Monday, 19 March 2012

Wildlife Tracks & Signs

A lot of the wildlife at Gibside is shy and elusive and so not easy to observe but as you walk round the many footpaths there are lots of tell-tale signs of them if you know what to look out for.  Footprints of roe deer and badgers can often be found on the many well-worn tracks that often cross our footpaths.  Look out for these particularly when the ground is wet after rain.  Well-worn badger paths can also be seen running down from the Park fields and crossing the Haha onto the Avenue.
Roe  Deer print showing dew claws.

Path side verges and particularly the grassy slopes of the Avenue and the field in front of the Hall are good places to look for badger feeding signs.  Worms form the bulk of their diet (except in autumn when fruits and berries are greedily consumed) and these are taken in huge numbers often leaving the turf roughly scuffed with lots of small depressions called ‘snuffle holes’.  These holes are not to be confused with similar ones which they dig and use to deposit their droppings in (rather like cats though badgers do not bother to cover theirs) and these can also be seen on the Avenue.

'Snuffle' holes caused by badger

Deer feeding signs are also plentiful and can also be found on most of the path side verges.  They browse lots of different herbaceous plants and shrubs and also have a liking for many flowers.  Look for bramble (blackberry) stems with all the leaves stripped off.  Yew trees are also eaten up to a height of one metre (the reach of a roe deer) and at the end of the Avenue you can see a ‘browse line’ on the yews lining the Hollow walk.  They also feed on the needles of young pine trees and fallen trees and branches. 

Pine needles eaten by Roe deer

Deer droppings, known as fewmets, are deposited in groups and are almost black (darkest green) in colour, shiny and elliptical.  They look rather like those of rabbits but are usually indented on one end and pointed at the other.  

Deer droppings

Male deer, known as bucks, grow their antlers in winter under a covering of velvet and in spring this is rubbed off on young saplings, removing the bark in the process up to a height of 12 to 18 inches. Look out for these damaged trees on roadside verges and occasionally you may find the velvet hanging from them. 

Deer velvet
Most of the woodlands at Gibside are coniferous; particularly pine and lots of animals and birds feed on the seeds found in the cones. Squirrels, both red (still present here) and grey strip the scales off one by one to get at them and the discarded core and  scales can be found littered on the ground under favourite feeding trees.  Woodpeckers also enjoy the seeds but they simply prize the scales apart with their strong pointed bills.  These can also often be found on the ground.

Pine cones fed on by Woodpecker

If you would like to learn more about wildlife tracks and signs there are several good books available including the following: 
Animal Tracks and Signs (Pocket Nature Guide) by Preben Bang & Preben Dahlstrom

A Guide to British Mammal Tracks and Signs FSC Guide by S. Bullion 

And for children: 
Animals, Tracks and Signs (Usbourne Spotters Guide) by Alfred Leutscher & Sarah Kahn
Animals, Tracks and Signs Sticker Book (Usbourne Spotters Sticker Guides) by A L & Chris Shields

Alternatively one of our rangers is leading a ‘Tracks and Signs’ walk on Sun. 25th March at   

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