We expected to come across prints from animals such as deer, hares, rabbits, squirrels and even the smaller mammals such as weasels and stoats, however we were after one inparticular - the otter. Otters are very elusive animals, and so alternative techniques of surveying them are required, such as checking for tracks and spraints. We were successful in our finds and came across several spraints on stones under bridges, and prints in the snow at North Duffield, Wheldrake and Ellerton. Below are a few photographs we took whilst out searching for signs of these elusive creatures, can you tell which animal/bird made them??
Otters have a long history in the Lower Derwent Valley, and a small population remained here when the national population reached its low ebb in the 1980's. In the early 1990's English Nature and the Vincent Wildlife Trust had a reinforcement project in the valley when several rehabilitated animals were soft released at both Wheldrake Ings and Thornton Ellers, as part of a wider River Derwent project. Since then the otter population has gone from strength to strength in the valley with an estimated three or four breeding females in the catchment now. Clearly a success in its own right, and the positive results have been more wide ranging, in that since the otter population has increased, the local mink population has dramatically decreased over the same period. Otters tend to push mink out of their territories and are believed to kill them if the opportunity arises. As a result of the declining population of mink, the area has also seen an increase in the number of water voles and species like Moorhen and Coot which breed on ditch sides and river banks.
Over the course of the month there has been a few records for otters - on the 15th a lucky visitor to the Geoff Smith Hide at North Duffield Carrs watched a single animal swimming in the River Derwent. Fresh spraints were found by the bailey bridge at Wheldrake Ings on the 22nd, with tracks also found in the snow near the windpump. More tracks of a female and two cubs were found at Bank Island on the 23rd. Many tracks were found in the snow along the floodbank at North Duffield Carrs and Ellerton on the 24th, a single otter was also caught on the camera at Wheldrake bridge. One or two injured orphaned cubs have also been rehabilitated and released back into the Derwent catchment over the last few years due to Jean Thorpe's excellent and dedicated hard work.
It's not just otters that have appeared on our cameras.....we've had a variety of wildlife caught in the act including a number of bird species - the most exciting being the exquisite Jay, followed by Robins, Redwings, Blackbirds, Red-legged Partridges, Crows, a Heron & ofcourse numerous inquisitive Pheasants! We've racked up a list of mammals too - numerous Badgers (a family from the nearby set), several Foxes, a family of Roe Deer, a female Otter with two cubs, a Brown Hare, Rabbit, Squirrels, Wood Mouse and a Stoat! Below are a sample from the 3000+ photos that were taken!