Monday, 25 August 2014

Footprints in the snow

A snow-covered track through the forest
It is now Spring down on the plains and winter seems long ago. Yet it was only a week or so since I was up monitoring Superb Lyrebirds on the high slopes of the Brindabella range west of Canberra, and it was snowing. Fresh snow always adds another dimension to a day out and also a quick and easy method of determining what animals are about as any that walk must leave prints behind.

Lyrebird footprints on the left, fox on the right
Unfortunately the first species I found tracks of was Red Fox, an introduced pest species. I am familiar with these from years spent in Scotland where I have seen countless such tracks while exploring the Highlands in winter. Fox prints are easily recognised by the straight line followed, often along a track as with most predators which patrol large areas in search of prey. They like us, probably use these routes for quick direct access to and from their dens. Local foxes would be familiar with all such features in their territories. The prints are small prints, with four pointed toes tightly set and the hind paws fall neatly into the mark of the front paws, leaving only a single set of paw marks per stride.

Fox prints fall on top of one another when trotting like this one was
There were a few prints from unidentifiable small birds, but none from any other mammals or marsupials. The next obvious trail I found was of a lyrebird. Again, set in a straight line as it had walked along the road, but not for far. The fox had walked for over a kilometre along the path, the lyrebird only for several metres as it had stepped out of the thick scrub on one side of the track, along the line, then down into the scrub on the other side.

Lyrebirds take long strides when walking quickly
The lyrebird's stride was short initially as it left the cover, it lengthened as it entered open ground, then its steps shortened as it pecked for food on the edge before disappearing into thick cover again. As a bird of dense forest it would likely feel exposed and vulnerable to predators while in the open, so was likely in a hurry to regain shelter from the thick scrub.

Prints tell more than just who made them.

The distinctive outline of a lyrebird footprint - three long toes forward, one backward

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