It’s Easter but it’s still snowing here in NE Scotland - our Strathbogie forests and farmland are once again dusted in winter white.
There is no doubt it’s been a cold winter, a bit of a shock after so many mild ones recently and perhaps more typical of winters long past, according to older locals.
We’ve had lots of questions about how the wildcats are coping in the snow - not to mention our staff and volunteers.
Our Scottish Wildcats are well adapted to cope with winter weather, with long thick coats of dense fur and a habit of finding good shelter in well insulated dens underground or amongst dense vegetation. They can stay warm very well, though the dislike being too wet - a soggy moggy isn’t a happy one.
Like many felines, wildcats don’t particularly like wet feet and will avoid deep wet snow if they can. The energy they have to expend bounding through deep snow drifts, on relatively short legs, is huge, so they will seek out routes to move around where snow is thinnest. Of course if the snow lies long enough to form a hard crust on top, the cats can walk across the top.
The real difficulty for our wildcats in snow is hunting for food. Their favourite food of rabbits can be hard to find as they stay deep in their burrows. Voles and mice will form clever tunnels underneath deep snow to move around, and wildcats have trouble reaching these or break through to reach their prey.
Our wildcats will change their tactics in periods of deep snow, which we have noticed this season by following their tracks and on our cameras. Whilst their favourite hunting grounds are open areas on woodland edges, in times with deepest snow they change to hunt further into the woodlands, in areas of dense plantation where the closed canopy means less snow reaches the ground. Alternatively, some wildcats have deliberately staked out rabbit warrens in farmland, hoping the hungry bunnies will be desperate enough to pop out for a meal- only to become a meal for a wildcat!
Of course snow doesn’t make our fieldwork easy - we’ve had some beautiful but challenging conditions to work in - our hardy volunteers have been out in it all. Of course one advantage of snow is that it is the perfect medium for wildlife tracking - here’s a recent example of a fresh cat print.
So as well all look forward to a warmer spring and as the wildcat mating season ends and the females get ready to give birth, let’s hope it’s a bumper breeding season ahead for our wildcats.