What on earth was THAT?
Mountain fauna leave paw and hoof prints as clues as to where they have been. They mostly move about in the evening, night and early morning.
Some traces are obvious. You can tell which animal made them. Others not so much, they can be a source of confusion. Just as for flora, you need to take into account the milieu, envisage various hypotheses and interpret data to determine which animal it was, its pace, special features and the time they probably passed by.
Mountain guides are delighted to help you decipher the clues they leave for you in winter or spring.
They live in burrows featuring a maze of galleries, and mainly travel underneath the snow to hide from their many predators (foxes, stoats, dogs, kestrels etc.). Here, a field mouse has dug a tunnel through the snow to the surface then moved to the right. The linear trace it has left is of its tail (which is as long as its body).
Stoats bound along, landing on their front paws. Their back paws then land immediately in the same place. They are voracious, nimble and alert. They feed on field mice, young birds that fall out of their nests, and even newborn hares in the spring. Stoats live out in the open, unlike their weasel cousins which prefer the woodlands.
Wild roses are a source of highly nutritious berries for mountain animals: rose hips. There, a bird just landed to feed on some. The rounded print at the bottom of the frame shows the impact of its tail as it lands. The size of the print left by the tail feathers suggests it was a blackbird or yellow-billed chough.
4 impacts: two at the back, one behind the other, and two others, side by side. This animal practically always leaps along. You can determine its speed by the amount of space between each set of prints.
Mountain hares have very powerful hind paws. They land on their fore paws, one slightly ahead of the other, but in line with each other. They then tip forward on their shoulders for their hind paws to land where the fore paws did. This can be at some distance when they're going fast. This one is coming towards us.
These animals are discreet, crafty and nimble. Mountain foxes are russet coloured when at the same altitude as villages. Their coat can change colour above 2,000 metres. Foxes leave oval-shaped paw prints in a very straight line.
They mostly move at a gentle trotting pace, as shown by their evenly spaced prints: they place their hind paws on the print left by the forepaws. This one is coming in our direction. The fore print has a slightly more pointed shape.
The chamois is a agile goat-antelope which leaves narrow, sharply rectangular prints, making deep marks in the snow at a walking pace. Males can weigh up to 50 kilos! This chamois has left hoofmarks in the snow. The layout of these paw prints and various other signs show that the animal is moving away from us.