Titchwell Tick-list, January 24, 2017

A fresh water otter
A fresh water otter
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I remember as a child spending countless hours engrossed in the pages of The Jungle Book and The Wind in the Willows.

I was fascinated by anything that took me into a world where I could experience nature and wildlife, albeit vicariously.

Possibly my favourite read, however, was Tarka the Otter by Henry Williamson.

Tarka’s story begins in an otter holt in north Devon and follows the course of his life with gritty candour.

It’s a raw story that imprints upon the reader the circle of life and death in the wild.

Tarka struggles through harsh winters, periods of hunger and the loss of parents, cubs and mate, but there are also times of joy, when adventure beckons and friendships are forged.

There is a sad twist to the tale as human activities take precedence over nature, but, to find out more, you must read the book for yourself.

Williamson’s novel was written in 1927 and, by the time I read it in the late ‘60s, Britain’s otter numbers were in severe decline.

Loss of habitats, water pollution and hunting drove these shy and elusive mammals to the verge of extinction.

In recent years, otters have made a comeback in our rivers and lakes up and down the country and, at RSPB Titchwell Marsh, we have already had our first sightings of the year.

Otters are members of the weasel family and well adapted to life in the water and on land.

However, the cubs are initially reluctant to enter the water and many are propelled forward by their stalwart mothers.

Otter’s eyes and nostrils are placed high on their head so that they can continue to see and breathe while submerged in water.

Their wiry whiskers help them locate food in murky water and at night and, although otters hunt in water, they prefer to eat on land.

A favourite meal consists of fish, but they are equally happy to dine on amphibians, or the chicks of small water birds, such as moorhen and coot.

Once established, otters are highly territorial and, unlike much of the wildlife at Titchwell, they do not migrate.

Underground homes or holts are tunnelled into river banks and lined with grass or reeds, with the entrance often underwater which makes them difficult to see.

Otters themselves seem to be slightly more agreeable to be out in daylight hours and will make a guest appearance along the west bank path every now and then.

Late winter and early spring are particularly good times to spot these mercurial creatures hunting for prey in the first hours of the morning.

Keen ears might detect their high pitched squeak hailing across the reed beds. This turns to angry chatter when they are threatened or in hot pursuit of a tasty meal.

The reserve’s otters may not always be on show, but there is always something to see on the reserve, no matter what time of year you visit.

The reserve is not only a haven for wildlife but provides the perfect background to spend a few hours of downtime and a chance to unwind after a busy week.

At this time of year, take advantage of our spacious hides and find a place to settle down with a hot drink and enjoy the show.