A year with the foxes: Professional photographer Colin Brister on the vixen and cubs who have been visiting his back garden in Bishop's Stortford since first lockdown
It has been a year since the foxes started to visit us. Every night they come and every night it is a joy to see them.
It all started at the end of February 2020 with the purchase of a trail camera (a motion-activated video camera). I'd been photographing some local barn owls but they had become elusive, so I put the trail camera in place so I could out-twit them by remotely filming them hunting and getting to understand their routines better. Then lockdown happened in March and I had to bring the camera home.
I put it up in the back garden, just to see what our cat Hollie was up to at night. The next morning, there was some great footage of Hollie... but I was astonished to see two foxes roaming around the garden. Being a photographer, it was like Santa had dumped the entire contents of his sleigh in the back garden!
My partner Alex and I are lucky enough to live in a lovely cottage in Barrells Down Road in Bishop's Stortford. To the front it faces a park and woods, and the rest is surrounded by houses.
Our back garden is long and narrow. The previous year we had converted a dull patch of lawn at the end into a wild area. We introduced wildflowers in the hope that we would attract more insects for me to photograph. As it turned out it was a perfect area for Hollie to hone her hunting skills on poor unsuspecting butterflies and bees – we nicknamed it 'The Killing Field'.
It was this area that the foxes were entering via a hole in the fence and then working their way down our path.
We started to feed them leftover cat food, and leftovers such as chicken (no bones) and nuts, running the trail camera every night so that we were able to work out their routine.
I also added a driveway security sensor (we love Amazon), so an alarm went off in the kitchen when the foxes arrived.
Alex noticed that one of the foxes looked like she might be nursing, but we thought no more about it.
It was now mid-March and the primroses, forget-me-nots and daffodils were out, so it was a perfect backdrop for some fox photography.
That night I set up a pop-up hide and a couple of flash units – one to light the fox, one to light some of the flowers/background – and I crawled in.
At 1am the vixen came into the garden and down the path. She stopped and sat. Pop went the flash and the vixen was gone. She returned two hours later to eat. Each night I got one shot, then she ate.
Three weeks into our very slow shooting routine, the vixen turned up, I got my shot – and three cubs appeared. I remember having a huge grin on my face and I had to try not to jump up and down in my flimsy hide. I was so excited.
It was time to get the new stars used to flash photography.
The little cubs were so much easier to photograph as they were almost fearless. They turned up at 8pm each evening (a far more respectable time) and ate while I captured some great images. Occasionally they would run off and sneak back later.
It was a bit of a game. If I clicked or barked at them, they would turn and growl or squeak back at me. I had a chance to photograph them from many angles, even sinking a camera into the flower bed one night.
Over summer we were able to sit out on the warm evenings and they would come in for their dinner around 10pm. We had to sit very still with no lights on, but they would feed about two metres from us.
You could see them keeping an eye on the new silhouettes – one move or noise and they would vanish into the night.
We have never tried to tame them and we are happy for them to be scared of humans. We don’t mind giving them a helping hand and it's great to see them in such great condition, but they are still wild animals.
To this day, we still have the pleasure of these beautiful creatures every night and it still brings a smile to my face, whether watching them from the kitchen window or photographing them from behind the wheelie bin.
They know we are watching them and I am sure they give a knowing glance every so often. We're now looking forward to this year's cubs.
* Colin Brister, 52, lives in Barrells Down Road, Bishop's Stortford, with his partner Alex, who works as a HR manager. They have five grown-up children from previous relationships and four grandchildren, and are due to marry in June, Covid permitting.
A former decorator, Colin has been a professional motorsport photographer for the past 12 years. He is an associate member of the British Institute of Professional Photographers (ABIPP) and was awarded silver in the Federation of European Motorsports Photographer of the Year 2020. He is also a member of Bishop's Stortford Camera Club.
"My hobby is photography – it's the only thing I do," he said.
"My subjects range. I still cover motocross every weekend in muddy fields all over the UK, but have recently found other avenues. One is providing nature and equine artworks for a local gallery. I've produced two books on photography and lighting."
Colin also enjoys eMTB (electric mountain bikes) and called it the "greatest fun since I rode motocross". Last year he suffered three broken ribs and needed 21 stitches. "I think the photography is safer but still ride a few times a week," he said.