Any snow will reveal many wildlife footprints

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THE weather forecasters have made all sorts of mistakes recently, so who knows if we shall see footprints in the snow next week as some have forecast.

My picture outside the back door was taken last year in the first week of December.

A blackbird and a robin were wondering why I was not yet out of bed, even though it was well past dawn.

This year there is a forecast for a severe winter. But heavy rain storms were forecast for Guy Fawke’s Night.

All that happened was the remains of a weak depression turning east, up into the Baltic.

They had forgotten that the November moon usually brings high pressure and a fortnight of calm and even fog. But if we have snow, what fun.

I shall see where the tawny owl pounced on a woodmouse in the dark.

There will be just a pinprick of tiny feet scampering over a snowdrift, ending in a trough the size of a yoghurt pot where the owl’s feet dove in, and no signs of wing feathers.

Pheasants taking off or landing will leave a record of every flight feather, and a long drag of tail down the drifts.

Foxes will leave their impressions of a walking stick taking a stroll by itself.

Badgers will shuffle with their bellies in the snow and a welter of claw marks.

The occasional hare will demonstrate how to jump sideways ten feet and back-track the way it came.

I love those tracks at full gallop with the pad-clusters 12 feet and more apart.

Rabbits will leave three times as many tracks as you think there are animals about.

A century ago, snow was vital to the village poacher as it taught how game behaved.

The poachers would find the runs so easily in the snow and then snare setting along the runs was only too easy.

Snow would show where hares squeezed under gates, and where pheasants filed together out of the pens and through the coppice woods to the holding strips on the hill.

Any proper poacher or gamekeeper would know where the covies of partridges jugged overnight by the circle of droppings but in moonlight you could see them quarter a mile away on the snow and then with a white sheet around his shoulders a poacher could drag his silk net with a friend on the other end and so easily secure the whole covey in silence.

I have often found where the woodcocks come to feed at night with a light covering of snow on the ground and no severe frost.

Snow in the garden shows where hedge sparrows creep under the bramble bushes, where the great tit slips under the eave and as for the wretched rat - his game is up in the morning as you see where he has slunk around the outbuildings dragging his scaly tail.

I know the roe deer creeps around the garden in the night because the ivy is clipped four feet from the ground.

But sometimes she has even been past the kitchen door.