Algonquin Provincial Park (APP) is one of the best spots in North America to see and photograph native mammals. Moose, wolves, and bears are some of the larger favorites, but the winter months has a couple more animals that are highly sought after: Red Foxes and Pine Martens. In late December of last year I spent a highly enjoyable day in Algonquin Park with a couple of friends with the main purpose of photographing those Red Foxes, and perhaps a Pine Marten or two.
After entering the park the first full stop, after a brief but unproductive peek at Spruce Bog Trail, was at a spot known for Pine Marten sightings. It took a bit waiting but finally a Pine Marten emerged from the forest, then a second one. A large member of the weasel family, these guys are impressively agile climbing trees – rivalling, and possibly able to out-manoeuvre squirrels. Normally wary, shy, and retreating, some of the Pine Martens at APP are rather curious and a bit more used to human presence and will come for closer looks – to the thrill of onlookers and photographers:
The Pine Martens both soon quietly slipped back into the woods, and after a while it was time to head out a little deeper into the park for foxes. As soon as we arrived at the location, three foxes were immediately seen patrolling the side of the snow-covered side-road we had travelled along (as a matter of disclosure, these Red Foxes are habituated by the presence of people and are easily found and readily come close). The trick is to photograph them in pleasing settings. They can be found resting in neat spots, and those are situations to take advantage of. They may at once-in-a-while sit or lie down for minutes at a time, giving time to move right and left, up and down in search of the best background and or “hide” small distractions behind them. Here is one of the better settings one was sitting in:
Red Fox, Canon 7D + 500mm f/4 II, manual exposure, evaluative metering, 1/640s., f/4.5, ISO 800.
These guys are often on the move, too, and good action images can be had. Overcast conditions meant that it did not matter where they were heading in relation to light angle – the diffused light was the same whichever angle they were photographed from. That opens up a lot of opportunities. For the image below, I timed the series when the fox had cleared distracting vegetation.
Photographing animals in the snow means exposing for the subject, even if you get “blinkies” in the snow – those highlights are easily recovered during raw conversion, usually with the “highlights” slider, depending on which software you use. Most of the snow in the loping fox image below was one big “blinky” that I was able to tone done via this method. The animal was perfectly exposed, albeit a bit washed out (normal for such exposures) – darkening the blacks did the trick to make the fox “pop” like it should.
Red Fox, Canon 7D + 500mm f/4, manual exposure, evaluative metering, 1/400s., f/4, ISO 800.
To keep the birders and bird photographers happy, no visit to APP is complete without the sighting of the beautiful Gray Jays. They are bold, and will feed in the hand. Lots of seeds and other food items offer to these jays are accidentally or inadvertently dropped in the snow – with the opportunist foxes not far behind to snatch the prizes – one factor that has undoubtedly made these foxes fearful of human presence. Waiting for a Gray Jay to wait patiently at the edge of a branch, with an out-of-focus distant background to make it stand out clearly, is a good strategy to use.
Gray Jay, Canon 7D + 500mm f/4, manual exposure, evaluative metering, 1/250s., f/4, ISO 800.
To close off this blog post, my favorite fox image of that day and subject of the “image behind the story”. I was in an opening in the forest, when one of the foxes appeared in the woods – about twenty yards in, and walking nose-down along a ridge lower than my position. I could see it through the trees as it made its way further along. I knew it would eventually come back up the ridge and out of a the woods into the clearing I was in. I decided to run in the hopes of passing it, and I plunked down flat on my belly near a gap in the trees, hoping against hop it would emerge from that very spot. It was a good run, perhaps fifty yards or so in thick snow, with backpack bouncing on my back. I pre-focussed on some branches near the opening, quickly checked my exposure to make sure no buttons were hit and spun during my run, and with heart beating strongly I waited with bated breath. I soon saw its shape within the forest and it sure looked like it was going to walk right along without coming out in the clear…but a last second turn, and there it appeared in my viewfinder in the exact spot I had pre-focussed. I hit the back-button focus with my thumb (a fox on the move needs to be tracked continually) and the shutter button with my index and got a beautiful series of the Red Fox on the prowl. This one was the first, and best, of the series with the perfect eye-to-eye view and front paw in raised motion! That image alone made the day trip to APP well worth it.
Even if I had come home without any images, Algonquin Provincial Park is well worth the visit. Most people associate the park with summer and autumn camping and wildlife, but the winter months offer just as many exciting things to see and photograph!