Gosforth Nature Reserve Journal: Otters on Ice

Enjoy a closer look at Gosforth Nature Reserve’s Otters in a new blog by local naturalist and volunteer, Christopher Wren.

This winter has seen snow, floods, ice and gales, all of which present a challenge to our native mammals. Otters are probably the least troubled by winter weather as their thick waterproof coats provide protection against cold and they have a year-round food supply. As proof of their adaptability, they are non-seasonal breeders, starting on the next litter once the previous one has graduated to independence, whatever the time of year.

Despite their insulation, otters will eventually lose heat in cold water so they usually stay in for only 20-30 minutes before getting out to dry off and to groom. When the lake is frozen an otter will judge whether the ice is thick enough to bear its weight. If not, the trick is to break a hole and swim underneath. Here is the dog otter doing just that.

Did you notice the moorhen?

The next video shows the same animal a short while later, on patrol, perhaps looking for the moorhen.

Cubs have less confidence the first time they meet ice. Here is one with things not quite going according to plan.

The ice is usually thinner near the bank so the otters will often swim underneath to get to the other side. Here the mother and one cub wait while the other one joins them. You can hear the mother making an encouraging contact call.

When the ice is thicker the cubs seem to enjoy skating although, frustratingly, they are often just out of view of my cameras. Halfway through this video, there is a brief glimpse of the mother under the ice as the cubs play on top.

The next video shows the mother and cubs exploring the scents in the dark, not forgetting to sniff the camera.

The last video shows how wonderfully warm and fluffy the mother and cubs look when their chocolate-brown fur is dry. Otters in this country were hunted for their fur for centuries and were still trapped in Scotland until about 50 years ago when the practice was banned. Now they are fully protected.

Christopher Wren
Local Naturalist and Volunteer

Christopher Wren is a volunteer in Gosforth Nature Reserve and a local naturalist, interested in most areas of natural history, especially mammals and using trail cameras to study their behaviour.

Visit Chris’ blog for more updates on North East’s wildlife – TrogTrogBlog