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Fieldcraft guide :: Wildlife UK Forum - Discuss the UK countryside and wildlife

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Fieldcraft guide
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Xeract
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Fieldcraft guide

Often it is difficult to see most animals in the wild. They are usually under cover, especially in the daytime, so not many are likely to be seen in open fields at that time.

However there are many clues just waiting to be discovered by the observant wildlife enthusiast that can be used to discover what wildlife has been in that area. I will explain several techniques in this article.

Footprints
Perhaps the most common way of discovering which animal has been in the area is through their footprints. These are especially easy to spot in wet weather or snow, but can often be seen even in the dry months. A good place to start looking for animal footprints is the mud patch that often appears next to gates in fields. Below are a few of the more common footprints you might see on your travels.

Fox Track
Foxes tracks have four toes, with the two front toes close together. The foxes tracks are narrow compared to dogs. The trail a fox leaves will also usually be in a single line as foxes put their hind feet into the prints of the front feet.

Dog Tracks
Dog tracks are broader than the foxes relative to their size, and often their front toes are separated in contrast to the foxes. Dog trails are not usually in a single line like the fox as the dogs hind feet do not tread in the same place as the front.

Deer Tracks
Deer tracks are often mistaken for sheep's. They are made up of two thin vaguely oval-shaped parts, which are the two sections of the hoof. With a deer footprint, both halves are the same size and more widely separated than the sheep's.

Sheep Tracks
The sheep's tracks are similar to the deer's, but one half of the hoof is larger than the other.

Badger Tracks
Badgers have different footprints for their front and hind legs, and can often be mistaken for two different animals. The badger has five toes, of which the front feet's toes are longer than the hind. A badger walks with its feet angled inwards and the hind prints can overlap the front prints.

Recognising hairs
Often when animals try to get under or through fences - especially barbed wire - they will leave a few hairs caught behind on the fence. Identifying the animal from these hairs can be surprisingly easy and useful. You can also use clues such as where the hair is on the fence to work out which animal might have left it behind. If the hair is caught on the top of the fence for example, it is more likely to be a larger animal.

Cow and horse hairs
Cow hairs are relatively short, and are also soft and matted if in a clump. Horse hairs are often much longer as they are likely to catch mane or tail hairs. They are both more often to be found on the top of fences where they might rub themselves on the fence.

Badger, fox and rabbit hairs
Badger hairs are long, but also wiry and often stiff compared to other hairs. They are typically 0.5-0.75 cm long. Foxes hairs on the other hand are shorter, only about 0.25cm long. They are of course a distinctive red colour. Rabbit hairs are most likely to be found on the bottom of fences and are very short and soft.

Gaining more information from tracks

Tracks aren't just useful for identifying the animal that made them, they can also tell their own stories. For example, you can tell how fast an animal is moving by how far apart the footprints are spread. A slowly hopping rabbit leaves footprints that are close together, while a faster hopping rabbit has much bigger spaces between footprints. The distance between prints can also be used to work out the size of the animal, and hence give you clues as to what type it might be.

As always if you have any questions, or would like to add to this brief introduction to fieldcraft then please reply to this thread. I hope you enjoyed reading the article!

03-07-2007 08:02 PM
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Kingfisher
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RE: Fieldcraft guide

Very good! I'll just add my observation that dog's tracks seem to 'wander' more than foxes (and in my area, coyotes), as wild animals seem to have more 'purpose' in their travels than do dogs.

I have never had to worry about sheep tracks where I am, but I do have to decipher the difference between deer, elk, moose, and caribou!

As always, scat can be quite distinctive, and not only aid in recognising an animal's presence, but can aid in determing the diet, and how long it's been since the animal was in the area.

Kingfisher

04-07-2007 02:29 PM
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TimberWolf
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RE: Fieldcraft guide

Great stuff. It's information like this that really adds to the experience of a walk in the country. Many thanks.

A friend of mine now claims to be an expert on elk signs (at least I'm sure he said it was an elk), since his visit to Canada last year when he got a bit closer to one than he wanted to. Unfortunately, the signs were left embedded in the front of his hire-car after it had been charged on a lonely road through the woods. He now reckons that he can tell the prescence of an elk from the damage done. Fortunately, apart from the car bodywork no-one was hurt, and the elk wandered off having made its point.


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04-07-2007 03:03 PM
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Kingfisher
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RE: Fieldcraft guide

TimberWolf Wrote:

A friend of mine now claims to be an expert on elk signs (at least I'm sure he said it was an elk), since his visit to Canada last year when he got a bit closer to one than he wanted to. Unfortunately, the signs were left embedded in the front of his hire-car after it had been charged on a lonely road through the woods. He now reckons that he can tell the prescence of an elk from the damage done. Fortunately, apart from the car bodywork no-one was hurt, and the elk wandered off having made its point.


Is he certain it was not a moose? Elk don't usually charge vehicles--but moose most CERTAINLY do, especially if (male bulls) in the rut, or guarding calves (female cows).

Photos would be nice...or was he too taken aback to snap a few?

Kingfisher

04-07-2007 04:51 PM
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tibbar
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RE: Fieldcraft guide

The story mad me laugh...... I have seen a tv programme about 'when animals go bad' & it showed a moose that had been frequenting a university campus & was quite placid & turned violent all of a sudden.
Moral - NEVER trust a Moose........
By the way , what IS the difference between a moose & an elk?

This post was last modified: 04-07-2007 06:38 PM by tibbar.

04-07-2007 06:37 PM
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Kingfisher
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RE: Fieldcraft guide

Moose are very large, they are the largest living members of the cervid (deer) family. The males have huge antlers, with 'palms'. The antlers can be as wide as 60+ inches (165 cm!) and weigh over 60 pounds (27.5 kilos!). They have dewlaps on both male and female. They are very awkward looking animals, but can move quite fast. They are not herd animals. Confusingly, in Europe, this animal is known as an 'elk'.

http://www.adfg.state.ak.us/pubs/noteboo.../moose.php

Elk have long, swept back antlers. They aren't quite as big as moose, and are usually considerably shyer around humans. One male usually has a harem of females. This animal is known in Europe as 'Wapiti'.

http://www.bcadventure.com/adventure/wil...ls/elk.htm

Kingfisher

05-07-2007 09:50 AM
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Caz
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RE: Fieldcraft guide

I've recently bought a very good book on animal tracks and signs and can thoroughly recommend it!

It's 'Animal Tracks and Signs' (funnily enough!) by Preben Bang forwarded by one of my hero's Ray Mears Icon_smile Got my copy from Amazon.

12-07-2007 03:28 PM
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Yogi.
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RE: Fieldcraft guide

I got The Collings Guide to Animal Tracks and Signs, its quite an old book.

Also had the SAS course manual on Escape and Evasion and Survival which included tracks, signs and trapping but not sure where that is, tucked away somewhere safe I think.

Yogi.


The Bear is looking forward to the new F1 season.

This post was last modified: 03-01-2009 01:47 PM by Yogi..

03-01-2009 01:46 PM
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Susan Young
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RE: Fieldcraft guide

Some of you might be interested in a course on Wildlife Photography and Field Craft. As well as photographic tuition, there will also be tuition in fieldcraft from 2 experts, one of whom is Ian Parsons who has appeared on television wildlife programs on many occasions.
web site is http://www.wildlifephotographyfieldcraft.co.uk
susan

09-10-2010 11:58 AM
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Findlay Ecology
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RE: Fieldcraft guide

What might be good is some sort of photography gallery of prints/scats and other signs. I've only just joined, so apologies if there is one already.

14-02-2011 01:16 PM
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