Iceland – Arctic Fox Delight
Back in March I led the inaugural tours for Wildlife Worldwide to Hornstrandir Nature reserve in the remote north-west of Iceland. Staying at the delightful Kviar Lodge, our sole focus here was the blue morph Arctic fox on our Arctic Fox Photography tour. Coming face-to-face with an Arctic fox has long been on my wishlist, particularly after seeing them in the wilds of Svalbard many years ago.
The lodge is situated on an uninhabited peninsular, over 40 km from the nearest settlement and only accessible by boat. Our voyage from Ísafjörður was not the smoothest, but on arrival a fox was running along the high snow bank above to greet us. It doesn’t really get any better for a wildlife photographer.
I led back-to-back trips in this spectacular landscape and enjoyed some of the very best photography opportunities I have enjoyed for many years. My clients were spoiled with all sorts of weather conditions and countless moments to capture some breathtaking imagery.
Here is just a taster of what we enjoyed …
As you can see, the first day was pretty wild with incredibly strong winds and a few snow storms. Although the photography was challenging, it was also particularly rewarding.
The weather was very changeable, as you would expect in Iceland during March, but that enabled us to photograph the different foxes in a host of different conditions. The photography was exceptional. I was able to use my phone to capture some wonderful images, that's how obliging they were ...
We were also treated to a marvellous display of Aurora borealis and all my first group were able to capture some stunning imagery.
But of course the primary focus was the Arctic foxes. Here is a selection of images from the second of the two departures - we really were incredibly lucky with the weather and the cooperative wildlife.
I hope the photos above have whetted your appetite - if you would like to join me in Iceland to photograph these charming foxes, there is still space remaining in March 2023. You can register your interest here.
Rural Fox Cubs
For many years I have struggled to find a family of rural foxes which I was able to photograph. Most rural foxes, and rightly so, are very wary of people and I usually don't want to disturb them. This year though, I stuck gold when out cycling, I cam across a family of foxes sunbathing on a rural lane, so I decided to head back to photograph them.
Upon arriving at the site I couldn't see anything, but I decided to stick it out and I was richly rewarded ...
As you can see, even a rural road gets traffic. Each time a car appeared, all of the cubs jumped into the hedgerow, taking cover in their earth and keeping out of trouble. Sadly, only a few days after I took the photo above, I found the body of this cub hidden in the hedge. It had been hit by a car and purposefully placed out of sight, it was a devastating blow and I was unable to photograph the family again - rightly so, the remaining cubs were very wary. It just goes to show the fragility of the natural world and the massive negative impact humanity has on the natural world.
Red Fox Cubs
I explore an area of the South Downs National Park which is rich in wildlife, with a wide variety of species. However, red fox are a species which are particularly hard to photograph in rural areas and here it is no different. I have been trying to find a fox den for years, but without any luck.
At the start of May I was walking down a track which is rarely used. The grass was already high and bending over the tyre marks, but there some fifty yards away was a fox cub. At first I thought the poor thing must have passed away, but as I crept up to where it was, I noticed it was breathing. I sat back and watched it shuffle a couple of times, trying to get comfortable and so I slowly made my approach.
To my astonishment, the fox cub stayed fast asleep, the ears didn’t even twitch as I crept ever closer. Eventually I was probably ten yards away and I just sat there watching. What an incredible privilege, what joy I had over the next fifteen moments or so.
Eventually the cub woke up, realised I was a potential threat and trotted off into the woods. I knew at this age the cub couldn’t be far from the den so I headed up into the woods and within minutes I had found the earth. I sat and waited by a nearby tree and was then treated to the following close encounter. I will never fully be able to comprehend the close approach of one of four fox cubs that evening, but it was an encounter that will stick with me for a long time.
Having had two Polar Bear sightings in as many days the morale was high among the group but sadly our planned excursion to find the Walrus haulout was a no go. It seemed that nobody was at home and so we moved on to the fhord at Faksevagen. Here we went off on our first proper walk to explore the Arctic Tundra.
We set off with our Norwegian guide Stein and headed up the hillside into the slight mist. Stein was completely relaxed and didn't seem at all worried by the possibility of any bears. We spotted a few Reindeer here and there but they all seemed to keep their distance from us, suddenly we had company ... a Purple Sandpiper. The bird blended in superbly well with the tundra and you can see why they breed in this terrain.
