My wildlife year got off to a wonderful start at Leighton Moss on 2nd January. Within five minutes of my son and I settling down in the Public Hide on the causeway beside the biggest mere, a line of porpoising backs moved out from the reeds 200 yards away. Backs showed briefly then heads and tails as the otters, three or four of them, dived repeatedly, at times surfacing together to squabble or play. This continued for half an hour, unfortunately too far away for much camera success even with a telephoto lens. However, having arrived after nine o’clock and knowing that otters are mainly nocturnal, we felt privileged to have witnessed such a group, a mother with three large cubs. The key to seeing them better is apparently to visit during freezing weather when they have to cross the ice to reach open water. Breeding otters are now firmly re-established at Leighton Moss, having been absent between 1996 and 2007.
Nearer home and two weeks later, I walked with my son along the bank of the Wharfe below Harewood to an area where, on a June mid-morning last year, my wife and I had seen a single otter shortly after another couple had watched two, either a pair or a mother with a cub. On this occasion we were rewarded with other fish hunters in a kingfisher and a pair of goosanders but there were no otters. However, a line of prints coming out of the water on to a mud bank provided welcome evidence that at least one otter was still around. One print in particular (pictured) showed the typical indentation of a hindpaw with small claws scarcely visible.
The following week, on a predawn excursion to Otley Wetland, live otters were nowhere to be seen, although again otter prints were visible going up and across a bank between two channels, one of their regular crossing points leading to the site of a possible holt in the bank of a secluded pool. A tawny owl flew by but, for the otters, I was too late.
Similarly, a return visit to the Wharfe at Harewood at the beginning of this month, at dawn in the hope of finding an otter heading home after a night’s fishing, again drew a blank. Wharfedale’s otters are elusive but therein lies part of their charm.
Nature Notes by Denis O’Connor
Wharfedale Naturalists Society