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  • Writer's pictureAilie Brown

Wildlife Tracks, Clues and Poos in the Cairngorms

Updated: May 19, 2023


When we are out and about on our Guided Day’s Out, we are always on the look out for evidence of where wildlife has been. It’s always wonderful to have a chance encounter with a Red Squirrel leaping through the branches; a Badger snuffling its way in the undergrowth at dusk or an Otter fishing in the River Spey. However, it’s sometimes just as exciting to find tracks, clue’s or poo’s of these elusive mammals.


Tracks

Along river bank’s are good places to investigate for Otter tracks as sand and mud hold footprints for a few hours. Otter’s often take shortcuts on river bends or through smaller streams they will use the easiest way to get to the next part of the river. They leap and leave two sets of print’s together and a mark in the mud where the tail has been dragged behind is a tell tail sign, excuse the pun.


Otter tracks in the snow along a river bank.
Otter tracks along the River Spey (Ailie Brown)

Squirrels also leap, however, they leap and land with their front and back feet almost together. They quite often forage on the ground looking for cached food during the winter. Little paws, quite often along a path close to feeders, or in between large Scots Pine tree’s. During the winter months, when there is snow on the ground, looking for tracks can be easier than during the summer.


Red Squirrel foot prints in the snow.
Red Squirrels leap leave little prints n the snow (Ailie Brown)

Clue’s

Pinecone’s are a staple source of food for a lot of creatures in the Cairngorms. Crossbills, Squirrels, Mice all feed on the seeds, however, they all eat in different manner, therefore leaving Pinecone’s chewed in different ways.


Squirrels strip the pine cone and leave the core, almost like eating an apple core. Mice nibble away at the cone’s leaving ragged edges, Crossbills pull out the seeds, opening the layers of seeds, and then drop them to the forest floor to be scurried up by a mouse.


two pinecones, one has been chewed by a squirrel leaving the core.
Clear evidence of Squirrels nibbling on pine cones.

If you have ever had the privilege of watching a Badger foraging, they use their massive paws to dig away at logs, and small crevices in the ground. They have clear trails in the undergrowth, and you can see where the soil has been disturbed or logs been rolled over.


One more ‘clue’ or evidence I stumble upon frequently is a pile of feathers. Sparrow Hawks are a usual suspect. Taking it’s food elsewhere to eat, if disturbed, it’s usually a pile of feather’s left, and normally a sign of a recent predation.


Poo’s

Badgers dig small pits called ‘latrines’ and like other mustelids, are twirled round.

Otter spraints are a sign of their territory and are usually found on top of a rock or mound along the banks of a river.


Top left: Badger, Top Right: Rook Pellet, Bottom Left: Otter spraint, Bottom Right: Pine Marten


Pine Marten is small in size, in comparison to Badger, and is twisted round. During the autumn months, it’s a sign the Pine Marten’s are enjoying the array of Bill berries on offer as their poo is the colour blue!


Pellets are not an often find for myself, however I recently found this rook pellet, Owl’s, Buzzards and even crows leave pellets, pulled apart you can see what’s been on the menu.


During our Guided Day’s Out in the Cairngorms National Park, we come across all sorts of animal activity, these are just a few example’s of what we might find.

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