Saturday, March 03, 2018

meeting the animals

Spicules of snow. Swindon, 1st March 2018.

The 1st of March. An arctic day in Swindon. It snowed all day, not big snowflakes but tiny needle-shaped spicules of snow that powdered the ground and were blown about in plumes. Slowly the snow-level rose. Human and other tracks were obliterated within a short time, so the snowscape remained perpetually virginal.

Swindon, 1st March 2018 

You could begin to see a usually hidden fact about the landscape: the places where snow would naturally pile up (my front door being one of them, it seemed) and, in contrast, the places where wind would prevent the snow from ever settling. In miniature you can see that pattern of contrast beginning to emerge in the office car-park.

On the Swedish fells the spots where snow never settles are called vindblottor (wind-blots). They have a specialized flora, rather poor in species.  Winter is much harsher in these vindblottor than under a comfortable blanket of snow.

Untrodden woodland. Swindon, 2nd March 2018

The next day was warmer and calmer, and I went for a lunchtime walk in the wood. The snow had gone stickier. The roads were a corrugated churn of snow that would neither melt nor blow away.

In parts of the world where the snow lies long and regular, I think people must feel much closer to the wild animals who share their land, because the signs of their wanderings become suddenly evident.

Walking through the snowy woodland, with a Subway take-away tea in hand, I met a chap coming in the other direction who grinned and said he'd been chasing the hares.

Hare tracks. Swindon, 2nd March 2018

It was soon obvious what he meant. The hare-tracks ran alongside our own, the hares had recognized the virtues of our woodland path as a through-route.

And five minutes later I caught sight of a big fat brown hare galloping away from me . I don't suppose he was really fat, it was just the fluffed out fur.

Hare track. Swindon, 2nd March 2018

Here's the classic track of the European Brown Hare (Lepus europaeus).  The leaping hare touches the ground with its forefeet, one behind the other, then overtakes those prints to land ahead of them with its back feet side by side. Then off it springs again.

Track of fox trotting in snow. Swindon, 2nd March 2018.

In another part of the wood, I found this almost linear track. This is a foxtrot in snow. At all other times a fox trots in an odd sidling way so its forepaws are to one side of the line of direction and its backpaws to the other. But in snow it changes its gait to walk in a very straight line. The back paws drop precisely into the holes made by the front paws, so the track ends up looking as if the animal has only two legs.

Paw-prints and poo of fox. Swindon, 3rd March 2018.

But here's my prize exhibit, a fox squat I noticed this morning (rather pointedly, just outside the entrance to our offices).

Fox paw-print. Swindon, 3rd March 2018

Close-up of the fox's paw-print. It differs from a dog's in having longer claw-prints at the front, and a big gap in the middle of the five toes. (In a dog's or wolf's print, this area is mainly filled by the rear toe.)

Most of this info comes from Dyrespor, a marvellous book by Preben Bang with drawings by Preben Dahlström, translated into Swedish by Håkan Hallander as Spårboken (1974).



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