Tracks in the Snow

This blog is about animal tracks and signs in the snow. I have been building up my photographs over time and I think I’ve enough now share them. Most of them I am pretty confident about but others less so… I can’t distinguish between the tracks of a Crested Tit and Coal Tit for example so some of these are educated guesses. If you think I’ve made a mistake please do let me know. For each of the photos I have noted where I took the it and some interesting / identifying characteristics about them.

Thanks to Ian Pendry from Altitude Adventure for helping me identify some of these. Ian is an International Mountain Leader living and working in the French Pyrenees.

Badger Meles meles

I am pretty sure this is a badger print. The photo was taken in Glen Lochay, to the west of Loch Tay on a snow covered forest track. The woodland was conifer plantation with some mixed broadleaf. The print is quite large and is broad along its length. The imprint of the mid and hind pad are visible, characteristic of a mammal that walks flat footed. The claws marks are visible too.

Badger print

Capercaille Tetrao urogallus

This photo was taken in the Pyrenees-Orientales on north east ridge of Pica Bastard (2093m). The slopes of this mountain are covered in Scots Pine. The Western Capercaille is a really big bird with a track that is similar to a grouse but much much bigger. The main identifying feature is its size and walking gait.

Crested Tit Lophophanes cristatus

These photos were taken near Coll Del Creu in the Pyrenees-Orientales at an altitude of about 1,900m. The habitat was Scots Pine. It is hard for me to tell which species of tit it is. It could be a Coal Tit, Great Tit, Blue Tit or Crested Tit. My guess is a Crested Tit because there were lots of them in the trees above where I took the photo. Notice the hopping gait.

Field Vole Microtus agrestis)

Again this is a hard one to be sure about. I am not sure which species of small rodent this is but a field vole is a reasonable guess I think. You can just make out two sizes of paw prints, smaller front paws and larger back ones. This photos was taken in the Pyrenees-Orientales near Refuge Estagnols. The photo of the field vole in my hands was taken in Glengoyne, near Strathblane, Scotland.

Isard (Pyrenees chamois) Rupicapra rupicapra

The hoofs of a chamois are slender and about 6cm long. Each hoof or ‘slot’ is clearly separated. The photograph was taken in the Pyrenees-Orientales on the Madre plateau (2,300m). The altitude, habitat and size of the hoofs helped to identify the animal. We also saw chamois nearby that day.


Mountain Hare Lepus timidus

The top two photos were taken near Braemar in Scotland above Ballochbuie Forest at a height of 600m. It was open moorland. Hares have a walking gait but more commonly you see their running gait. The running gait is very distinctive with two large paw prints close together followed by two smaller ones, one behind the other, forming a triangular shape. The hare lands its front paws on the ground first and then the hind feet land in front. The hind feet can be surprisingly big. The bottom photo was taken in the Pyrenees-Orientales.

Otter Lutra lutra

These prints were seen about 650m up Beinn a Caillich, a 785m mountain in Knoydart. It was early May. Otters have five toes and these are splayed in a semi-circular arrangement. The toe prints are round. The central and heel pad are evident in the photograph but apparently there can be some variation in this. I was very surprised to see otter prints so high up but speaking to some colleagues I learnt that otters sometimes cross over high ground to go from one stream / river system to another. These photographs were sent to the British Mammal Society to be identified.

Pine Marten Martes martes

Like Otters, Pine Martens have five toes and the central pad is clear. It has a running / bounding gait where the hind paws land close to or on top of the front paw prints giving a distinctive track. The left and right hand side photos were taken in the Pyrenees-Orientales near el Dormidor (2042m) and the middle photo was taken in Ballochbuie forest, near Braemar, Scotland.

Polar Bear Ursus martimus

There is no mistaking what these are, unless you are maybe in northern Canada. These are the huge prints of polar bear. They are the size of dinner plates with the hind pad, digits and claws all clearly visible. I took this photo in 2000 when I did a three week ski tour across Svalbard with my friend Jim Holt. We were skiing on frozen sea ice in Dicksonfjorden.

