Thursday, 14 March 2013

Otter Walk, Bingley - Saturday 9th March

It was cold, wet and the forecast was for snow. The weather prompted a late change of meeting point, so we met in the Bingley Market car park close to the river and Myrtle Park. Our aim was a tall order - to find evidence of an elusive, nocturnal animal – our namesake the Otter!

Throstle's Nest stone - River Aire, Bingley

We descended the steps to Throstle’s nest and started to scan for exposed boulders in and at the edge of the river. Otters scent-mark their territory with spraint (poo!) in much the same way as other mammals like cats and foxes do. This might warn travelling otters that there is a resident on that stretch, either to attract a potential mate, or warn off competition.  It may also serve as a “calling card” for otters moving through an area to advertise their presence.

Spraint is thought to inform otters about age, sex, health and diet of the marking animal. It is black, 3 to 10 cm and flecked with bones and scales from the otter’s lunch!

Our first bird sighting was a grey wagtail, then another.  Next was a Wren (whose scientific name is Troglodytes troglodytes, which means "cave dweller" in Latin), scouting around the under-cut river bank. A short distance on, and only a stone’s throw from the town centre, we found some Otter spraint on a boulder in the water.

Cam prepares to get the spraint from the boulder

The Otter spraint - you can see the fish bones we found in it on the foil

The only way to experience the distinctive scent of an Otter spraint is to give it a sniff!

We found more 50m on and then crossed the river to check a sand bar for prints.  No otter, but a smaller 5-fingered print, probably a mink.  We also saw a single Fallow deer print (did it hop?!).

Mink tracks - Myrtle Park, Bingley

Our walk then took us up into Mouse Wood above the river, heralded by two woodpeckers, calling from the tree tops and startling a colourful Jay.  A deviation up Harden Beck revealed more otter sign, though Cam nearly had an ‘early bath’ collecting it.  So we know they travel up the smaller water courses feeding the river Aire.

Apart from a flock of Siskins high in the birch trees and a quick team photo on the Beckfoot Bridge, that was our lot.  We were all surprised at how much evidence of our otters we had found. Otter has made an incredible recovery from hunting, pollution and habitat loss and I have looked forward to their return since I was a child, so this was a warming event, on a cold day!

The Airdeale Otters at the end of a successful Otter spraint search!

Thank you to everyone who braved the weather and we hope you enjoyed it as much as we did.