A bit of pawprint practice

Loch Lomond NNR

Another exciting aspect of our goose count were the many tracks we could clearly see. The ground is usually very muddy, churned up by livestock, and wet weather means that any evidence of animal activity is quickly washed away, or lost in the hoof prints of cows and sheep. This week however, we had clear views of red deer tracks, fox prints and these below that we weren’t 100% sure of.

There are a few key things you need to look for when examining tracks.

When taking photos, you’re supposed to sit a penny next to it. Coins never change size and it means other people can make a relatively educated guess at the size of the print. Unfortunately I had no change on me, so my thumb had to do – this isn’t the best method, as obviously everybody has different sized thumbs! Mine aren’t very big…but you will have to take my word for it that we’re definitely looking at the prints of a larger mammal with paws (ruling out smaller clawed animals such as squirrels or rabbits, and any hooved animal).

Being so close to water, our first hope was that we may have stumbled across evidence of otter, which are known to be in the area. But to help them swim, otter have webbed paws which, in this clear a print, would have definitely shown up. Otter, as well as the invasive aquatic, mink, don’t show clear claw marks, whereas these tracks clearly do. Sadly, not an otter. Thankfully, not a mink.

So, which larger UK mammals show claws? This is where you want to take a minute to rule out whether what you’re looking at is actually just a dog print – it happens to the best of us! To do this, you need to see how many toes the animal has. Dogs and foxes have four toe pads, whereas mustelids (stoats, weasels, otters, mink, pine marten and badgers) have five. Check carefully! You would be forgiven for thinking this animal only has four toes. But look closer – there is an ever so slight indentation indicating a fifth toe in some prints. Not a dog or fox then.

So, what do we know? It’s a large, clawed mammal with five toes and no webbing.

By the process of elimination we have two species left – pine marten and badger. At this point, we can take a fairly educated guess due to chance alone – there are far more badgers in the UK than pine marten. But, the marten is known to the Loch Lomond area, and there is suitable habitat surrounding the prints, so let’s determine which it is!

Size-wise, they’re pretty much the same. But the pine marten has a far more splayed appearance, with the toes forming an arch at varied distances, while the badger has quite a neat little row of toes. No need for anymore guessing then, this is definitely a badger print!

Perhaps not as much of a jaw dropper, but still such very lovely creatures. We often fancy that the River Endrick is reminiscent of Wind in the Willows. Maybe Mr Badger is keeping watch over Ratty and Mole, and a careful eye on troublesome Toad.

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5 Responses to A bit of pawprint practice

  1. Norman Still says:

    Brilliant detective work!! well done Norman

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Anne says:

    It is great that you have taken us through the process of identifying the prints you found – excellent!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. peigimccann says:

    Terrific blog, thanks for this.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. David McCulloch says:

    Excellent detective work, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve never seen a badger locally, but seen many pine martens, so this would have been a “jaw dropper” for me.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Wonderful, thankyou!

    Liked by 2 people

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