Do Otters Eat Fish!

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Otter, photographed by Stephen Tomlinson in Nidd Gorge

Sheila Brown emailed (15-1-17), “I have a small pond in my garden and the other morning, on going to look at the pond which is quite shallow, I found that two of my goldfish had disappeared, the pond had a slight greasy look to it and some scales were at the bottom of it. The fish were quite big as they had been in there at least five years. Have you any idea what might have taken them? The night before they were missing my small dog had gone into the garden about 10.30 and ran down to the pond going hell for leather, so maybe she disturbed something.” This was followed up on 6-2-17 by a similar question from Ian Law, “Do you know how far an otter will travel from a river or lake? This morning I noticed goldfish scales on paving adjacent to my garden pond. It then became clear that an animal had been in the pond as the pump and a large water plant had been tipped over and were strewn across the bottom. I seem to have lost all my 11 fish which includes a largish carp. I have ruled out a heron as the pond is netted and the force required to upset the pump and immersed plant would be considerable. Have you had any recent similar reports? I live on Fairways Avenue with the railway at the bottom of my garden.” At this time of year young male otters are leaving their place of birth and travelling often long distances to find new territories and females. These distances can include going over the watershed from one valley to another i.e. Nidderdale to Wharfedale and vice versa. This can be a dangerous time for them because if they are discovered in another male’s territory the incumbent male may resort to killing them. Otters feed on fish and it’s inevitable that they will take fish from people’s ponds but there are steps you might consider taking to protect your fish, these can include a fence around your pond. Some fishing lakes surround their lake with electric fences but you could just build a steel fence. The problem with fences is whilst they might be successful all you are really doing is shifting the problem elsewhere and doing your neighbours no favours. In a small garden pond you might consider an appropriate refuge for your fish where an otter can’t enter such as a long drainpipe. But here’s another suggestion you might wish to consider. Most fish introduced to ponds and fishing lakes are carp species, non-native species, and this can create untold problems for native species so why not at least in your garden pond consider turning it into a wildlife area without any fish. This will allow our native animals to find their own way in and you may be rewarded with the joy of mating frogs calling, other amphibians, birds not seen before in your pond, although perhaps not herons, and hedgehogs, foxes and badgers may call in for a drink – a different form of pond but one which might be just as rewarding as a few non-native fish. Finally, it is now illegal to deliberately or recklessly kill, injure or take (capture) an otter, deliberately or recklessly disturb or harass an otter, damage, destroy or obstruct access to a breeding site or resting place of an otter (i.e an otter shelter). Thus, otter shelters are legally protected whether or not an otter is present. If you know of such a crime let the Police know.

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Hedgehog – Kathleen Pogson

Sightings

You have sent in some great photos and interesting sightings, my apologies for getting behind somewhat but hopefully I will be back to more normal ‘blogging’ from now on. I have also not responded personally to every one of your sightings, please don’t take it personally, I intend to start doing so again from this week.

Sue (& Geoff) Turner took a post Christmas walk along the Harland Way from Wetherby to Spofforth on a cold and frosty day. It was interesting what they saw. “Wren x 1, Chiffchaff x 1 (this is the first time we have ever seen one in December and we presume it was a Chiffchaff as we could not see the colour of its legs and we have never seen any Willow Warblers around this area), Redwing x 8, Fieldfare x 3 and a Heron (across a field in the direction of Kirk Deighton where there is a small stream) Bullfinch one male and a few blackbirds and robins. Unusually we did not see any Red Kites but perhaps there were no thermals. They regularly fly over our estate and we also see them over my son’s estate in the Bachelor/Bilton area of Harrogate and my daughter’s estate in Garforth. We do the BTO weekly garden bird survey so these numbers are for December in our garden. Blackbirds (20+ when we put fresh food out on the lawn), Woodpigeons (as many as 8 in the garden at the same time), Collared Dove 2, Goldfinch 10, Bullfinch 3 Male 2 Female (This morning we saw 3 Females at the same time), Starling 3, Blue Tit 3, Great Tit 2, Coal Tit 1, Long Tailed Tit 5, Chaffinch 7, Robin 2, Blackcap 2 Male (we have regularly had one male in December but saw two together on the 30th), Carrion Crow x 1, Magpie x 2, Dunnock x 2. We do not see House Sparrows any more but they do frequent some of the hedges and gardens when we walk into Wetherby. We did get a brief visit from a Tree Sparrow on 26th November and have been feeding a hedgehog until the beginning of December. In the summer we have had as many as three hedgehogs at the same time so these must be doing quite well in this area. My neighbour also feeds the hedgehogs and they have access to gardens on either side of us both at the back and front. We regularly have at least three grey squirrels in the garden as they frequent the tall sycamores and ash trees along the Harland Way, which our garden backs onto.” Some impressive sightings from Sue, of which the two summer migrants, chiffchaff and blackcap, are perhaps top of the list. I’m somewhat concerned at the lack of sparrows, house and tree. Tree sparrows seem to be making a bit of a comeback locally after a big decline but house sparrow numbers seem to be dropping, all very worrying. What do you see in your garden and especially how do sparrows fare near you?

