Where the Wild Things Are

In the manicured beauty of Airlie Gardens a fox family thrives

By Isabel Zermani    Photographs by Charles English

Crossing my path at Airlie Gardens one day was a flash of orange so quick and soundless I thought my eyes had tricked me, but rounding the hedge brought a fox’s tail into full view. Then the fox’s body and face and eyes — orange, too, and focused with unwavering precision — until another flash, and she was gone.

My encounter with the foxy lady of Airlie seemed so unexpected, until I spoke with wildlife photographer Charles English who has been following the foxes for years. “This is the fourth generation,” says English of the new kits he’s seen this spring.

Adept at photographing the most fleeting of creatures — birds — English has nearly 50 years behind the camera, and both the equipment and patience to capture the secret life of the fox family. He’s 20 to 30 yards away, “sometimes I’m in a blind” — a concealing tent — “sometimes not,” English says. And he’s learned to wait. “I’ve waited three hours before,” for one seconds-long chance at a shot. But sometimes that shot is the mother fox nursing her still-black newborn kits or a moment with mother and father fox together — a rarity.

Notoriously private, sometimes the foxes can be spotted in the 67-acre garden and on one occasion, two foxes put on a show as they romped on the lawn. English, a garden member who lives three minutes away, happened to capture the scene.

As taken as I always am with Airlie’s winding paths, ancient mossy live oaks, and pond bejeweled with swans, I’m enraptured to know that just behind the rows of tulips, just under the azaleas, a different, wild beauty persists.

Airlie Gardens, a historic public garden, is open to the public every day between 9 a.m. and 5p.m. Tickets: $9 (Adults) $5 (NHC residents, military and children under 12) $3 (children under 4). While wildlife sightings are enjoyable, feeding or handling the critters is strictly prohibited. Their policy is to “let wildlife be wild.” 

Photographer Charles English, an avid surfer and native of Wilmington, is an award-winning wildlife and travel photographer. For more of his local wildlife photography, visit www.ten6.smugmug.com

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