Constant and careful observation are vital to the naturalist, while it is of course also essential to be able to interpret what is seen. Animals leave a variety of signs of their presence and, since so many are nocturnal, such indications are invaluable in telling us what species are around.
Footprints, droppings or ‘scats’, food remains, hair, scent and living quarters all play their part. For example, the entrances to badger setts, which can be quite numerous, are at least 12 inches in diameter and the approaches to them are often trampled paths, clearly defined, through constant use. When collecting bedding in the form of grass or other plant material, a badger gathers it up under the chin and waddles backwards to the sett. A good method, but quite a lot is dropped along the way, leaving a distinct and unmistakeable trail.
Similarly, badgers make ‘latrines’, in the vicinity of their setts, small pits dug in the ground in which they deposit their faeces. Again, they are creatures of habit, regularly using the same tracks and if a tree happens to fall across such a route the badger will scramble over the trunk, rather than go around it, and is likely to leave distinct clawmarks in the process.
The red squirrel often adopts a favourite spot at which to extricate the kernels from nuts, or the seeds from pinecones, the debris remaining and clearly indicating that there is a drey in the vicinity.
Size, shape, colour, scent and content are all important. Size obviously reflects the size of the animal, while teasing apart to examine the contents can reveal much about the animal responsible. Some of the mustelids, such as the pine marten, mink and polecat can be difficult to identify for certain in this way, but the introduction of DNA analysis has solved that problem.
Footprints can be a great help too, especially where clearly imprinted on soft ground or snow. In the case of deer for example, there are distinct differences in both size and shape between red, roe, fallow, and muntjac.
Some birds also leave clues such as droppings and pellets. The peregrine falcon often adopts a ‘plucking post’, a site to which it repeatedly returns with prey, in order to pluck it before carrying to the nest site to feed its partner or young. This results in a substantial patch of feathers often noticeable at some distance, indicating that there is an eyrie in the vicinity.
These and many other signs help to tell us what wildlife there is about, and it is surprising how many clues can be discovered with a little practice.
13 November 2018 by AlanGane
West Cumbria Rivers Trust has said 'Volunteers are needed to survey our local rivers'
A group of organisations from the Cumbria Strategic Flood Partnership have produced a practical guide to natural flood management measures which has been released this week to aid farmers, landowners and other interested organisations with opportunities to help reduce flood risk across Cumbria and Lancashire.
This “SOCKTOBER” SMARTWOOL aims to REPAIR & RESTORE SCAFELL PIKE with your help. Every pair of Smartwool Socks sold in October, Smartwool will donate £1 to Fix the Fells.