Have you ever wondered who or what you share your outdoor space with? Finding footprints is a one way to find out and they can tell you a lot about what they get up too.
This time of year there is usually plenty of mud about and maybe even some snow, both of which are great places to look for footprints left by wildlife. It may take a while to get your eye in but once you find one, the chances are you will find loads. The places we tend to go are also popular with dog walkers so you may need to go off the beaten track a little to find something other than dog prints.
Top tip: to tell the difference between a fox and dog print draw a cross between the pads. If the lines touch the pads then it is a dog, if no part of the 2 straight lines touch the pads then it is a fox.
As well as looking for wildlife we also had fun making and looking at human prints and the patterns on people’s shoes.
It can be difficult to distinguish footprints in busy areas or areas with lots of leaf litter etc… setting a trap can clear things up a little for you. Pick an area you think may be a wildlife walkway, preferably away from high human activity and then either smooth an area of mud and remove leaves and twigs or lay down a good layer of sand. This leaves a blank canvas for the wildlife to decorate. Leave it over night and hopefully when you return to it, there will footprints to discover.
Take the footprints home:
If you are not sure whose footprints you are looking at you can take a print to take home with you very easily. Simply place a piece of paper over the prints and rub gently with a flat hand to make an impression on the paper. This will instantly give you the size and shape that you can then take home and look up in a book or on the Internet. You can take a photo of course too. You could also use these to make a scrapbook or fact file. Measure the footprints, this can help identify the species, it may even tell you if it is a juvenile or adult. Is it the animal’s front or back foot, some species differ. Find a picture of the animal to put next to your print, find some interesting facts about the animal to add to the page. The possibilities are endless for a curious mind.
This works particularly well with fresh snow when there are less prints and tracks to confuse things.
Find a footprint, can you see another that is the same near by? It is more than likely to be the same animal, keep looking for more and see if you can follow where the animal goes. Look at how fast the animal is moving, the further apart the prints are the faster the animal is moving. Does it meet other animals along the way? Does it go to a particular plant, perhaps it’s having a snack. Your story may turn out to be a tragedy. You may be following rabbit prints that suddenly stop when it meets fox prints, you may even see signs of a fight, perhaps some blood or fur. Perhaps they meet a friend, you may see the same prints that have come from a different direction. Let your imagination run wild and write your own wildlife sagas from what you find.