Jouni Laaksonen 28.1.2019
We haven’t had time to do longer ski tours lately, but we have skied short tours in the forests surrounding our house. We live literally in the middle of nowhere – which is just what we want.
This is our house. The nearest neighbor lives half a kilometer away, and the next one much farther. When it’s dark it’s dark, no lights are seen from anywhere else than our house. This makes good conditions for observing stars and aurora borealis, by the way. 🙂
Let’s draw a circle around our house, with a radius of 300 meters. During two evening ski tours we saw tracks of eight different animals. I’m not counting voles and shrews here, those we saw many kinds, too, but it’s hard to know which species exactly.
During Christmas holiday we skied many times, but I don’t remember having seen any tracks. Maybe some hare tracks, but they are so usual I don’t pay attention to them. However, now, this last week, animals have been on the move.
First we were skiing with my wife one evening, just a short tour with our headlamps. There is no ski track here, just some 50 cm of snow, and we have long and wide skis.
When we arrived to the stream running near our house we found fresh elk tracks. A young elk had seen or heard us and bolted away. The droppings were still warm!
I didn’t have camera or even phone with me, so I don’t have a picture of just that elk track. But this one from my archives is rather similar: fresh prints and also droppings.
Right after that we saw tiny leaps across the way we wanted to go: a weasel. A hundred meters further we came across lynx tracks maybe two days old.
Within the next hundred meters our collection was supplemented by ermine, pine marten and hare tracks. This time we had to turn back, for it was time to serve evening snack for our daughters.
Ermine on left and pine marten on right.
The next day my wife was skiing a longer tour in a nearby national park and we were staying home with our daughters. We skied a short tour, and at the above mentioned stream we saw otter tracks! It’s not very common to see otter tracks, but sometimes you are lucky. I’ve never seen ones this close to our house yet, and it was delightful to see that also this animal species lives here.
In the upper pic the otter has climbed up from the stream, and in the lower pic it has glided on its belly back to the stream. Gliding downhills is customary to otter, and every time I see tracks of this activity I am delighted. Guess it’s just the quickest and most energy saving method to move along downhill, but still it feels like the animal is also having a bit of fun. 🙂
Also we saw mink tracks. Pretty many of the Mustelidae family (weasel, ermine, mink, pine marten, otter) are living near our home! This week we didn’t see the largest member, wolverine, but we see wolverine tracks every winter in these woods.
Eight is not so much, during the winter we usually see also for example red fox, capercaillie, black grouse and willow grouse tracks. And there are always squirrel tracks on our yard. However, to see tracks of so many different species so close and at the heart of winter was a bit surprising. The animals – and also we skiers – are much more active towards late winter.
If you are interested in animal tracks, try my Tracking test. There are 12 photos of animal tracks. Try to know or guess who they belong to, and from the bottom of that post you find right answers.
Winter is great time to find out about animals. It’s very rare to see live mammals, but when there’s snow on the ground, no one can move undetected.
On our yard I remember having seen squirrels often, hares sometimes, red fox a couple of times. May is the best month to observe mammals, for after the winter the first green appears on abandoned fields like ours, and elks and forest reindeer sometimes come and eat that green. On two Mays we also saw a wolverine on our backyard.
One summer I was putting our younger daughter to sleep. There are uninhabited forest roads nearby and I was pushing a pram ahead of me, the baby starting to fall asleep. Then I noticed huge tracks on the brink of the trench: a brown bear had crossed the road quite recently. In summertime you don’t often see animal tracks, but on a soft, wet spot of ground like this you may sometimes see.
This is a pic from the occasion I describe above. Note the big bear feet prints closest to the camera.
But that’s about it, when considering mammals. Birds are more common to see on our yard. There are many kinds of tits, bullfinch and so on that frequent our bird feeder during winter. I also remember one winter when a herd of maybe twenty black grouses landed on the birches near the window from my study. That was a great sight! From the window of my study I often see the great spotted woodpecker, and this winter I once saw grey-headed woodpecker.
In summertime there naturally are more bird, like robins, swallows, cuckoo, and the melancholy sounding woodcock that every summer evening flies around our yard.
Also great grey owl hunt, northern hawk-owl and Ural owl our voles sometimes. I like especially the great grey owl when it sits on the power line and looks stately and sharply towards the ground, turning its head this way and that.
Great grey owl sitting on our power line.
This was nothing like comprehensive list, these I just happened to remember when writing this. Maybe this sounded like we see wild animals all the time? No, that’s not true. It’s every time a special occasion to see something else than squirrel, tits, hare or something like that. Luckily those occasions happen always sometimes.
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Next week I’ll ponder either smartphone map applications or GPX tracks. Something technical anyway.
If you are interested in hiking in Finland, see info about my book: