History Lessons – The Fox & Newt
Fox with a Great-crested Newt (1/320 second f 5.6 ISO 1250)
The evening of 5 July 2016 was clear and warm with a light breeze blowing from west. I arrived at Tophill Low after work to find the car park almost empty. My arthritic knee was painful but I was determined to venture outside and take some photographs so I slowly limped down the road towards ‘O’ reservoir.
When I arrived at the hide, several Little egrets were wading in the shallows. Most of the nesting wildfowl had already departed leaving the egrets to fish and squabble with their own kin. The lagoon was bathed in a soft warm evening light as the sun set behind the hide. The light was sufficiently intense for me to use a high shutter speed and capture some action images as the birds plunged their dagger like beaks into the water.
Around 8:30 pm, I was getting ready to leave. It was an hour before sunset and I was ready for a pint when I heard a barking scream from one of the egrets. I turned to see a fox on the shore about 50 metres away. A quick glance through my viewfinder confirmed that my shutter speed of 1/250 second was rather low for this shaded location—especially with the equivalent of a 700 mm lens on my camera. I quickly raised the ISO to 800 for the photograph below and to ISO 1250 for the other images on this blog.
I had been using my Nikon’s continuous auto-focus setting (AFC – 9 points) in order to capture the action of the egrets but this setting was unsuitable for the fox. I quickly changed to single point auto-focus (AFS – single point). I have found that this setting to be most useful for static or slow-moving mammals and it has the benefit that the focus point will not suddenly jump to the background vegetation.
I could see that the fox had something in its mouth but it was difficult to determine its prey. (I never bring my reading glasses with me when I’m photographing as there is always the temptation to become distracted scrolling through my images.) It was later when I emailed my photograph to the warden Richard Hampshire, that he confirmed that it was a Great-crested newt. The fact that it had fully protected status under the UK Wildlife Act, was irrelevant to this hungry fox.
Unfortunately, I didn’t see the fox devour the newt and I half expected it to return to its cubs with this morsel. Perhaps, the newt’s toxic skin may well have been too unpalatable for her young cubs digestion? (Though I note from my friend Marc Baldwin’s excellent web site Wildlife Online, that foxes rarely bring small animals such as voles back to their cubs, preferring to eat bite-sized prey as they continue to hunt.)
Thank-you for reading my fifth episode of my History Lessons blog. Five more to come over the next few weeks.