Category Archives: Flora & Fauna

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! 

Mountain Flora of the United Kingdom

Foxglove

So named as naughty welsh fairies would offer the glove like flower to foxes for sneaking up on chicken roosts.

Through the winter when the plant loses its flowers, the leaves form a rosette to maintain a higher and more stable temperature.

The roots produce Digitalis, a drug used to treat Congestive Heart Failure.

Bilberry

A deciduous plant with a series of simple stalks which provide edible berries. Bilberry jam was given to WW2 pilots to maintain vitamin C intake.
Despite losing its leaves in the winter, the green stems still permit photosynthesis.

Stonecrop

Small white and pink flowers typically found on scree slopes and spoil tips.

Sphagnum Moss

Able to absorb up to 20 times its dry weight in water, commonly found lining a hanging basket! Sphagnum is a coloniser and changes the PH balance of the soil making it difficult for other plants to grow.

Used by injured soldiers in war to sterilise wounds.

 

 

Star Moss

Popular on the hills and growing in clumps in damp areas. The four-sided caps release spores into the air for reproduction. In some countries it is used to make tea to dissolve kidney stones.

Woolly Hair Moss

Growing on hills and exposed rocks. It dies out and becomes grey but once wet returns to green immediately.

Liverwort

Simple plants which grow in wet places such as streams.

Their thin leaves are poorly adapted to drying out.

Clubmosses

Fir – Alpine – Stag’s Horn

These plants have been around for nearly 400 million years and are one of the oldest plant groups still growing, pre-dating flowering plants by 275 million years. They would have grown up to 30m tall, and their remains are the bulk of the organic material forming coal.

 

 

Blood Eye Lichen

A crustose lichen that covers acid rocks in the uplands. Underneath the green lichen forms a snake like texture on top of which the fruiting bodies produce blood red discs. Often found on long abandoned settlements.

Devils Matchstick

Most commonly found lichen which flowers on top.

It grows on rotting wood and peat.

Dog Lichen

Its Latin name, Peltigera Membrancea means shield carrying.

It is one of the larger-lobed lichens with grey and brown colour when wet and found in open damp meadows.

Rhizocarpon Geographicum

Known as map lichen. A crustose lichen easily found on sunny acidic rocks.

It is bright yellow with small black fruiting bodies.

 

 

Pixie Cup Lichen

Small rounded cups, and commonly found on rotting wood, on walls and among mosses. It can withstand pollution.

The two types; Cladonia Pyxidata and Cladonia Fimbriata are easily confused. The latter used to cure the whooping cough.

Reindeer Moss

A fruticose lichen, growing in mats of white and light green colour.

It is a typical ‘model railway tree’ lichen, common on heaths and peat bogs.

Barren Strawberry

Low and hairy perennials with white flowers. Growing on dry grounds and in the woods.
The fruits are dry and not as yummy as real strawberries. Its welsh name LLwyn coeg-fefus means empty strawberry shrub.

Mossy Saxifrage

Creating a moss like mat to protect from the dry winds found higher upland.

It is an arctic-alpine species often found on rock ledges and seen in quantity around Cwm Idwal.

 

 

Wood Sorrel

A woodland species preferring shade, often confused with clovers or, when flowering, the Snowdon lily.

When fresh the leaves taste like green apples but should be eaten sparingly as they can bind calcium in the body leading to nutrient deficiency.

Heath Bedstraw

Grows small white flowers in grassy places from June to August and creates a dense mat like layer, mixing with other grasses.

Once spread on stone floors for its fragrance, although not everyone like the smell…

Milkwort

It can flower either blue, pink, mauve or white! Common in calcareous (lime rich) and acid (lime deficient) grassland areas.
The leaves can be used for tea. Named so as it is thought that the plant can increase the milk flow of a nursing mother.

Tormentil

A small four-petal flower with the nickname ‘walkers companion’.

Found between April and October and on every grassy hill. It looks small but can grow up to a meter searching for sunlight.

A tea can be made from the roots and is a medical marvel said to cure fever, diarrhoea, burns, cholera, dysentery, sore throats, irritable bowel syndrome & mouth ulcers.

 

 

Butterwort

Grows in nitrogen deficient bogs. Blue flowers group above the starfish like leaves. It is an insectivore trapping insects on its leaves.

Its leaves were once used to curdle milk and as a laxative.

Common Cotton Grass

Grows in acidic bog lands and shows where not to walk.

Used to cure diarrhoea.

Hares Tale Cotton Grass

Similar to cotton grass but only growing in tussocks and with one single flower spike.

Cross Leaved Heath

Usually the first of the three heathers in Snowdonia to flower and prefers wetter ground.
They tend to be pinker than bell heather and the flowers cluster around the head.

 

 

Sundew

Found in acidic soils and able to curdle milk. Another insectivore. The liquid is able to cure warts, corns and bunions.
Tiny pink hairs carry a sticky enzyme to trap insects.

Bell Heather

An evergreen that indicates dry ground.

Produces nectar and haunts for bees.

Ling Heather

Commonly confused with bell heather, it provides food for many sheep.

Crowberry

An evergreen which forms in dense mats. The berries are pink then ripen to black.

Easily identified from a white line on the underside of needles.

Gorse

Dense clumps of vegetation unpleasant to touch or walk through. It is a coloniser as it blocks the light of other plants.
However, it provides habitat for birds and rodents.

 

 

Snowdon Lily

One of the national parks rarest plants growing in just five craggy locations.

Mat Grass

Pale grass that forms dense tufts which always looks dry.

Large patches indicate unsustainably heavy grazing on mountainsides.

Purple Moor Grass

Reddish coloured grass that’s a good indicator of boggy ground. Green when young but red when maturing.
Sheep often avoid this plant nibbling around it whereas cattle would happily have a munch.

 

 

Bog Myrtle

A fragrant shrub also known as sweet gale which colonises damp areas. It is able to change its sex from one year to the next.

Midges also avoid bog myrtle making it a natural repellent.

Bracken

 

Originally a woodland plant, it spreads across the hillsides. Traditional uses include animal bedding.

However it can harbour ticks which pass Lyme disease to humans and cattle. The spores, released in the autumn are also carcinogenic.

Hard Fern

 

A common fern found in shady places and rock crevices. The fertile fronds will stand and remain evergreen whilst the unfertile fronds will die away during the winter.

It can be used as an emergency food source and is thought to alleviate thirst, however the leaves are carcinogenic.

 

 

Parsley Fern

A coloniser on scree slopes and restricted to well drained acid rocks.
It is a look alike but not taste alike to parsley.

Snowy Waxcap

A white and greasy cap found in sheep cropped grass or open woodland. It is pure white whilst young then tinges ivory with age.
Found late summer to autumn and inedible.

Shaggy Ink Caps

 

Also known as the judge’s wig, an edible species which can be found on lawns and roadside verges late summer and autumn and best eaten while young.

Not easily confused with other species, it will blacken and turn to an inky fluid.

Shiny Hay Cap

A tall mushroom found in cow dung in Snowdonia’s northern mountains. Growing up to 15cm tall and 5cm across.
When the cap is dry it is shiny- not edible!

 

 

Liberty Cap

Known otherwise as ‘magic mushrooms’. They contain the hallucinatory drug Psilocybin.
Growing in sheep cropped grass and distinctive with a pointed bell-shaped cap, tall stem late summer to autumn.

Butter Waxcap

Found in sheep cropped grass in small groups, its greasy cap and dry stem with an orange tinge become flatter as they mature.
They are inedible.