Tracking wildlife in snow
Fresh snow is magical in many ways. Personally I'm very found of the whispering sound of skiis through the soft powder snow. But it's also awesometo get yourself out, trodding, on snow shoes or skiis to track widlife. In the snow lies "facebook of the woods" for anyone to read if curious, inquisitive and accurate. I can't say I'm an expert on tracking wildlife, but I think it's very interesting and fun to play detective. In this post I'll share some photos of common and a couple of rare tracks here in Tiveden.
Short about tracking:
Anything that moves leaves traces, from footprints, sleeping spots, bite marks, poop, circles on the water etc. What we're focusing on in this post is tracks made in snow and a pile of poop. Simply since that's what I've found this week. To track is an art in itself. It's not only about telling what animal that passed by, but to get to know the wildlife, understand how it moves through the landscape and why.
The size of prints in the snow vary a lot. Partly it depending on the animals age, if it's hind or front paw, depth and consistensy of snow and how old the print is. A print that have melted are bigger than a fresh one. Often when we stumble on tracks, we tend to think it's a much bigger animal than it actually is.Always start considering dog or fox before you jump to the conclusion that you have found wolf prints. If you choose to follow a fresh stride (trail of prints), always track backwards. You'll never catch up with a wild animal, at the most you will stress it, which is nothing but unnecessary. It's just as exciting following the tracks backwards, finding out what the animal did before your paths were crossed.
When asking for help on internet to define a print:
Take many pictures, of several prints, also take photos of the stride. A folding rule is the best reference, partly to decide the size of the print, but also to measure the stride. Otherwise you use what you've got at hand and write how big the item in question is. Matchboxes are popular for this, the small ones, not the bigpack household boxes. In my photos you'll find my linscap (77 mm) or my hand next to the print.
- Folding rule
- Ev. Book about tracking or this post
- Fika, (hot drink and a snack) one always needs to bring fika.
I think their prints looks like little hearts. The roe deer often drag their feet a little when they ain't in no hurry. On a distance it reminds a some of the track of skiis.
Very similar to dogs' prints. Here youäve got t take a look at the stride. The fox keeps on straigth lines, following the shorline, woods brim or make wide soft curves. If it's on a leisure strol the prints will be seen in pairs, slightly diagonal to one another and 30-40 cm between each pair. As in most canine prints, there's a X between the toes and the pad.
I rarely see clear prints of mice. Usually it's just tiny holes in the snow and a thin line in between, where a little mouse has scurried over the snow with it's tail on tow.
For obvious reason - much larger prints than the roe deer. I use to thik of the shape of the moose print as a cracked stylized coffee bean. Sometimes you see small dots behind the sprawling hoof mark, that means the moose left in a hurry.
The stride looks a bit like the letter Y. Two larger prints spread up front and två smaller, tight together, behind. The smaller ones are the front paws, as the hare gallops through the snow.
The first I look for when I suspect it's a lynx' print, is that the toes are place slightly asymmetric. The three outer toes on a diagonal and the inner toe slightly lower. The size of the print lies between 7-11 cm and there's a bow between the toes an the pad. In the photos above you see lynx' tracks in thin snow on ice and in five centimeter fresh snow. In deeper snow the lynx' print looks round.
It's hard to distinguish wolftraks from the tracks of a big dog on your own. A wolf print measures about 10-12 cm (length). Some talks of the angles of toes, visible claws etc. My best tips are 1. Are there any human tracks nearby? If yes, are both human and canine prints of same age? Yes = big dog. No = maybe wolf. 2. Does the stride go straight across the landscape or does it make loops? A dog is usually sniffing around, running back and forth. An undisturbed wolf saves it's energy to get forward, walking purposive for long distances. I haven't found any good prints to show you, but a huge pile of wolf poop! There are visible innards in it, and pieces that had melted a little in the sun were black and fine grained. More over Länsstyrelsen had got an observation of the local wolf family passing by the spot recently.
Maybe not so wild, but the prints are easy to mix up with fox or wolf. Compare with the prints above to the fox' prints.
Have you found tracks of wolf, lynx, wolverine or bear in Sweden or Norway recently? Please, take pictures and report to skandobs.se by doing this you'll help länssytrelsen/SNO to gather information on our big predators. It might give them information baout if there's been any new cubs this year, how they move and which individuals that are still alive. If you find poop, take a sample and send it to länsstyrelsen/SNO, they take DNA samples from it.
Books on the subject:
Do you want to read more about tracking? Then I'd like to recommend "Tom Brown's field guide to nature observation and tracking". It takes a holistic grip on tracking and nature observation, that I'm very found of. Then, one should take Browns' personal anecdotes with a pinch of salt.
Track in peace!