On Saturday the 23rd we got up very early to reach the River Ouse as early as possible. On leaving Lane End (Bucks) I spotted a Barn owl working along a hedgerow which was a good record for the area. Just the night before I had seen a Tawny owl in the Beech wood nearby.
I had heard reports of a pair of otters that had become very habituated to human presence. We arrived at the site during a flurry of snow which was atmospheric. It didn't take long to find the pair of otters which appears to be a mother and an almost adult cub. They were playfighing in the river and along the bank, when a local domestic cat interrupted them. After a stand off the cat approached, but soon changed its mind, once the mother took more interest. The cat made a dash back into its garden, followed by the inquistive mother otter.
Soon both the otter and cat re-emerged and continued with their business. By now the adolescent had started fishing in the river, and was clearly a proficient hunter bringing up several Roach.
The two of them then began to hunt the bank we were standing on and even came within 2 feet of my lens to check us out.
Later we watched as a Kingfisher took advantage of the disturbance the otters were making, by catching several small fish species.
Despite the cold, we spent almost 2 hours watching the antics and behaviour of the pair, hunting birds as well as fish.
The UK Otter population is a great success story, (they have now been recorded in every county in the country) and their numbers continue to rise. This is a perfect indication of the health of our waterways and coastlines and its great to see them in such a bold way. I am more used to scrambling across rocky shorelines in Scotland for distant glimpses.
I then went in search of the Black-bellied race of Dipper that has been over wintering in Thetford. It was suprisingly easy to find along a fast flowing stream and I watched it catch several caddisfly larvae. Dippers are specially adapted to forage underwater, they can both swim and walk beneath the surface. They walk by gripping stones with their feet and holding out their wings against the current to prevent them from being pushed along. Black bellied dippers differ from our resident race of dipper by the dark underbelly, which is chestnut in the race (gularis).
The rest of the day was spent at Lakenheath Fen RSPB Reserve. The washland held the typical species of waterfowl and at least 7 different Marsh harriers were patrolling the extensive reed-beds. It was great to see how much this reserve has come on and improved its habitats since the RSPB intensified their management here. A Whooper swan was associating with the Mute swans along the river, and a Water rail was skulking under the huge willow near the Visitor Centre.
A rustling in the undergrowth along the side of the last poplar plantation, had a mammal feel to it, so I investigated further. It then revealed itself as a Weasel, and continued to hunt the bank of a small ditch for small mammals. I hid behind a stand of reed, until it made its way close enough for a really good view and photographs. I was especially happy with obtaining photos as it was the final species of British mustelid left for me to photograph. The winter is a very good time to look for both Weasels and Stoats along ditches, stone walls, riverbanks and rabbit warrens as they struggle to find prey during cold periods.
(All pictures; Ian Loyd)