foxes like most predators are territorial leading to the odd conflict.
For their relatively small size (head and body, 18 to 26.75 in (46 to 68 cm); tail, up to 13.75 in (35 cm)), Arctic foxes are incredibly feisty and a couple of the foxes we saw proudly bore the scars of various squabbles.
For me, so much about wildlife photography rests on opportunity and what an opportunity this was. It was important therefore to try to make the most of it. We had already seen a lot of Arctic foxes around whilst out on the Tundra buggies looking for bears so we knew the potential was there. For the final two days of our trip we concentrated most of our efforts on trying to get images of this stunning animal, using our hired 4 x 4 vehicles to try to find them.
Our last two days in and around Churchill also coincided with a dramatic improvement in the weather. This gave us a couple of cold, clear and crisp days. According to some of the local guides they pretty much hadn’t seen the sun at all for over a month so again we got very lucky.
The change in weather gave us some sublime light to work with complimenting such a beautiful subject perfectly. The next six images were taken at first light on the final day of our trip. As the sun rose over the ridge that the foxes used as a look out, it bathed them in the most amazing pastel, pink light. As a photographer you dream of an opportunity like this. It’s true what my friend and mentor Danny Green says, it really is all about the light.
Later the same morning, driving around in our 4 x 4, Nigel spotted another fox. This was to be our last Arctic fox encounter of the trip before heading home.
With temperatures down to -35 the surrounding willow vegetation was beautifully frosted making for a perfect winter wonderland backdrop against which to set him
The Arctic and the Reds are not the only species of fox that call the wildlife management area of Churchill their home. They also share it with two other species the Cross Fox and Silver Fox.
The Cross fox is a partially melanistic colour variant of the red fox. It has a long dark stripe running down its back, intersecting another stripe to form a cross over the shoulders, hence its name. It tends to be more abundant in northern regions and is rarer than the common red form.
Meet Manky, the Cross fox. I’ve been debating with myself whether to include him in my blog or not…he is a bit, well, manky! We had a couple of sessions with him on the trip but I wasn’t sure about him myself and only took a couple of frames of him. I posted one of them on Facebook though and asked my followers whether I should include him. He got a great response so here he is. He is rather striking and I’m rather glad to include him.
Photographing the Arctic foxes though was, for me, the absolute highlight of the trip, with them right at the top of my list of the Arctic species I was hoping to see. I’d go further in saying it was one of my most memorable wildlife encounters to date. My approach to wildlife photography is simple and unpretentious. Wildlife photography for me is all about getting the chance to see beautiful wildlife and challenging myself to try to capture that beauty and share it with a wider audience.
This is my last blog for 2013, so I would like to take the opportunity to thank everyone who has taken the time to look at my work and comment on it this year both on my blog and social media. Your continuing support is hugely encouraging making it all worthwhile.
I look forward to sharing more wildlife encounters with you in 2014. It promises for me to be a very exciting year for quite a few reasons, which I look forward to sharing with you (can’t say anything just yet!).
Wishing you all a very happy Christmas and a joyful New Year.
Shhh! He’s sleeping …..