Thursday, 11 December 2008

Snow answers some questions but raises others

The brief appearance of snow at the tail end of November brought a taste of winter proper and a temporary end to the dull overcast days that had gone before. That the snow had settled provided the impetus that I needed to take a walk out along the river and down to the lakes. Even though the snow had fallen during the morning, rather than overnight, I hoped that it might reveal the presence of some of our less obvious mammals.

Many other people had also been tempted out by the weather, a brisk walk in a crisp white landscape providing tonic for the soul, and I found that the paths were already heavily marked by the passing feet of visitors and, more often than not, their four-legged companions. It was not until I reached one of the more remote sections of the river that I had virgin snow over which to cast my gaze. Here, at last, were clear prints of animals that had passed this way within the last few hours. Most of the prints were of Pheasant, but here and there other avian tracks revealed the oversized feet of Moorhen and the clumsy waddle of Canada Geese.

I skirted the lakes and headed towards the Badger sett. Although I did not expect to see any sign of the Badgers themselves, I hoped that the snow might reveal what other creatures were making use of the spread of tunnels that occupied this outcrop of sandy geology. Approaching the sett from the north, a set of tracks crossed my path. These were Fox prints, recognisable by the distinct narrow paw with its intersecting diagonals falling between the pads. I followed the trail, brushing up against gorse and ducking under low branches. Although the tracks led up towards the sett, they avoided the dark holes and crossed instead over the top before disappearing across the nearby field. Had this Fox been beating his bounds just moments or hours before my arrival? Was he watching me now, from the cover on the other side of the field? I turned my attention back to the sett but no other tracks were to be seen around the entrances; if only the snow had fallen overnight then more may have been revealed.

Skirting the edge of the wood I began to follow my route home, stopping briefly to study the prints left by a Stoat that had emerged from cover on one side of the track, paused in the middle and then bounded up the slight incline and away. There were also Rabbit and Brown Hare prints here but no sense of the sequence of events. Which of these creatures had passed by first and had they interacted?

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