Nature Notes

By Denis O’Connor

Wharfedale Naturalists Society

A recent trip to Scandinavia took the group with which I was travelling north through Finland and across the Arctic Circle as the winter retreated. The most obvious mammals were Blue or Mountain Hares (pictured), their white winter coats giving way to blue-grey now that camouflage against the snow was no longer necessary.

One morning in central Finland we took a track that was still officially closed as the snow, which had covered it until two or three weeks before, had melted but had left soft mud in places making in treacherous for vehicles.

The muddy parts showed reindeer tracks and at one point large doglike footprints. Dick Forsman, our Finnish guide and a top expert on the region’s wildlife, pointed out that there were no accompanying human boot marks, making the prints probably those of a wolf.

Further on I found prints in the dried mud showing a very wide pad about four inches wide with five toes and Dick confirmed these as belonging to a Brown Bear, perhaps two years old and certainly not an old male which would have produced much bigger tracks.

Cat prints reminded me of Iberian Lynx tracks I had seen in Andalucia although these, at three inches across, were considerably larger and confirmed by Dick as those of European Lynx. Enormous cloven-hoofed prints had to be those of a moose.

Driving out, Dick stopped to investigate deeper bear prints in the mud, this time considerably larger with marks from both front (six inches across) and rear (as wide but much longer at about eight inches) paws. These had been made by a much bigger animal.

Of the animals themselves we saw no sign but the footprints told a fascinating tale, that in the two or three weeks since the snow had melted bears, wolf, lynx, moose and reindeer had walked along the track, all unseen by humans.

During the trip we saw many reindeer, semi-domesticated but left to roam free and rounded up twice a year, as well as moose a number of times. We saw otter and red fox but of the iconic bigger carnivores, bear, wolf and lynx, we saw no more signs.

In many cases the same is true of mammals in this country, that it is often easier to identify their presence by their tracks left behind than to see the animals themselves.

Having taken over as recorder of mammals, reptiles and amphibians for Wharfedale Naturalists Society I would be delighted to receive sightings of the animals themselves or of the footprints they have left behind, whether in mud or snow (to They always tell a story.