Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Over Prepared

Today I planned to wait to try and show my nephew the Tophill Low Otters, so I collected him from his home at 8.10am. I knew how long the wait was likely to be, so the preparations were exhaustive. Yesterday I bought some special thermal socks for our wellies. I brought along with us four special pads that could be used on either hands or feet if we needed heat generating quickly. I also boiled the kettle - once for a hot drink, and then another for a large flask which could be used to fill a hot water bottle. When we arrived Ben and I donned our thermal socks before we put on our wellies, and I put plenty of layers on, including a thick woolly jumper, thermal vest, camouflage vest, 2 fleeces, and a waterproof coat. Before we set off there was the sound of a Great Spotted Woodpecker calling in the car park. I filled up the hot water bottle, and put it in my rucksack & we set off through D woods. I was expecting a very long wait in the hide.

We arrived at North Marsh just after 9am to find a chap with a massive camera (Tony Simpson?) already in place in the prime corner. There were more birds present than my previous visit with a very active Moorhen and Wren. We hadn't been there more than 20 minutes when I noticed a tell-tale wake travelling towards us in the right-hand channel and sure enough an Otter's head soon popped up. The rest of the events went past in a bit of a whirl, as the Otters arrived in front of the hide, and kept surfacing, and then diving again. It was obvious that there were 2 Otters, but at one moment it appeared that there were at least 3 animals present. Ben became swiftly adept at spotting various wakes, but also trails of bubbles coming up to the surface. This ensured that the photographers were ready when the Otters surfaced again. Eventually these charismatic creatures turned their backs on us, and headed off back up the right-hand channel.  Here, they surfaced again, and we all saw the heads of three otters.  The female seemed to have 3 youngsters in tow. 
Only a few minutes later Ben spotted another trail of bubbles moving towards us down the left-hand channel and an apparently larger-headed Otter surfaced, but soon went past the hide, and disappeared behind us heading through some sparse reeds in a southerly direction. This may have been a dog Otter. A few minutes later he was back, and surfaced again briefly before disappearing up the right-hand channel again. 
After another quarter of an hour, I realised that is was unlikely that we were going to see such a great spectacle again, so we headed off north. When we reached a North Scrub, I was able to point out a very pale roosting Barm Owl to Ben. In Angus MacBean hide there was a Little Egret, but not very much of interest, although a pair of Buzzards flew past heading west. We went back to a hide overlooking D Reservoir. Here, we were able to see some Goldeneye, a Pochard, some Wigeon, and plenty of other wildfowl. When we got back to the car park we had a look from the car park hide. The light was great here, and we enjoyed some better views of the Goldeneyes. 

 Female Otter & last year's Club Leaving
 Typical Otter Wake
So, were all the preparations worth it? Well, if the Otters hadn't appeared so quickly we could have been waiting for several hours. In the end we got very lucky indeed and none of the precautions against the extreme cold were required. These were the first Otters Ben had ever seen. And they were certainly the best views I've ever had. It was a very special wildlife encounter that we'll both remember for a very long time to come. 
Possible Dog Otter
 Record Shot of Buzzard
 Little Egret
As we were leaving a Stoat narrowly missed the front of the car near North Lagoon.  It was carrying a Rabbit in its jaws!  Meanwhile Chris Cox also visited the South part of the reserve, and went south.  He saw a Fox, Pintail & Kingfisher on Watton Nature Reserve, and had 2 Water Rails on South lagoon.  He heard the call of 2 Tawny Owls on North Marsh.  He saw the same Barn Owl as we did in North Scrub, and also saw 2 Buzzards and a Great Spotted Woodpecker. 


Stav Sinclair said...

thanks for good details and pictures i hope to get a chance to see them only ever seen them once before a long time ago 3 years or so. Stav.

Peter said...

Very exciting - nice views. Looking for the same experience on the Somerset Levels one day soon I hope.

Michael Flowers said...

Guess, they could be anywhere on the Somerset levels these days!

Maurice Gordon said...

Otterly fantastic! No-one else said it so I thought someone should ;)

Michael Flowers said...

I'm glad someone did!