Animal tracks in Lapland

Jouni Laaksonen 26.2.2018

Wild animals have much better senses than us humans. They hear/smell/see us earlier than we note them, and they steer clear. This is why you don’t see many animals even if you hike in deepest wilderness in Lapland.

So, you won’t see many if any mammals every day. However, there’s this wonderful white stuff that registers every movement: snow!

Seeing and maybe even tracking animal tracks is one of the great joys of winter hiking. You see how a willow grouse has landed on pristine snow, walked from one birch to another, eating on its way, then jumped on flight again, leaving wing marks in addition to feet marks. Or you see how an otter has leaped along the snow, then glided a small downhill, and finally the tracks disappear to an unfrozen spot on river ice. Or you come across big tracks: Is this wolf, or wolverine? This is real wilderness!


One of the more thrilling moments in hiking is when you happen to come the mating place of black grouses. It is daytime now, but last night there have been dozens of big black birds, the males fighting for the right to reproduce, females as beautiful spectators, and more…

What tracks are usual, what are rare to see? Here’s a totally unscientific list. This is how I see it is in Finnish Lapland according to my own experiences during past 25 years:


If you head out for a week long winter expedition, you will surely see the common tracks, most or all of the quite common ones, and maybe some of the more rare ones. Though this depends on where you are going: in fell area you won’t see squirrel or capercaillie tracks, in forest there aren’t any ptarmigans.


How to identify?

Sometimes identifying the species is easy. When snow has a hard crust, with just some millimeters of softer snow on top of the hard layer, and sun is shining and making shadows, the tracks look “themselves”. But often the snow is soft, tracks are old, it is a cloudy shadowless day, and recognising the animal is not easy.

Of course a lot depends on the animal. Usually the animals move along in their normal way, one walks, second runs, third leaps. But sometimes the animal is not moving in its typical way, it may be in runaway mode, or use some other more rare method of moving along. Hare or squirrel leave always a clearly distinguishable pattern, but sometimes you may find it difficult even to guess whether a track was made by a big bird or a medium-sized mammal.


Easy species, easy conditions: Hare leaves a pattern that differs from every other animal you can see in Lapland. Sometimes also droppings, and/or eating habits shed light to identifying the species.


But what about this? The track is several days old, new snowfall has softened the prints. Are you guessing? Answer at the bottom of this page (1).

I first thought I would load this post full of photos of different animal tracks, but now I see this is long enough already. Okay, let’s do this: Below you will see drawings of most of the animal tracks mentioned above, and in the next post I’ll let you try your skills in tracking! There will be about a dozen photos and you can try to guess, or know, which animal was going in which photo.


The drawings in one and same pic are comparable, I mean lynx print is that much smaller than wolverine print (on average). But the drawings in different pics are not comparable. With these drawings you can compare otter and pine martin prints (the width of the two paws is important), but you cannot compare otter and reindeer – though why you would want to compare just those two, I don’t know. 🙂




(1) Mystery track: I thought first it was some kind of mammal, did you, too? But then I found a pit in the snow where it had slept the night. It was black grouse.

* * *

So, next week’s post will be continuation to this one, with a lot of photos of animal tracks.









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