Wednesday, 24 February 2010

In search of otters

The possibility of otters along the Ock has intrigued me for a while - apparently mink used to be common, but something must explain why it is now a stronghold of water voles and young moorhens (another favourite of mink) and otters have been reported along the Thames at Iffley meadows and at Radley Lakes in north Abingdon. Also, BBOWT have reported that an otter spraint has been found at one of their reserves through which Sandford Brook - a tributary of the Ock flows. 
So I've been checking out various possible places where otters may leave spraints, which they use for marking territory and beneath the bridge, where the Ock flows under the A34 I found this:

It is defiantly, not dog (I've seen and stood in enough of that to know what that is), but it could be an otter spraint or mink scat.  There are two tests to tell them apart:

1. Smell: An otter spraint can smell of jasmine or lavender , a mink scats just smells awful.
2. Contents: An otter spraint will contain fish bones and scales, whilst a mink scat contains mammal fur.

I didn't recall in horror when I smelt it, so it probably wasn't mink, so I took it home and a dissected it on the kitchen table - the contents of it are obviously fish:

Whilst dissecting, it produced an even stronger grassy smell, definitely otter.

The territory of an otter can vary - depending upon the size of the population and the abundance of food - from 1 to 20 miles, so this could be the same otter that was reported by BBOWT - if it is, then it may risk crossing the Marcham road, a busy road to the west of Abingdon.

The return of otters to English water ways has to be one of the conservation success stories of recent years. It was almost extinct in central England with only a significant population in the west  and fragmented populations elsewhere.  It was not until the banning of certain pesticides along with the 1979 otter hunting ban has the population recovered and this record of a spraint can be added to the increasing numbers recorded elsewhere in Oxfordshire.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Hedge Life

Although they look bare:

 The hedgerows on either side of Mill Road are alive with the sounds of songbirds.  A Dunnock, a rather drab little bird has a wonderful song:
So does the Robin, previously a regular in our garden, this year they have been conspicuous by their absence, so it's good to see the a few of them singing in the hedge.

Birds are not the only sign of the arrival of spring, a clump of snowdrops have sprung up under the hedge.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Great crested grebe

This is a first for me on the river Ock, a great crested grebe

I suspect this one has migrated from the coast and is just stopping off before finding a suitable lake,  where they can frequently be seen and where they breed and raise young during the spring and summer.  I imagine if I go back tomorrow it may not be there.
It's easy to take grebes for granted, they are now fairly common and most large lakes will support at least one pair, I saw two on Longmead lake today.  
But back in the Victorian era they were nearly driven to extinction as their splendid plumage was prized for hats and clothing.  In 1860, the population was reduced to 42 breeding pairs.
To protest against this the 'Fur, Fin and Feather Folk' group was formed in 1889, changing it's name in 1904 to 'Royal Society for the Protection of Birds', which now has over 1 million members - including myself
The RSPB now put the population of great crested grebes as 9,400

RSPB Handbook of British Birds