Where the, um, llamas and the, um, foxes play
Do you know that old song Home on the Range? Do you know the line that goes: “Give me a home, where the buffalo roam, and the deer and the antelope play”?
Well, in one small town situated along the Madison River, their version of Home on the Range goes more like: “Give me a home where the sheep roam, and the fox and the llamas play”.
Welcome to Ennis, Montana. Home to the world’s most bizarre fox den.
Before Jill and I set out for the summer, we wrote about a few animals that eluded us during past trips, including our inability to find a fox den.
One of our good friends, Judy Lehmberg, decided to make it her mission to help us break this curse.
Prior to our arrival in Yellowstone, she had come across an incredible fox den that was home to what could be a record 14 kits. She willed the foxes to stay, but in the end, they relocated the den before we arrived.
So it was back to the drawing board until friends Sherri and Jack O’Brien noticed what appeared to be fox kits hanging out in a sheep farm just outside of Ennis.
How they spotted the foxes – or even bothered to look for anything other than sheep in the farm – I’ll never know. But Sherri told Judy and Judy gave us the instructions of where to look: a farm full of sheep. Oh, and a few llamas.
What?! Llamas?? Okay…
So Jill and I took time away from our daily run out to Sedge Bay to look for bears and made the trek through West Yellowstone, past Quake Lake and up the Madison to the town of Ennis.
Not shockingly, it wasn’t hard to find a sheep farm being shared with the odd llama.
We set up our cameras on the fence surrounding the property and aimed at a dirt mound in the middle of the field that was supposedly a fox den.
Soon, two more photography friends of ours, Marcy and Don, showed up also with the hope of seeing the kits.
It became a full-blown stake-out.
And finally, a kit popped out of the den.
And then another.
This was awesome!
But I was fascinated to see what, if anything, would transpire between the foxes, sheep and llamas.
As time dragged on, it started to feel a bit weird about aiming large camera lenses at someone’s private property. And on cue, the owner pulled up.
I really wasn’t sure what to expect, but the owner of the farm, Donna, couldn’t have been nicer or more hospitable. She only asked if we could send her images of the foxes should we be lucky enough to see them. And she was kind enough to allow us onto her property, so long as we were careful around the llamas.
Yes, llamas. They can be scary.
I learned from Donna that these particular individuals (one of whom clearly is the missing member of Kiss) are rescue llamas, but also serve a very specific purpose: They keep the wolves away. Llamas will vigorously defend their home and will keep predators at bay who might threaten their co-residents, in this case the sheep. (It’s nice to see innovative, non-lethal means being used to keep the peace between landowners and wolves.)
The sheep love their llama overlords. And apparently, so do the foxes. (How the llama can tell the difference between a wolf and a fox – aside from its size – and know one isn’t a threat, I don’t know.) The fox family was never scared of the sheep or llamas, nor they of the foxes.
As the sun started to set, I decided to try a different angle where I could get some nice light on the faces of the foxes. I also decided to lay down to get as close to eye level with the canines as possible.
Jill didn’t have quite the same desire to join me. It might have been the fact the bugs were getting bad. And that my location was littered with sheep feces – or, more to the point, I was laying in sheep dung.
But it also might have had something to do with the llamas. They freaked him out.
In fact, as I was laying on the ground, still and quiet, I began to worry about the llamas. Were they mean? Would they attack? Was I a sitting – um, laying? – duck?
I was becoming paranoid. I was beginning to get incredibly scared.
Thankfully I had no reason to be afraid, as the llamas just looked at me like the fool I was laying in sheep excrement.
And thankfully, the foxes also took pity on me.
With the last minutes of light, the kits, one-by-one…
…decided to peak out from the den…
…and eventually try to get a good look at the fool on the ground before them.
It was an incredible sequence of shots as the kits looked on with curiosity…
…and head-shaking wonder.
And it was all made possible by the kindness of friends and one incredibly generous landowner.
There is one brief post-script.
As I waited and waited for the foxes, it became clear we wouldn’t make it back to Yellowstone in the light, so we ended up staying over in Ennis. A cooler small town you will not find. I know Jill will be writing up the review, but if you ever have the chance to visit, you must.
I gather there is much to explore around the town, but in the morning, of course, the siren call of foxes beckoned and I spent several more hours at the den. Though I only caught one brief glimpse of a kit, I was rewarded with another odd sight before the weather turned on me.
As I was waiting for the foxes, I heard a noise to my right and looked over to see a deer jumping the property fence.
As I was processing what I saw, a second one jumped.
Thankfully, by the time I realized a third was about to jump, I had my camera locked on the action.
A different kind of deer image than I usually capture and it made me realize that it’s not only the foxes and llamas that play in Ennis, but clearly the deer and the antelope as well.
I definitely felt very much at home on this range.
Tags: ennis, ghost bear photography, jill cooper, lama, montana, nature, red fox, simon jackson, wildlife photography, yellowstone