Have you ever wondered what happens in your garden in the middle of the night? Do you think any little animals come and visit once the lights go out? You could build a hide and stay up all night wearing night vision goggles to find out. Or, you could create this simple footprint tracker and work it out the following morning!
You may have seen a whole host of birds, butterflies, bees, and stag beetles (especially this time of year) in your back garden during the day. You probably have a cat who visits regularly to see if it can nab an unsuspecting feathered friend or perhaps a saucer of milk from you. But did you know that under the cover of darkness, your garden plays host to a whole different cast of characters? Here’s how you can find out who they are.
Take an old tray or baking tray and fill in with damp sand from the playpit. You need it to be just firm enough to hold an impression if you stick a finger in. Think of the perfect sandcastle mix and go for that! Not so solidly packed that you’d need an elephant to stand on it to sink in, and not so loose that flea could land on it and collapse the whole pile. Smooth it off with a spade or a long stick.
Our dinosaur friends made a few tracks of their own before we set it out for the night. We weren’t sure if that might scare the garden’s mammals off but thought it was worth the risk!
Pile up a small mound of dog food if you want to attract foxes or hedgehogs, or a little hill of peanuts to tempt smaller mammals like mice. Look for places where animals are likely to walk such as near a compost bin, a pile of leaves, or a hole in the hedge. Take your tray out just before bed and leave in peace so animals will venture on without fear of human interference.
By morning, you will hopefully discover a few sets of footprints. Why not print out our chart and mark off which animals have been visiting? You could leave different bait out on different nights and see who you attract!
Let us know which animals you’ve managed to find in your garden!
Expert Explorers: It takes years of experience to become an expert tracker, and a good one can tell not only which animals have been around, but also what they have been doing. It’s a great skill for really getting to know nature and improving your powers of observation. Fox tracks are narrow diamonds, and sometimes you can even see the imprints left behind by the hairs in between their pads. Badgers have very broad footpints with long claws on the front foot, and shorter claws on the hind foot. Cats have rectracting claws so they don’t leave claw prints, but dogs and foxes do. Try learning to identify the tracks without using a picture guide to really hone your skills!