The Gray Fox of Desert Photo Retreat

Ron Niebrugge Arizona, Photos, Travel, Tucson 2 Comments

Gray fox, Desert Photo Retreat, near Tucson, Arizona.

Gray fox, Desert Photo Retreat, near Tucson, Arizona.

A small, timid gray fox at the water hole near our RV at about 2 a.m. this morning.  I’ll explain why that may be significant, but first a little history.

When we first starting coming here, I was thrilled to see two very cooperative gray fox adults!  I had only seen one other one in the wild, in Red Rock Canyon at sunset near Las Vegas about 10 years ago.

These two foxes were very comfortable with our presence.  We would see them coming and going to the water hole before sunset.  It wasn’t uncommon for them to perch on a rock near our sitting area and check us out by the camp fire.  They would even watch from the mountain side as I built the first blind.  Tracks made it clear they liked to use our car as a perch during the night as well.  We have neighbors about a quarter of a mile away, and they have been watching the fox for 8 years which is probably why they were used to humans.   My game camera showed them with three young ones last summer and that had us extra excited!

It was great to see them again this fall, and everything seemed the same as before until one night in December.  After dark, we heard one heck of a commotion, that sounded like gray fox.  I wasn’t sure if it was fighting or mating – hard to differentiate with these guys. 🙂  I even got in my car to see if I could find anything, but nothing.

However, from that point on, the pair acted very different.  They still came to the waterhole during the night, but we would never see them during the daylight hours as they were definitely more cautious.    As time went on, we came to the conclusion that this was a new pair that had taken over this territory.   What was also interesting, before the confrontation in December, we would see lots of scat piling up in our driveway day after day – this is how gray fox mark their territory.  Now, no more scat piles.  I almost made a post about being at ground zero of a turf battle.  It is too bad we will never know for sure what happened.

Over recent weeks, maybe longer, the gray fox activity really has picked up at our two waterholes.   We would see 10 visits a night or more.  They can’t be that thirsty.  Granted, there are often mice at the waterhole as well, but it seemed like too much activity and I started suspecting we had more than just the two animals.  Some of our guests who came here to photograph the fox started commenting on the same thing.  If the two came to the waterhole at the same time, they would be bold and playful, often climbing and swinging on the cholla perch.  Making it harder to know what is happening is the pair doesn’t always travel together, but they have been this month  That said, we would also see at least one or two other foxes at the water hole that behaved very differently.  They would crawl up to the water very slowing, grab a drink and jump back.  Even when I didn’t have flashes up there, you could tell they were scared.  Their shy and timid behavior made me think they were different fox.

Well last night at around 7:30 p.m. my assumption was confirmed by my game camera.  This is the first time I have seen three adults at the same time.   You can tell that one is very submissive and is eventually chased off.  That is why I was glad to see the fox in the above photo show up at 2:00 a.m., I’m assuming it survived the confrontation.  That, or there is more than one “shy” one, which is also likely.

In past years with just one fox pair here, they might visit the water hole two or three times a night.  I track visits to the waterhole each night – if more then 10 minutes goes by between sightings I count it as a new visit, although it could be the same fox as I can’t differentiate them especially on the IR game camera.  Last night by comparison, fox made 14 visits to just the upper water hole (Great Horned Owl – 3), and 10 more visits to the the water by our RV.  That is why I think we have three, and very possibly more here right now.  To be continued…  Below are the game cam captures from last night.

Three adults at the same time – notice one hiding behind the perch.


Larger adult approaching one of the smaller, shy foxes.


Notice how passive the small fox is behaving.

The two larger fox chasing the smaller one.


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