Things have been a little quiet around here since we’ve got the new addition to the family. Scarlett and I have been out for a few walks already, but I’ll wait until she’s settled into more of a routine before I get back to any serious badgerology. In the meantime, here’s a post from the vaults.
This is a short essay on setting up a track trap in my garden. This is a simple and fun thing that anyone can do to try tracking in any small space. The originally appeared as a discussion on the Tracking Group of the Woodlife Network, but if you’re not a member of the network (and it’s highly recommended to anyone interested in the subject) hen you may be interested in seeing it here.
I’m quite fond of hedgehogs, but we rarely get them around here. When I found some hedgehog poo in the garden in June this year I was quite pleased. It would be good to get a resident hedgehog around the place.
I bought myself some hedgehog food to try and entice the urchin to stay, but the problem is that it might get eaten by birds (or by my cat – she does things like that). How would I know that the hedgehogs had been eating it and not some other animal?
I decided to set up a track trap – in other words I would place the food so that whatever eats it will have to leave their tracks. I’m going to make them work for their supper by leaving me tracks in return. This is an established technique for unobtrusively identifying and monitoring animals.
First I took an 18″ square plastic tray. We use these trays in the greenhouse to put plants in.
I added a 2″ deep layer of moist sand. I used silver sand from the garden centre because I’m lazy, but I could have just dug some sand or soil out of the ground. If you want really high definition you could use damp clay, but I was happy with sand. It’s cleaner too.
I smoothed the sand off with a piece of wood.
This will make sure that any tracks show up.
And finally I placed bowls of food and water in the centre of the tray.
And there it was – a completed track trap. Any animal or bird that eats the food would leave its prints in the soft sand. The only drawback of using the tray is that it may prevent very small animals from reaching the food, but that suits me since the aim was to feed the hedgehogs.
The next morning I rushed out to see if there were any hedgehog tracks. It was actually quite exciting – there was a real sense of anticipation.
The track trap had worked perfectly, but sadly there was no sign of a hedgehog. The only tracks were from my own cat.
The fact that the cat tracks showed up so clearly did at least demonstrate that the trap was an effective way to identify the animal that had eaten the food. I consoled myself with the fact that at least the cat hadn’t used it as a litter tray!
There was no sign of the hedgehog the next day either. Nor the day after that. In fact, after three weeks, the only tracks I found in the trap were from the cat, blackbirds, slugs and a squirrel. No hedgehogs.
It seems that the hedgehog had left my garden. Apparently, hedgehogs can walk for up to two miles in a single night, so it is quite possible that it was covering a large area.
Not discouraged, I continued to put the hedgehog food down. Eventually, after two months, my patience was rewarded. I finally got hedgehog tracks in my hedgehog track trap!
OK, so it was a long wait to get tracks from what is, after all, quite a common animal. But that’s not the point. I set out to deliberately target a particular species based on its tracks, and in the end it worked. The trap was fun to make, and it gave me the chance to collect and study animal tracks in the comfort of my own garden. It’s a simple technique that anyone can use, and one that can be applied in the field too.