Thursday, 17 January 2013

Snow, Muddy and Murky

A new fall of snow for me is not just a good photogenic opportunity, but an ideal chance to see what is out and about by the tracks left behind.  With a fresh covering of snow, I went out earlier this week in the hope to check on what mammal wildlife was around in the local area, specifically Foxes which seem to have been more elusive in the last few years.  The forecast was for a temperature of around around minus one, very little wind, mostly overcast and maybe a flurry of snow later on so it was ideal.

Since arriving on location mid morning I wasn’t particularly expecting to see any mammals but it wasn’t long until I did find the main tracks I was after – Foxes.  They were slightly covered up suggesting they had been made very early morning as there had been a lot of snow the night before and another light fall early morning.  They followed a typical path showing two foxes, perhaps together though one track went off in another direction further up the trail.

I had hoped to use what I found to find out better their movements and maybe a den but the tracks showed me what I already new about their route but at least I new they were still active.  Unfortunately, due to a combination of the muddy conditions and the second covering of snow it was hard to follow the Foxes tracks as they tended to use the same pathways as people, which were churned up due to the last few months of heavy rain.


I walked around for a while until deciding to go to one of my favourite vantage points when photographing Roe Deer in the off chance that there may still be some knocking around this late and so photographing one in this idyllic surrounding.  Just before I got there, three Roe’s went by the opening in the woods where my camera lens would have been pointing a minute later had I arrived earlier or them later!

After waiting thirty minutes or so encase of any further sightings, I then walked around for an hour when it started to snow – heavily!  What an image I could get if only I could see and photograph a deer in this.  They and the rest of the wildlife probably had more sense as the only living creatures around were some Mallards on the lake, seemingly indifferent to the conditions and, like me, had a covering on snow.


Despite the conditions, I still carried my camera and lens around rather than putting back in my bag just in case ‘that’ opportunity arose.  This, however this put this equipment to the test as it became covered in snow.  The camera shouldn’t have had any problems being weather resistant, but my lens only had it camouflaged covering for protection so I draped my netting around it too.  The problem seemed more about getting any snow on the front element which, as shown during my previous outing, can ruin a shot. 

The Sigma does come with a soft lens cap but this is only really useful once the lens has been packed away.  It doesn’t fit properly when the lens hood is on and it would easily fall off.  Amazingly, I can’t find a single place in this country that makes alternative lens caps for this lens though I have heard of people making their own out of food containers which I might try as I can’t rely on the lens hoods depth alone for protection.

As quickly as the snow started it ended, leaving the landscape with a fresh coat of snow, covering up any of the tracks I had hoped to find but I decided to continue having a walk around. 


DSCN0436The few tracks I found during the rest of the day were, for the most part, covered up by the latest snow or were being eroded due to the snow melting in the trees causing clumps of snow and ice falling onto the snow.


Although you can barely see them the tracks above look like Rabbit ones and, in this area, they are nocturnal as I have very rarely seen them during the day.  It might explain why the Foxes are also nocturnal being their main source of food.  You can also see from the image above where the melting snow has fallen from the trees making it even more difficult to see any tracks.

I did come across one other set of tracks which were those of a single Roe Deer and obviously made during the last hour as well as some older ones barely recognisable now.

The tracks of both Rabbits and Roe Deer are very recognisable and in the case of the latter, easily found during the rest of the year too.  Like the Fox they tend to often use the same paths as people do so are easily found in mud and soil.  However, I have never felt sure of my ability to tell the difference between Fox tracks and those of a dog despite having done numerous research.

Much of the advice given to recognising the differences I’ve found don’t always apply in reality.  Using one example found at isn’t always clear cut.

Below I’ve superimposed a dogs print next to a Foxes, reducing its size to match.  Putting aside the dogs print being a clearer one, much of the differences don’t seem to apply here – that is, if you draw a straight line across the top two the rear toes they wont cut across the front toes.  Or you can draw a cross in the centre of a Foxes footprint and it also wont cross any toes.  Finally, the back pad is more of ‘jellybean’ shape.


Admittedly, the above Foxes print isn’t the clearest so not the best of examples to use.  I use a different type of logic when it come to identifying the differences such as the one above.  I knew it was made at a time when a dog was unlikely to be around.  The prints were by themselves – no human foot  prints so it wasn’t a dog walker.  Finally, Foxes tend to have a specific route often traveling with a purpose.  Dogs don’t usually follow a straight, regular line.

The only other way of guessing is using the popular guides and if the gaps between the pads are quite spaced out, then it’s more likely to be a Fox, they are also usually smaller and consistent size and narrower though this could depend on the dog as a dog the same size and shape as a Fox will, presumably, give a similar print.  It must take a very skilled individual to be confident in being sure of the differences between the two. 

I spent the rest of the day walking around and making the most of the plentiful supply of songbirds around for photo opportunities before eventually leaving as the sun started to go down.


With the regular mention of my photographic equipment, I thought maybe it was time to say a word about my trusty boots.  Despite spending over five hours walking through snow and wading through mud and water with the occasional ankle deep drenching, my feet remained warm and dry and it wasn’t until one too many dunking at the very end that a slight dampness was felt.  When I brought these man made lightweight fabric boots to replace my heavier leather ones, I didn’t think they would last long but they are still going strong and I’ve been very impressed with them.


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