Neighbours call me to come and look at some footprints that have appeared in the mud alongside the stream that flows through their garden. There are reports of otters beginning to return to the Calder valley so I'm interested to see the prints. If a Calder valley otter (if there are such creatures) was exploring Coxley Beck, our only local stream which still has a population of bullheads, this is the way it would have to come.
I decide to make a plaster cast of the prints:
Over the past year I've read all the Sherlock Holmes stories for a project that I've got on the go so I enjoy this as a piece of nature detective work. I have to admit to a little thrill of anticipation when I returned and lifted the cast.
The result reminds me of one of those fossilised dinosaurs trackways (except on a smaller scale!). In addition to the mammal prints there are bird tracks, about the size that a blackbird would make and narrow curving tracks that might represent the activities of some invertebrate ploughing through the mud.
The paw prints are 3 cm, a little over an inch, across. A quick look at my animal tracks field guide confirms my suspision that this is a domestic cat. The garden has a a resident dog so the cat must have used the stream, which is in a shallow stone-faced channel, as a way of getting through the garden incognito.
I suggest that we line up the local moggies and paw print them - in order to eliminate them from our enquiries.