Otley Wetland Nature Reserve on the morning after the only snowfall of the winter so far was a wonderland with every bough, twig and reed head outlined with a ridge of snow. As the temperature warmed during the morning the bent reed heads began to release their load, springing to attention as though a bird had just leapt from them.
The smallest of the lakes was almost completely frozen, topped with mushy-looking snow but with one area of clear water kept open by a pair of mute swans determined not to abandon their nesting territory.
On one of the deeper unfrozen lakes, among the mallards, wigeon and tufted ducks were three male and eight female goldeneye, the males jerking their heads and throwing them over their backs, practising their mating rituals in a portent of spring before the apparently unimpressed females.
I counted 210 disconsolate looking lapwings (pictured) stood in a snowy field, many with heads tucked under their wings, others just standing but all hoping for a thaw to allow them to feed. Later, in another field a small group of lapwings was taking advantage of spaces created where a flock of sheep was rooting in the snow.
At the outflow from the sailing club lake I went to investigate a rock known to be used as a marking post where otters deposit their spraints. No animal tracks led to or from the rock through the virgin snow but, around the rock itself were about ten prints where an animal had emerged from the water and sniffed around it. The prints measured about 4cm across, too big and the wrong shape to be those of a mink but too small to be those of an adult otter which usually measure about 7cm across. However, looking back through old photos, they were a good match for prints found in the mud at the wetlands previously where the smaller prints of an otter cub had been overlaid on those of an adult. Intriguingly, I have since heard reports of three otters playing along the top of Otley weir on the day after my wetlands visit.
Access to the Otley Wetland Nature Reserve is restricted but volunteers are always welcome on the working parties that meet on the first Thursday and third Saturday of each month, starting at 9.30am from the car parking area 300 yards beyond the gate which new volunteers might have to wait for someone else to unlock. Further details can be obtained from Nick Berry on 01943-430042.