I am very grateful to Linda O’Carroll who, despite having a broken right arm making typing very difficult, wrote about her garden birds. “Recently, due to my temporary disability, my hulled sunflower seeds in the Jagunda hopper feeder at the back of the house ran out. It’s the bullfinches‘ favourite feeder, and most of them reluctantly moved to the table seed (mostly corn/millet and some black sunflower) feeder in the side garden, however one bright-coloured male bullfinch started banging on a back window, out of sight of feeders, where I tend to sit for hours at computer. I told myself that bullfinches can’t possibly ask for food at the correct window like that (I wasn’t even by the window when the bullfinch tapped as I can’t work there so much since the injury). So anyway I felt guilty, put hulled sunflower seed near the empty Jagunda feeder, and the tapping stopped. My question is can bullfinches really ask for food by tapping, and can they really work out which window to tap on? I have had various tits sort of tapping on windows for decades, but they are probably after putty and cobwebbed insects. Bullfinch diet doesn’t allow for that explanation though.” I have never heard of a bullfinch tapping for food and we will never really know if it doing so was just coincidence or not, but it did stop when the food was replaced and I often think that our wildlife is far cleverer than we give it credit for, so why not?

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Great White Egret – Kathleen Pogson

Kathleen Pogson sent me some photos that were taken at the end of 2016 – “the great white egret at Fairburn and the hedgehog in our garden. Not sure what the egret has caught, maybe an eel?” Sadly eels are now quite scarce and it could be that the catch is a river lamprey although these are struggling as well.

Bill Rigby and Shan Oakes wrote, “This week you may have seen huge ‘V’ formation skeins of geese flying, Goldfinch: we are seeing them regularly (Tentergate in Knaresborough), feeding on teasels and evening primrose seeds.” Did you see the geese? They were pink-footed. Shan also tells me, “the queen wasp (seen by Bill Shaw) may well have been one from our house! We keep finding them in the house vaguely trying to get out the windows so we help them out, into the cold. Why are they in our house? Could it be they are coming in in the pine wood we burn in the stove?” I’m not sure I can answer this, at this time of year they have probably been disturbed from hibernation or unseasonally mild weather may have woken them up. I wonder if they are trying to find a suitable hibernation place inside the house and it may be good to release them in a garden shed or similar.

Events

Carole Turner asked me to share this with you. “Birders against Wildlife Crime have an appeal for funds for tagging raptors. It has already reached its target but the more money it gets the more birds can be tagged. If you would be so kind to publicise this on your next newsletter, there are 49 days left to contribute. https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/BAWC01

Harrogate and District Naturalists’ Society

Hartlepool, Teesmouth and RSPB Saltholme Minibus trip (booking required). Tuesday, February 14 08:30 – 18:00

Harrogate RSPB Group

Talk by Ian Newton Location: Christchurch Hall, The Stray, Harrogate, Birds of the Masai Mara Monday, 13 February, 7.30pm. Price: £3 for Members and £4 for Visitors

Reserve Sightings

Nosterfield Nature Reserve

Recent sightings from twitter include; bittern and waxwing.

Sightings from Harrogate Naturalists’ Society Sightings Page,

Ian Webster – Allerton Park landfill site 3 Glaucous Gull (juvenile) 2 Iceland Gull (juvenile)
17 White Fronted Geese.
David PostlethwaiteBittern at Ripon Canal Lagoon (Nicholson’s Lagoon) this morning but no sign of the smew.
David Gilroy – At least 86 Curlews and 32 Oystercatchers now on Ripon Racecourse. One drake Pintail on the lagoon at the far end of Ripon Canal. One male Brambling in our Harrogate garden today – the first of the winter.
Rob Brown – c 40 waxwings Nidderdale Drive, Knaresborough. Mobile in area because of mistle thrush
Marie HarbourStoat in winter white coat at Brimham Rocks.
09:52 06-02-2017
Peter Thomson – Opened my bedroom curtains at 7:20 this morning as dawn was breaking and saw the surface of a very calm Oak Beck suddenly become very agitated as two small brown heads broke the surface, then disappeared to be followed by the unmistakeable smooth tails of Otters as they continued on their way downstream. This is a first for here and I can only assume that they were on their way back to the Nidd.