Then at long last the Reindeer came close enough for me to get a few shots, including the lovely male below which had a great set of antlers.
As we walked along the edge of a shallow ridge line we suddenly saw a white animal appear within only a few yards of us. Your reaction says Polar Bear but luckily it was only another Reindeer, and luckily for me he posed nicely for a few photographs too.
At the top of the ridge we had a sighting of the ship surrounded by an ice floe that had been at least half a kilometre away when we landed. It just goes to show how quickly the environment can change in this amazing landscape.
We headed back to the ship for yet another filling lunch before we headed to the amazing breeding colony of Brunnich's Guillemots at Alkefjellet. We were told to dress warmly as we were going to be on the Zodiacs for at least a couple of hours and possibly more depending on the quality of the sightings.
We went out onto the water in our Zodiacs and I had our Austrian guide Barbara (an expert on Glaciers). We made our way slowly towards the cliffs and at first there were just a few hundred birds on the tiny rocky outcrops, where each bird was incubating a solitary egg. However, as we made our way further along the cliffs, away from the ship the sky seemed to be filled with birds. The cliffs were towering above us, stained a mix of white and pink from the guillemots' droppings, and the birds were there in their thousands. The noise was quite amazing and it was an incredible spectacle which I feel truly honoured to have seen.
We were desperate to see our first Arctic Fox at Alkefjellet and when we came to a grass covered scree slopes it was the best chance we would have. We scanned and we scanned but we just couldn't see any movement ... then Barbara spotted one, our first Arctic Fox. She was so excited and we were too, it was a long way off but it was an amazing sighting.
We eventually decided to leave the fox alone and head back to the ship for the evening and yet another meal. Tonight we were heading to a fjord that has only be visited by a handful of vessels, even our expedition leader had never been there before. We were now really on a true Arctic expedition and heading into the unknown.
So after a busy evening already photographing the Fox cubs, the Roe Deer that turned up at the Fox den decided to hang around for a wee while and I photographed it for a few minutes before it moved off. I decided to head up the hill towards the local footpath and then back home. When I got to the top of the hill I noticed a young Roe Buck as well as a Doe. The wind was in my favour and I was able to get incredibly close, which of course meant I managed to get some images.
I spent around 10 minutes getting closer and closer until the wind changed and the Doe got spooked, moments later the Buck moved off too.
So a really productive evening again, Ropley is really providing the goods right now.
After a lovely warm weekend I decided I had to make the most of the warm light on offer, as the sun started to set I headed out with my camera. I planned to go for a short walk and see what was about more than anything but I was in for quite an evening.
I set off across the seemingly endless, rolling crop fields, the wheat and the barley gently swaying in the breeze. The golden light creating the long shadows of a summer's evening and Yellowhammers singing from each and every part of the hedgerow. The odd Skylark singing its delightful song overhead and Swallows skimming across the crops as I made my way towards the hill top and the woods that lay upon it. It was there I startled a Roe Deer with an accidental snap of a twig beneath my boot, a big Buck that went bounding off into the distance. I moved down to the field boundary to then notice some movement upon a hay bale, to my amazment there were three Fox cubs, no more than 10 yards away! They weren't afraid of me as such but they did slink off.
So then I did my best to find them again, after nearly half an hour I thought that the opportunity had passed, and perhaps it was time to head back home. Then I saw that tell tale red coat and there they were, three Red Fox cubs (all nearly fully grown) all sat in a line.
So having been spoilt rotten with the foxes, even if it was at a bit of a distance, I then got an opportunity to photograph Roe Deer as two came down the field boundary straight towards me. But for now I will just leave you with one of the more simplistic shots as she munched on her preferred vegetation. Part 2 to this blog post will be up soon ...
Barn Owl and a Fox Cub
Two sets of images for you this week. To start with the Barn Owl was out hunting again, over the water meadows at work. It is an amazing sight but slightly worrying seeing it out in the daylight again. On the Sunday I went round to see a friend and with the camera on standby I went to see whether I would have any luck photographing some Fox Cubs. Luckily for me one of the little devils was cooperative and rather inquisitive.
A lovely set of sightings for one weekend and I hope you like the photos ...