The presence of animals can often only be inferred by the tracks and signs they leave. Signs may include feeding traces, footprints, droppings, feathers, hairballs, egg shells, etc. Identify which animal has been here with the help of these signs: greylag goose (Anser anser), wood mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus), owl, deer, European hare (Lepus europaeus), hedgehog, pheasant, European pond turtle (Emys orbicularis), fox, badger, otter or red-backed shrike (Lanius collurio).
The red-backed shrike impales its prey on thorns or barbed wire, hence its “butcherbird” nickname. Its food mainly consists of insects, but may sometimes include small vertebrates such as lizards, bird chicks, frogs and rodents. Gardeners find them very helpful because of their consumption of swarming cockchafers; colloquially called May bugs or doodlebugs. The birds do not eat their bounty all at once, but rather store their leftovers for later consumption on the thorns of bushes.
What are Owl Pellets?
Owls mostly dine on small rodents, songbirds, and larger arthropods such as insects, arachnids (spiders) and crustaceans. Owls regurgitate the indigestible parts such as bones, feathers, fur and insect shells in the form of a solid mass called an “owl pellet.” Owl pellet shapes are species-specific. For example, the shape of a barn owl’s pellet is a different shape than that of a long-eared owl or tawny owl. This is how a specific species of owl’s presence in the area can be established without sighting the owl itself. Owl pellets can be collected and analysed. By examining the contents such bones and especially skulls, it is relatively easy to determine which rodent or songbird became the owl’s meal.
Otter tracks are the size of a small-medium size dog. Both the front and back paws are five-fingered and stretched with webbing. Otter tracks generally show just the claw marks and not the imprints of the pads or webbing. The smallest claw is often barely or not visible. On canine footprints, impressions of the claws are ranged in a semicircle around a faint pad.
Otters betray their presence with scat left under bridges, along rocky banks, along dikes and elsewhere. Along shores, droppings may be found on rocks poking out of the water, concrete ledges, sandbanks, or on fallen tree trunks as a way of marking their territories. The shape is sometimes irregular, but almost always elongated, 3-10 cm long, and black or greenish-brown in colour. Fresh, the scat is soft, but later hardens until it is difficult to distinguish from shoreline gravel. The droppings contain small fish scales, fish and frog bones. The musky scent given off by the faeces cannot be confused with anything else.
An otter’s anal mucus is light-coloured with a garbage-like odour. The mucous secretion is similar to faeces, but found less frequently. The important thing is that if found, it indicates permanent habitation by otters in the area.
In addition, otters may also leave scratches, mud balls and grass balls. However, we as yet do not understand the meaning of this behaviour.