Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Fooled and Fooled Again

While a lot of the camera traps that I use are for scientific surveys and owned by parks, nature preserves, and various parks/wildlife agencies, I tend keep a bunch for myself that are owned by me.

These ones are moved often, as they do not fit into a scientific proposal or specific project.  It's a sort of freedom that I really enjoy.  With these though, I like to challenge myself to get really cool stuff coming across the cameras.

This year, I've been all about the fox dens.  Last year's fox kit pictures and blog posts turned out phenomenal and I'm really hoping I can get something similar this year.  It takes a lot of work and time to search for fox dens, but it could prove to be really useful in the end.  Emails and messages have been flying around like crazy and many miles have been walked, in search for the holes made by these small canids.

There always seems to be a bit of a debate as to whether a hole or den site belongs to a fox or a groundhog, and while I've spent the past few years studying them, reading up on them, and tagging along with others in the field with various animal dens, I still have not perfected the art of determining what is a fox den and what is a groundhog den.

The phrase "Brian, you should know this stuff."  commonly pops up into my head, upon visiting each den site.  It's interesting though and makes this sort of fun.

Young groundhog in a "prairie dog" type of stance in Lovettsville, VA.
Don't worry though, I know the "textbook" definition of a fox den and a groundhog den, but that is just what it is.  Generally, groundhog dens are a bit differently shaped than fox dens and dirt may be thrown out of each hole in a different pattern with each species.  They both can be commonly built on berms or small hillsides either in the middle of the woods or in meadows.

To me, the easy way to tell if a fox has been in a den is to put my face near it and take a whiff of the air.  If it smells like fox urine (a pungent smell that is similar to skunk spray), a fox has usually been there.  To make this even more complicated though, is to add the fact that a fox could have been hunting a baby groundhog, co-habitating (living with) the groundhog, or just marking the territory nearby.

I've been fooled with this time after time.  This year has been the epitome of me getting fooled by foxes and groundhogs, and just when I think I've got an active den with fox kits, a groundhog will appear.

It's a bit discouraging, but it's all part of camera trapping.
Resident groundhog from Loudoun County, VA from this past March.


  1. As a hobby wildlife photographer who loves photographing foxes, I know this struggle. I wish I had the kind of time that you do to search high and low for den sites. I am curious...do you typically have special permission to wander around in the wooded areas/parks that you're searching in, or are you just going into state game lands and such? Are there certain parks/areas that you've been more successful in?

    1. Glad we share the struggle. I'm getting there though. Still more weeks of pupping season. Yeah, I work in multiple parks where I have permission to run these cameras (can't say too many specifics on here, as for the protection of my job and current wildlife in those parks). I also have many cameras on private properties that I hunt on or just for interest with these cameras (all with permission).