I haven’t had the chance to get out badger watching this week. I’ve been continuing work on my shelves (and very nice they look too) and we had a dinner party last night, so the badgers have taken a bit of a back seat.
It was a bit of an effort to get out of bed at 6.15am on a Sunday morning, but worth it. We had rain of biblical deluge proportions here yesterday so the ground is nice and soft – ideal for checking out tracks and seeing what’s been happening around the area.
The soft ground meant that I was able to follow the trail of the local badger for longer than ever before. This time I stopped being lazy and did what I should have done ages ago – I measured the tracks.
The idea behind measuring the tracks is to see if I can recognise individuals by their footprints. If you had a badger with a noticeable injury to its foot, or a strange walking pattern, then you could recognise it easily. With a normal badger it is more difficult to tell their tracks apart. My approach is to measure print size and stride and use these measurements to try to recognise individuals.
Of course, print size and stride length are not constant – they vary with ground conditions and terrain, as well as the gait and speed of the animal. It is a maxim that a footprint is not a record of the animal’s foot. It is a record of the interaction between the animal’s foot and the ground. On soft ground the foot will sink in deeper and the print will be larger, plus the animal’s toes may splay out and increase the size further. On harder ground the print will be smaller. For this reason a single measurement would be an inaccurate guide to the identity of the animal. A better approach must be to take a number of measurements and take an average.
In the photo below, the badger tracks are almost registered (rear foot on top of front foot) which shows the badger was walking at normal speed. This helps to keep the measurements consistent, since I can look for this track pattern in the future and know the speed of the badger.
I took my width measurements across the four largest toes. These are the most easily distinguishable part of a badger track so it’ll be easy to measure this again in the future.
For the record, I measured the width and stride length of seven consecutive prints today. The average width was 5.2cm (front and rear feet the same) and the average stride length was 39.25cm.
This isn’t a huge sample by any means, but it should be a reasonable accurate baseline measurement for this individual badger. I’ll take more measurements each time I go out, and see how consistent it is. Over time I should be able to recognise this individual and also spot any different badgers in the area.
This may sound like a lot of effort to go to. It probably is. But then again, it is a way of using tracking to build up detailed and accurate information about the badgers in my area.