Apart from the occasional squirrel, forest mammals are almost never seen in the Finnish winter. But if you look again, tracks appear everywhere in the ridge area. Studying winter tracks is demanding but rewarding, bringing nature alive in the middle of winter.
Tracks from left to right: fox, mountain hare, brown hare and elk.
The best time to study animal tracks is a couple of days after the last snowfall, when enough new traces have appeared in the snowdrifts and no wind or sun has been able to alter them. It is worth following the same track for a long time because mammals will move in different ways in different conditions. When identifying the animal, it is first necessary to determine the direction of the track, which is often seen from the the claws. Powdery snow does not always show claws, so recognising direction comes from knowing that the effort of walking throws snow ahead of the animals step, indicating the way to go.
The ridge area’s most common tracks are mountain hare, brown hare, fox, squirrel and elk. The tracks in the images are those left when an animal moves peacefully in snow. Tracks formed by jumping and fleeing, for example, may differ considerably from normal tracks.
Hares often move over snow and their tracks are almost guaranteed to be seen on a winter trek across rural snow. Brown hare and mountain hare are similar but the brown hare lacks the so-called snowshoe, i.e. it is not capable of spreading the toes of its hind legs to form a wide snowshoe. For this reason, it easily sinks into soft snow, leaving the mountain hare better adapted to Nordic conditions.
Fox tracks are usually small and straight and because its paws are furry, the track is clear. The claws will usually be visible but as all dog animals are very similar, foxes are best distinguished in packed snow, that clearly shows small details.