Inside-out guest blog - Pablo invites you to become a Nature Detective

Welcome to the Inside-out guest blog with my fabulous pal Pablo, who gives us some top tips on the autumn treasures we can spot in nature at this time of year. I don't know about you but I love this stuff: which creature ate that nut; what  made those tracks you nearly missed in the rain-softened mud.

A little about the man himself, before we get into it: Pablo is one of my fellow boaters, living a couple of vessels down from us at April Island on a narrow boat. He and his wife Hannah spend some of the year here and some of it over in France where they run courses and retreats (complete with yoga and massage) at a forest retreat surrounding an old watermill, on the River Gourbillon. They are both super connected to the earth and are just the kind of people that know things. For example, when Ryan and I got married in July, they were unable to make it to the celebrations, but gifted us each with a Kuksa. I was like "A what?!".

For the benefit of the equally uninitiated, it's a beautiful Scandinavian hand carved mug you should only drink water, coffee, spirits, wine or mead out of. In Lapland and Sami tradition, you can only carve your own or have one gifted to you. If it's well made it will last you for life. There's a special process you have to follow, before you use it for the first time, with a toast to nature and offering to Mother-earth. So you know what I mean, they just know things - particularly when it comes to holistic living and nature (another one, this time from Hannah, you can use conkers in the washing machine as a natural detergent?!). Having a conversation with them around our communal fire pit is always interesting!

If you'd like to know a whole world more than what Pablo covers here, head to woodlife.co.uk to check out the day, weekend and week long courses, online programmes and book he's put together. Now, over to Pablo:

 

Nature Detective - September

It’s autumn. Mabon, the pagan thanksgiving festival for the end of the harvest and autumnal equinox, passed us by on 23rd September. This marks the half-way point between mid-summer and mid-winter. It may be time to have another wander in the woods or nearby forest to see what’s about.

Whatever your hobby, you could be inspired by nature if you get out and have a good look around, especially at this time of year. The wonderful autumnal colours are just about to come out on the trees, and the leaves will start to fall. Autumn activity by the inhabitants of the woods is far from over, even though autumn foraging started as early as the end of July. A bit of rain may have left the paths damp. Even though we might not see any wildlife, we can look at the tracks and signs the animals leave behind to see who was there. In fact, let’s play the nature detective!

Footprints are always a give-away and can easily be identified by the observant nature sleuth. Six basic shapes will show whether they were made by rodents – squirrels, rats and mice (very small hand shape); mustelids - badgers, stoats, weasels (square shape), canines – fox or dog (oval shape); deer (heart-shape with two slots or cleaves); rabbits or hares (tear-drop shape) or cats (a round shape.) A bit more study will tell us when the prints were made, how many animals were there, what direction they were going in, what they were doing and (believe it or not) perhaps how they may be feeling! It’s not some mystical art - just good observation, and a little bit of knowledge and deduction my dear Watson.

Labelled tracks of a deer, badger and rabbit one side, alongside a graphic diagram of various species' tracks, to the right

Feeding sign is also in abundance. A closer look at hazel nuts will show who has nibbled at the shell to get to the nut inside. Teeth marks on the outside of an oval hole in the shell will show it was a mouse otherwise the hole was made by a vole. If the nut is split in half, it was a squirrel.

Two hazelnuts broken open, the first a clean slice down the middle (Squirrel) and the second with a section nibbled off one side (Mouse)

Look closely at vegetation about chest height. An angled cut with a small tuft will show deer browsing. Deer have bottom teeth at the front of their mouths but none at the top; so the tuft is caused when they have pulled a juicy morsel away from the stem of the plant. A straight or angled cut on low vegetation will usually identify our creature as a rabbit or hare. They have two sets of upper teeth – one behind the other. Super-efficient for nibbling on grass!

Everyone likes a bit of poo (!) No? Okay then - but ‘scat’ is great to help us identify our animal. Small black pellets are made by rabbits or deer. A closer look and you will be able to tell the difference. Look at one end. If it is pointed, then it would have been left by a deer.

Small black scats in grass, labelled 'Muntjac deer pellets'

Deer pellets are usually smoother as well. Fallow deer pellets are larger than rabbit pellets so that should be easy. The smallest deer pellets are made by tiny muntjac deer. Badgers leave their scat in shallow holes called latrines and foxes will leave sometimes leave their scat on small mounds of earth to mark their territory. The higher ground enables the wind to take the scent as far as possible. Clever, eh?

It’s not all visual. At this time of year and continuing into late October, you may well hear some strange noises in the woods. It sounds like a loud coughing or bellowing. This will be the sound of fallow deer. The male, or buck, will try to attract the females or does, by making this noise. It is the time of the rut or mating season for some species of deer. In more open areas or larger forests, a similar sound will be made by the larger red deer.

Even if it’s getting a little chillier now, wrap up warm, pull up your collar and have a wander through the woods and see what you can detect.

Pablo's Bio

Pablo is a wildlife tracker and nature awareness guide. He has travelled to nearly every continent to learn tracking from indigenous peoples including Southern Africa’s Ju’/Hoansi, the hunter gatherer tribe and expert trackers from that region. He has been to South Africa on two further occasions to study wildlife conservation with South Africa’s foremost anti-poaching instructors. Pablo owns Woodlife, a local wildlife tracking school; and Forest Lifea nature retreat in France. He has also published a book on tracking available exclusively on Apple Books called Master Tracker’

Pablo of Woodlife, with horse and tracking in Africa

I'm always looking for interesting new things and fabulous people, to focus in on. So, if you'd like to feature on the Found by Dawn blog, social media and inner circle monthly email, drop me an email today.

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