Yesterday, there was snow. And, because there was snow, people with cameras  (I won’t say photographers) were out in their droves, taking pictures of things with snow on. Arty.

I also went out with my camera, but for a very good reason. I wanted to find some footprints, and snow is a perfect medium. Much nicer than mud anyway.

The most common footprints that you are ever going to find are those of cats and dogs. I spotted cat footprints in both my back and front garden yesterday. Why? People let their cats out unattended. Madness. Anyway, cat footprints are pretty straightforward to identify, having four toes and a pad and being broadly symmetrical. Also, cat footprints look like they’s fit neatly in a little circle, whereas dog or fox prints can be more elongated. Most importantly, however, is that they don’t leave imprints of claws, as, unlike dogs and foxes, they can retract their claws when they’re wandering about. Here is a cat footprint:

And here are some more:

As you can see, no sign of claw marks on any of these footprints, and these are pretty good impressions, so these can be safely deduced as cat.

Here is a track of cat footprints, bisecting what are almost certainly Blackbird prints:

Unfortunately none of the individual footprints impinged on each other, so it was impossible for me to tell which animal had walked here first. Though my money would be on the cat.

Dog footprints are in some ways more frustrating than those of the cat. Dogs are much more variable, so footprints of dogs can vary from being roughly the same size as a cat print up to about a square metre in size.  Additionally, there is a possibility of confusion with fox, which I will cover shortly. First, here is a dog print:

It was actually quite tricky to find any clear ones, as dogs tend to stick, quite rightly, to the paths, and, as such, most prints had been obliterated. In this one, if you look carefully, you can see claw marks, especially in front of the two middle toes. They also don’t quite have the same neat ’roundness’ of cat prints.

Differentiating a fox print from dog prints can be quite the challenge, and I am still only happy in claiming fox for the most perfect examples I find. A fox print is generally elongated, and claw marks, if present, are very close together on the middle two toes. They also tread more lightly than a dog, and usually walk by putting one of the hind feet into the spot where the front foot was; dogs usually leave four separate prints. Bearing all this in mind, I only found one possible trackway for fox, and here is a picture of the clearest print I could get to:

Not particularly convincing, eh? Nevertheless, I’ll state my case. The trackway, which I couldn’t get a coherent photo of, appeared to have been made by an animal putting its hind feet into front footprints – a foxy characteristic. The tracks are elongated, but the rear two toes do not extend in any way past the start of the two front toes (didn’t mention this earlier, but if the back toes overlap the rear of the front toes, then that’s probably not a fox). This trackway was also off the main path, and went up a slope into some low shrub, and there was no sign of a returning trackway, which you would expect of a dog let off the lead. Anyway, it’s not certain, but it seems quite possible that this is a fox.

How about this one then?

These were quite odd prints. Long prints, roughly two inches, but with only little pad and toe marks at one end. There were about three of them in a line, starting in the middle of nowhere, and disappearing again three marks later. How odd. Well, these scallywags were made by a bounding squirrel, which is why they seemed to appear and disappear, and the length of the print is due to the front and back legs landing in the same spot and the print being extended by the haunches of the squirrel. Super. On a park bench I found some little squirrel handprints:

Which are distinctive because of their placement, as well their odd little goblin fingers. Terrific.

What else could I possibly see, I hear you mumble. Well, the best is still to come. After literally minutes of dedicated searching, I found this bonny wee tyke:

And it can be seen in its original context here:

Well well well, what’s all this then? (As a gruff policeman might say). The print is asymmetrical, with a pad like a malformed bean, and five, count them, five toesy-woesies. What we have are quite decent badger prints, and a hole where one has had a little snuffle about. Bless. Below is a photo of a trackway disappearing mysteriously out of frame. Interestingly, notice how little the snow appears to have been scuffed by the underside of the badger. Do they not drag their undersides as much as I had assumed? Or do they hoist themselves up in snowy weather so they don’t get too nippy?

My spirits were soaring after finding these delightful little miracles, so I decided to scramble down the slope to the setts to see how activity there had been overnight. There had certainly been some. Here is the main sett:

And the mess of footprints outside:

In fact, on some of these prints you can even see the claw marks at the end of each toe, another helpful distinctive feature (if the asymmetrical prints and five toes aren’t enough). Some of the tracks led to one of the smaller enterences to the sett:

How nice. I was especially pleased to find some badger prints well away from the main sett, in fact right outside what I thought was an auxiliary sett. Obviously some badger is in residence here, who, why? A young male? An old male? I just don’t know. (The auxiliary sett has been there since at least 2009, but has the same resident been in occupation the whole time?) It was particularly nice to find some badger evidence here, as this was the first sett I had found, but I had never found any solid evidence of badgers, no hair, no prints etc., At last there was some solid evidence for occupation. And some lovely evidence it was:

Excellent print, with pad and all five toes very clear. Also a claw mark can be seen in front of the furthest right toe, but the rest have, unfortunately, been scuffed away as the badger walked. Selfish blighter.

The only other footprint I saw was this one:

Clearly a primate of some sort, but the short toes are unusual, clearly not suitable for climbing or gripping. I would guess at this being a human footprint, with humans being the only apes resident in the Scarborough area. Also I saw Rachel do it.

In other news, drake Mandarin back on Peasholm Lake, and a Sparrowhawk over.

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