There is nothing quite like waking up to a blanket of snow that has fallen overnight. The dull browns of the winter countryside are now shining and bright white. Watching wildlife in the winter can be harder with short daylight hours, birds calling less and weather not always on our side. However, wildlife is still around although we can’t always see it. Unless you see them in mud or sand, animal footprints can be hard to find but exciting to know what animals are in your garden. This is when the soft fresh snow can help. At first light after overnight snow, find and follow footprints to see where they go.
Red Squirrels are light on their feet as they move quickly across trees, so finding prints on the ground and without snow can be tricky. They move with a hop, so their front feet appear behind their hind and are around two inches in length. Their hind feet are larger than the front with five claws to be able to grip onto trees easier as they climb down.
Bird prints are relatively easy to identify and can be plentiful, especially around the feeding station. Their characteristic three long toe appearance and the way they appear in a straight line tells you the animal has two legs. Identifying species can be harder though, for this you need to go by size, from a small Robin to a larger Pheasant.
If you are in the countryside or anywhere near a Badger sett, they can be the easiest to find and identify. The width of their paws is wide, with the hindfoot around 6cm wide and their front paws thinner but showing their long claws, used for digging. It is easier to see their prints in the mud, often found at the entrance holes to setts, but following Badger tracks around your garden is interesting. Being a nocturnal animal, it gives you an insight into where they go at night to forage for food.
Not many people will have seen a Pine Marten print, but round about Speyside Wildlife hide or deep in the forests after a large snowfall can be a good place to start. If not clear, their prints can be confused with a cat as they are a similar size. They are thinner and because of the fur in between the pads, they often look like a silhouette. Definitely, an exciting footprint to find on a walk or in the garden.
Next time you are out after rain or after a fresh fall of snow, follow the footprints and try to identify the prints yourself and bring the children along as a fun activity to try.