Our guide Andrew Barrett checks out the ottertracks.

On Saturday 16th December 2023, the Rovdjursföreningen Cubs group tracked otters and beavers along Hågaån, which runs through the fields and woods in northern Nåsten.  

We met at the rapids by Kvarnbo, where the waterfalls ran between melting icesheets and dripping icicles. The event’s organiser and experienced tracker, Andrew, equipped with Åke Aronson and Peter Eriksson’s guide Djurens Spår, had found our tracks here the day before and expected to find more. Otters prefer to be by running water because it is rarely entirely frozen over, and this is the fastest water in the area.  

We dispersed to explore, and I made my way tentatively over the snow-clad rocks of the riverbed. Fragile frozen puddles which gave way every few steps to trap my feet and the trees tipped snow over my downturned head. My otherwise misguided route led me to a smooth trail curving through the rocks and under a fallen tree.  

Tracks found

Something had slid down the bank with its body pressing into the snow, and then made now snow-softened prints leading down to the river, over the ice, to a hole with open water. An otter! We confirmed together later – an otter avoiding the mess of heaped tree trunks and bubbling foam in the river on its way downstream. The tracks had been made since the last heavy snow five days ago. Upriver, we found another set of tracks: pairs of prints directly next to each other, around 60cm apart. This pattern of prints could only be an otter – minks run in the same fashion, with their feet together, but their tracks are visibly smaller. Upriver, amongst layers of fox prints, Andrew identified a probable otter print with its distinctive rear pad. Further up we found another pattern of parallel running tracks, leaping over the ice.  

The beaver has bees busy

Further up towards the highway, Andrew had an unexpected treat for us: a demolition site. Or perhaps it is construction happening here on the river. Beavers had brought down a tall aspen and another had been almost chewed through. There had been progress on the site since the previous day and there was a fresh wavy slide from where they had dragged their bodies along the snow to and from the water. The bark was chewed on the fallen aspen branches and many of the hazel trees nearby. A short distance away were more tracks on our side of the river, which let us examine the triangular prints from their webbed feet, alternating along a smooth line where their bodies pressed into the snow.  

The beaver has been busy.

For some of us this was a first tracking experience, and it was an inspiring introduction to find so many clear tracks from rarer animals, as well as learning fox, deer and hare prints. Andrew told me, “having new trackers is a joy for me as I get to introduce them to tracks, common and novel, and the stories they tell. And seeing the fresh and clear beaver chewed tree and tracks was awesome for everyone regardless of experience!”” I look forward to returning to check on the beaver’s site and test my new otter-tracking skills.  

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Francis Rogers Photo Hugo Engqvist

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