Signs of Animals in the Snow

Winter time is great for tracking animals, not only does it provide an interesting activity when the higher summits can be somewhat inaccessible, it also happens to be the time when animal tracks are easiest to spot and follow.

Animals such as birds and some amphibians draw a fair amount of attention to themselves so it's easy to know when they're around. Mammals, on the other hand, are secretive and silent for most of the year. Fortunately, they leave the most definite signs of passage.

Read on to find out more about animal tracks!

The first thing to deal with is some basic tracking terminology that will help to explain and highlight certain things later down the line.  

A 'Track' is an impression left in soft ground, or snow.

A collection of tracks, as well as accessory marks such as tail or body drag,  becomes a 'Trail'.

Trails are able to tell us many things about a particular animal. For example its age, sex, condition and speed it was moving.

 

Successfully tracking animals does not rely on some mystic gift. It's really down to observation and placing together bits of information that have been laid down in front of you by animals that have passed by earlier.
 
Even just by having a good look for animal tracks you can turn any countryside walk into a view into the life of our animals! 
 
Animal tracks can be broken into two categories, those with Cleaves and those with Pads.
Cleaves belong to animals classed as 'Ungulates', either odd-toed such as horses or even-toed such as cattle, pigs and deer. The impressions of the cleaves are called 'slots' and sometimes a 'dew claw' is shown depending on species. Reindeer will show in any circumstance, as will Wild Boar, others when the ground is soft and others still never at all.

Those with pads include digital pads, interdigital pads and proximal pads. The digital pads are most likely to be presented, and proximal pads only usually presented if the impression is set deep into the ground, possibly if the animal has been running..

 

This is the track of a Hare bounding in the direction toward the photographer. The direction can be determined as the two larger pads (hind fore) strike the ground in-front of the smaller pads (front fore) before pushing the front fore forward again.
 
Distinctively different to the track of this Fox, whose arrow straight track (heading off toward Mont Blanc in this case!) is characteristic of predator tracks.
 

Notice how all four pads are in a single line, or very close to, the centre line of the body. There is also a direct registration of each pad, which differs from a dog who's pads frequently overlap, known as an indirect registration.

 Squirrel tracks are most often found (unsurprisingly?) at the base of trees. They are given away by their butterfly shaped outline, where the hind pads again land in-front of the fore pads and are further from the centre line. In the above  photo the Squirrel is heading toward the trees.

When's the best time to see tracks?

Seeing signs of animals is easiest when the sun is casting a slight shadow over the ground, so either in the morning or the evening. Of course they're still there at midday, but the overhead sun tends to drown the tracks out and make following them trickier. 

Looking at the best medium for tracks also provides the highest likelihood of finding something and being able to identify what kind of animal it was. A dusting of light, fresh snow on a hard surface, such as a back-garden patio makes an excellent medium for seeing tracks.

Deeper snow is great for finding small mammals and bird tracks as they leave crisp, detailed impressions. However with larger mammals, detail is often distorted and enlarged.

 

So next time your enjoying a winter walk, take a look below your feet and see what other animals are enjoying sharing the countryside with you! 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *