What is really needed though is some snow and then tracking can be taken more seriously and animal trails followed and investigated. From the cat and fox in the garden it is a good time to be more adventurous and head out into wilder areas to see what can be found. A badger perhaps, its prints looking like a very small bear, or the slots of a deer or wild boar. Rabbits and rodents such as squirrels, or fiercer creatures such as weasels and stoats all have their distinctive print. Armed with a good naturalist’s guide and a keen curiosity it is soon possible to distinguish the different breeds of deer or type of bird. Even when snow hasn’t fallen then ditches, pond edges and any muddy patch can reveal what has passed by and these are good places to spot the prints of mallard, moorhen or, at this time of year, one of the winter visitors such as Brent goose or teal.
Can you guess what tracks these are?
Of course as JC Jeremy Hobson says in The Dangerous Book for Grandads if animal tracks prove hard to find then why not track Grandad or Grandma instead? Or turn the tables and leave Grandad to lead the pursuit?
Tracking skills have always been much prized. Long ago it was the simple need to get food and hunters today rely still on tracking to pursue their quarry. Of course these skills feature prominently in some military training where the ability to track the enemy or locate a lost comrade can mean the difference between life and death.
Many years ago Robert Baden Powell stressed the importance of tracking skills in his advice to Boy Scouts and that tradition is still carried on by today’s Scouts and Guides. His experience was gained principally in South Africa during the Boer War but today’s game rangers in the Kruger Park and other reserves across Africa utilise the same skills to locate and follow wildlife whether for study or to provide the perfect photo opportunity for wildlife enthusiasts on safari. The skill with which these trackers can identify not just which animal has walked along the track, but also when it walked by, and possibly its sex and age, is wonderful to behold. To be out in the bush with such an expert is fantastic and in my experience shows by comparison how dull our urban environment can be.
The Dangerous Book for Grandads is packed full of great ideas for grandparents and grandchildren (and anyone else for that matter) to share and enjoy. Whether it is robust outdoor activity or something more sedate indoors there is something to suit everyone and, for granddads, to relive their youth and show the younger generation some fun.
And those tracks? From left to right: deer, stoat and badger.