Activity of the month

Go tracking

As we move deeper into autumn, the nights become longer and you may start to notice a chill in the air. Wildlife prepares for the colder weather ahead, with foxes and badgers fattening up on the autumn berries and nuts. Squirrels and jays will have been busy creating food stashes, burying acorns to eat later. Bats, hedgehogs and dormice will start their winter hibernation around this time, sleeping the colder months away, while some of our birds will migrate, flying south to warmer countries.

As some birds head south, others arrive from colder climates to enjoy our mild winters. Redwings start to fly in from Scandinavia. They have snowy white chests with dark flecks and a flash of red under their wings. You might also spot long-tailed tits, otherwise known as ‘flying tea spoons’ because of their distinctive ‘stick and ball’ shape and pied wagtails, named for their funny wagging dance.

To find out what other wildlife is around on the Downs, why not download this month’s activity sheet, and go tracking!

You will need

  • The tracking sheet download
  • You might also find the following helpful – 
  • A field guide of British wildlife
  • A magnifying glass or viewing lens
  • Binoculars

Top tips for tracking

  • Tracking is all about the art of asking good questions – who? what? why? when? and where? are good starting points
  • Use all of your senses. You might smell where a fox has marked his territory. You might hear a blackbird rustling about in the leaves looking for worms. If you find animal hair you might be able to feel who it belonged to – deer hair is hollow and rolls easily in your fingers, badger hair has an almost square cross section so won’t roll easily in your fingers.
  • Use ‘wide angle’ vision to spot anything that is unusual in the environment. This means softening your gaze so that you are viewing a wide area rather than just staring straight in front of you – or using ‘binocular’ vision. To do this, start by holding your fingers in front of you and wiggling them. Keep looking at your wiggling fingers as you spread your arms wide – how far apart can you reach before you lose sight of your fingers? Keep this gaze as you drop your hands and start looking at the landscape around you.
  • Think like an animal! If you were a mouse, where might you hide? If you were a fox, where might you find plenty of food? Sources of water are always good places to look for animal tracks!
  • Find out what wildlife is likely to be around – this will help you to narrow down which animal might have left a track or clue.
  • If you find a track, move around so that you are looking at it with the sun behind it. This will make it stand out so that you can see it more clearly.
  • Be careful not to step on any track or clue you find!

Photographs © Avon Gorge & Downs Wildlife Project.