Wildlife in July - the practical photographer's guide

With the natural world bustling with life, July is a super time to get out and about with your camera in hand. This month it’s all about red foxes, one of the UK’s most charismatic mammals, and one that’s very often busy feeding cubs at this time of year.

Intelligent, with very acute senses, foxes can prove tricky. As creatures of habit however, a little detective work, research and effort can see you find them in pretty much any location in the UK. Frequent visitors to back gardens and local parks, in July while out busy hunting for their young, they’re often more visible. If you spot one on any given day (be it when with your camera or not) make a note of the location, as most places form part of the route a fox will take regularly when out in search of food. On paths foxes frequent, you’ll often find signs of their presence, such as droppings (often dark with a twist on the end), kill remains and sometimes hair (often around small holes in fence panels or small gaps where they’ve squeezed through).

Look for evidence
As you look around your local area you’ll start to build up a map of the spots they’re using, giving you some great places to start. One piece of kit that can be super for narrowing spots down is a trailcam - using these will give you video evidence of the movements and an insight into their activities. If you find a spot where they’re coming back to regularly throughout a day, it may be the site of a den, so look for any large holes of entrances as these sites are perfect locations for shooting images.

With breeding having happened much earlier in the year, females give birth to cubs in May and June and, after growing in the den, July is often the time the youngsters start to venture out. If you’ve been lucky enough to find a den, staking it out over a number of weeks will in many cases yield views of the parents and youngsters as they explore and play around their home.

Getting into position early is vital, as you’ll want to be part of the landscape as the cubs emerge on a given day. Be sure to take note of the prevailing wind direction, as being mammals, scent plays a large role in their detection of danger. Keeping downwind and concealing yourself with drab clothes or possibly a hide will help you to be accepted into the habitat more readily.

Take your time
Don't rush to grab a frame when the cubs first emerge, as this will likely result in your position being instantly detected. Sudden movements will cause them to be wary, so take it slow and shoot single frames to get them used to the sound of the shutter firing. With time they’ll soon accept it as a non-threatening sound.

Equipment wise, longer lenses are most often the preferred choice, with 300mm and above giving you a good working distance that won’t disturb the youngsters as they venture out for their first steps. After a few weeks gaining their trust a 70-200mm can prove to be the perfect solution, giving the option for close-ups as well as environmental portrait images.

Over time if they have regular play spots, working with a pre-positioned wide-angle camera that’s triggered by a remote can add another dimension to your shooting possibilities.

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With effort and time it’s possible to become accepted, and once this is achieved it allows for a wonderful insight into the lives of these fantastic creatures. Offering special encounters that will not only result in some stunning photographic opportunities, but equally moments that are simply wonderful to witness.

Remember that when following subjects you may need to venture onto private property. In order to do this be sure to get the land owner’s permission first in order to ensure they’re happy with you photographing on their land. Often the offer of a few prints can be a great way to break the ice and get the chance to work in new spots.

Tom Mason is one of the UK’s most exciting young wildlife photographers and conservationists. He leads workshops and seminars and writes a monthly blog for the RSPB. See more of his work here