Footprints in the woods

An otter 'spoor' on firm ground
An otter 'spoor' on firm ground

By George Hogg

Hogg Estate Services

You may think nothing ever dries in mid-winter but that can have its advantages for the wildlife detective.

Not only humans and dogs leave footprints along woodland paths. Deer, fox and badger will also leave their signatures, as will rabbits, hares, pheasants and all manner of creatures.

My photograph is of an otter spoor on firm ground. On softer ground the toes will spread and between them we can see that this mammal actually has webbed feet. Both otters and badgers have become a lot more common in recent years. It is now very easy to find badger prints.

To find otter prints look on the muddy margins of rivers and burns.

Otters also like to leave their droppings or “spraint” on prominent boulders, logs and such like for other otters to read.

Until recently I had a burnside camera trap which was baited with a boulder upon which every passing otter left its scent. In fact, despite knowing I would have to remove the camera before the wet season, I almost left it too late. Photographs show a spate rising up and over the boulder. Like some magic trick, the boulder was gone when the level dropped. The camera must have been very close to being drowned!

With a new year stretching out ahead I find myself wondering what wildlife discoveries 2016 will bring me.

Of course, it is not always easy to see wild animals when they are out and about, but anyone with an enquiring mind and sharp eye can have great fun looking for spoor, spraints, slots (deer prints)and other wildlife signs.