Polar Bear

Ptarmigan Lagopus muta

The Ptarmigan print is similar to red and black grouse. A distinguishing feature is that it has feathers on its feet making the print a little less distinct. The habitat that the prints are found also help to identify Ptarmigan, which live in the high mountains tops. The left most photo was taken on the Cairngorm plateau and the righthand photo taken on the Madre plateau on the Pyrenees-Orientales.

Red Deer Cervus elaphus

Red deer hoofs or ‘slots’ are particularly large and broad. A stag’s hoof may be 8-9cm long. They have a walking, running and bounding gait. In snow the bounding gait leads to a deep impression in the snow with the imprint of four hoofs and legs penetrating deep into the snow and sometimes the imprint of the belly. On the left is a deer bed, a spot where the deer has scraped the snow back to lie down overnight. In non-winter conditions these beds are apparent from the flattened areas of grass, together with droppings. These photos were taken in the Pyrenees-Orientales.

Red Fox Vulpes vulpes

Red fox prints have four toes,  a small triangular-shaped middle pad and claw marks are present as well. Distinctive features of the prints that helps to identify them from dog prints include their size, the arrangement of their toes and their walking gait. Fox prints are generally smaller than that of a dog: 5-7cm long and 4cm wide. Another feature is that the two outermost toes doen’t overlap the inner two toes. With dogs the toes are more in line. Another distinctive feature is that you can form a cross shape between the toes that doesn’t intersect with the middle pad. Another feature again is that the fox’s walking gait forms a very straight line whereas a dog’s is less so. These photos were taken in the Pyrenees-Orientales on the  Madres plateau.

Red Grouse Lagopus lagopus scotica

Red grouse tracks are similar to black and ptarmigan tracks. The habitat helps to identify them from Ptarmigan. Red grouse inhabit moorland terrain whereas ptarmigan favour mountain terrain. These photos were taken above Ballochbuie forest near Braemar, Scotland at an altitude of 600m. The photo on the right is a wing print, left when the grouse takes off into flight.

Red Squirrel Sciurus vulgaris

Red squirrel prints are quite distinctive. Squirrels have a long foot pad that includes the heel. The toes are long and narrow and claw marks are present. The front paws are noticeably smaller than the back paws. The back paws are also set further apart than the front paws. Its running bounding gait leads to all four paws imprinting on the snow close together. These photos were taken in Ballochbuie Forest near Braemar, Scotland and in the Pyrenees-Orientales.

Reindeer Rangifer tarandus

In Glenmore on the edge of the cairngorm mountains there is a herd of reindeer that were reintroduced to the Scotland in 1952. They are the only free-roaming reindeer in Scotland. These prints were taken in January 2019 at an altitude of 550m close to the Coire na Ciste car park, at a spot where the reindeer are fed by staff from the Reindeer Centre. Notice how the slots are very broad throughout their length, perhaps to help them support their weight when walking on snow.


Roe Deer Capreolus capreolus

Roe deer hoofs are small and slender, about 4cm long. Where their tracks are seen helps to identify them. Roe deer like woodland field margins. They are often seen close to habitation. Roe deer walk, run and bound. When threatened they will sometimes bound high into the air, leaping big distances, perhaps in a display of strength to discourage predators from pursuing. These photos were taken in an area of grazing just east of the town of Formiguere in Pyrenees-Orientales.

Wild Boar Sus scrofa

Wild board are indigenous to mainland Europe, In Britain they escaped captivity and roam freely in woodland areas. They are a heavy animal with hoofs that penetrate deep into the snow or earth. A distinctive feature are the dew claws at the rear of the hoofs. Even when walking these dew claws leave and impression. These photos were taken on the Scots Pine wooded slopes of a mountain called Cambre d’Aze in the Pyrenees-Orientales.


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