December Nature Notes
Tracks in the snow
As snow blankets the land it appears that wildlife is hidden but since land animals have to leave tracks when they move it provides us with the chance to peek into their activities.In an urban area, the most likely tracks to find are the cats and dogs. Cats, when walking, often place the hind foot exactly on top of the imprint of the front, so you find a characteristic double track which is easily recognised by the lack of any claw marks. A print is just about round in outline showing the four toe pads that touch the ground and the heel pad at the back. In fact cats have five toes on the front feet but one is so short it doesn’t feature in the footprint.
Dog claws do not retract into the fur like the cat so prints have obvious indications of the claw at the tip of each pad. A fox print has very similar prints to a dog but with enough differences to enable us to recognise which is which. Even for an animal of the same size, the fox print is narrower and there is a greater clearance between the two front toes and the back pad.
A line crossing the front edge of the outer toe pads will cross the back of the middle pads for a dog print, but not for a fox.
Squirrels often move in a series of jumps, particularly in snow so the track shows groups of 4 prints close together. The rearmost of the group are usually close together and made by the forefeet; the hind feet make marks outside and in front of these. Usually squirrel tracks start and end at a tree.
Rabbits hop on land with the forefeet close together. The larger back feet land further apart. Hare tracks can be quite similar, but of course the imprint is larger and there is a greater distance between them.
Friends from Scandinavia
Many Waxwings have already arrived from Scandinavia this winter. They are pinky-brown birds with a black face mask, black front and an upswept headcrest. The wings have a scarlet red blotch - like sealing wax on the secondary feathers. You may catch a glimpse of them feeding on hawthorn berries.
Other visitors are the red wings and fieldfares (See November Nature Notes).