Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Wild Boar Rooting

One of the most obvious signs left by Wild Boar Sus scrofa is a patch of disturbed, rutted ground. This feeding method is called rooting and is quite simply the act of digging for food (tubers, truffles, worms etc) with the snout and tusks. Sometimes the ground is turned up as if done with a spade or a rough plough. Rooting sites are found in both open country and in forests and can be the work of one boar or several. They can cover a small patch of ground or be extensive. In a given area there are usually several rooted patches. This photo was taken in Slovakia in November 2008.

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Black Woodpecker feeding holes

The size of the top hole (longer than a man's hand) and its shape (an oval, vertical slit) in this photo point to only one species: Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius. This is a classic example of where a Black Woodpecker has hacked into the heart of a pine tree in search of carpenter ants. No other European woodpecker species makes holes as large as this. The exposed clean and yellowish timber indicates recent activity. Photo taken in the Bukk Hills, Hungary.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Badger Fur On Fence

This photo shows a pathway dug under a deer fence. There were no clear paw prints or claw marks in the very dry, sandy soil, but a tuft of fur left on the wire revealed that this was the work of a Eurasian Badger Meles meles. Photo taken in northern Serbia in November 2008.

Friday, 19 December 2008

European Bison Hoof Print

The European Bison (aka the Wisent) Bison bonasus is Europe's heaviest land mammal. It is a creature of old forests, not grasslands, and despite its huge size (bulls can weigh up to 900kg and stand 2m high at the shoulder) can hide away with surprising ease. This photo of a hoof print was taken in upland forest south-east Poland in November 2008 (ball-point pen for size-comparison). It is a cloven-hoof, very broad and can only be confused with that of large domestic cattle. Location is an important factor, that is, where there are no cattle, as in this Polish forest, such a print can only be bison.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Woodpecker Feeding on Long-horned Beetles

This photo (taken in the Bieszczady Mountains, Poland, in November 2008) shows the marks left on a fir tree Abies alba by a woodpecker which has been searching for the larva of long-horn beetles (Rhagium species). The larvae of these beetles lie just below the soft bark surface. It is not clear which species of woodpecker did this, but based on the species present in that area and the size of the beak marks White-backed Dendrocopos leucotos and Great Spotted Dendrocopos major are the most likely candidates.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Lesser Mole Rat Mounds

The Lesser Mole Rat Nanospalax leucodon is one of Europe's most mysterious mammals. It is rare, blind and subterranean and often regarded as an agricultural pest. Is steppe and grassland habitat has for centuries been ploughed up and/or planted with forest. It is mainly restricted to lowlands in Hungary, Romania and Serbia. This photo shows a fresh mound (with a mobile phone and human feet in the background for size comparison) in the Subotica Sandlands, Serbia in November 2008. These mounds, created when the mole rats throw up earth after digging their tunnels, can be 4 or 5 times bigger than those of true moles (which are not related). Such mounds run in lines or clusters.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Beaver Dam

A fine example of a dam built by a European Beaver Castor fiber. Photo taken by Godfrey McRoberts in south-east Poland, November 2008.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Brown Bear Fore Paw Print

Brown Bears Ursus arctos have five toes on each paw. The marks left by the toe pads are in a row, unlike those of, for example, humans. Claw marks are usually clear, though they are not in this print (photo taken in the Bieszczady Mts, Poland, November 2008). There is almost always a clear ridge of material (in this case mud, which can be clearly seen here) between the row of toe pad prints and the main paw pad. This print is broader than it is long and hence has been made by a fore paw. Hind paw prints are longer and narrower and more similar in shape to those of a human foot.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Woodpecker woodchips and hole

Woodchips at the base of trees are usually evidence of woodpecker activity. Woodchips pile up below freshly excavated below feeding sites (as in this photo) and below nest holes. The size and shape of the hole and the size of the chips indicate that in this case Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius was responsible. This is a tyical example of where a bird has been searching for carpenter ants, which have their colonies inside tree trunks. The hole was some 30cm long by 16cm wide and 20cm deep (two adult hands could easily fit inside). Thus, the woodpecker must have at times been totally inside the hole and trunk when excavating it and extracting the prey. The clean, white hole rim, pale dry chips and powdery sawdust on the tree all indicate recent activity. Photo taken near Subotica, Serbia, in November 2009.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Brown Bear Faeces

This photo shows the freshly deposited faeces of Brown Bear Ursus arctos found in the Bieszczady Mountains, Poland, in November 2008. Note my size 44 (11 UK) boot for comparison. This dropping was rather pale and upon close inspection was found to contain much seed and grain. Bear droppings often contain undigested vegetable matter remains. This bear had been eating feed that hunters had placed out for Red Deer and Wild Boar. Bears that have fed upon berries or flesh produce much darker droppings than this.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Suslik Burrows

European Suslik Citellus citellus (also spelt Souslik) is a small ground squirrel found in Eastern Europe. The photo here, taken in Serbia, shows freshly excavated burrows. A standard-sized mobile phone offers a size comparison. Susliks do not create mounds (like mole-rats and moles) the soil here is simply that which has been pushed out during the digging. Old holes are not surounded by soil. The entrances do not run in lines or a series as Susliks do not live in communal tunnels. Though they live communally each animal (or perhaps family) lives in its own separate burrow which may have 2 or 3 entrances, at least one of which is a vertical shaft.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Long-eared Owl Roosts

Piles of grey pellets and masses of white splash on the trunks of trees and on the ground beneath them in urban areas usually mean one thing: a winter roost of Long-eared Owls Asio otus. When looking for such roosts do not waste time checking every tree and peering up into foliage, rather scan the ground beneath the trees and check those that have such signs below them. As a rule, the further east one travels in Europe the larger such roosts are. Long-eared Owls usually gather in roosts from late October through to March. This photo taken in Serbia (November 2008).

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Wild Boar Hoof Prints

This photo (taken in Poland in November 2008) shows two typical hoof prints of a Wild Boar Sus scrofa. First it should be noted that these prints have been made by a cloven-hoofed animal. Cloven-hoofed mammals have 4 toes: 2 cleaves (at the front) and 2 dew claws (at the rear). Unlike most deer, Wild Boar leave 4 clear imprints. This is because their gait (and the fact that their dew claws are located lower down on the leg than those on deer) results in the dew claws touching the ground. So, most Wild Boars leave dew claw imprints, whereas deer usually do not. Most deer leave just 2 slots (made by the cleaves). This hoof print was probably left by a young Wild Boar as the front two claw marks are pointed and narrow. Those of adult boars are broader and more rounded.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Wolf Paw Print

This photo of a Wolf Canis lupus paw-print in wet mud was taken in the Bieszczady Mountains, SE Poland, in November 2008. Actually, there are two paw prints here, one partly covering the other. Wolf prints are very similar to those of large domestic dogs, which is actually not surprising as wolves are indeed large dogs themselves. Key things to note include: long toe pads which are well spaced-out and splayed apart, and long, pointed, pronounced claw marks. Though not shown here the track-line of a wolf is also rather narrow, whereas most dogs walk in a more of a zig-zag. Location is also important: this photo was taken in a remote area where there are no pet or stray dogs but where there are known to be packs of wolves.

Tree felled by European Beaver

In this new blog I will add notes and photos of the tracks and signs left by Europe's wildlife, including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates... everything. In particular on how to ID these signs. In this photo is the tree-felling work of European Beaver Castor fiber, Poland, November 2008.