Thursday, December 16, 2010

Get your skates on, kids, it's breakfast time!: How a family of Somerset otters went dancing on ice


Snouting about: It appeared to be a perfect morning for the otters to undertake a spot of fishing - but they had to overcome one small problem first

They say we’re heading for the coldest winter in decades. Thermometers are set to plunge to record lows and snow, ice and misery are on the way.

But down by the water in Somerset, if you’ll pardon the pun, everything seems to be a little ‘otter’.

Dancing on ice, this family of charismatic predators sees no ­reason to be deterred by the big freeze. So it’s on with the fur coats, and down into the cold water.

Taking a lead from their Polar-dwelling ­mammal cousins the seals, these otters cracked a hole in the thinnest section of ice this week and went hunting for a snack from nature’s freezer.

One emerged a little later with a handsome perch that must have imagined it was perfectly safe to swim in open waters when there was a 2in thick roof over its head.

The family, probably a bitch and her three cubs, were messing about on the Somerset Levels, a wetland area in the middle of the county. Dad, it appears, was dog tired at home on the couch (another name for the holt that otters build in the riverbank).

Ice skating: Perhaps not realising how cold the ground was, one fleet-footed otter skips across the river, eyes wide looking for a thin ice spot to break

Follow me: Sitting at the ice's edge, the otter gestures to her family to join her on the ice from the comfort of their holt in the riverbank reeds

Lynne Newton, who took the pictures, said: ‘I saw something on the ice and I thought it was a mink.

'As I got closer I heard the ice cracking. Then I saw it was an otter . . . and another, and another, and another.

‘I stood watching for about 20 minutes. I could see them cracking the ice, swimming underneath it and catching the fish.’

Fishing trip: Following their mother's lead the three cubs join her on the icy water as they look for a good place to set up camp to hunt for food

The Eurasian species (Lutra lutra) is native to the UK, but was threatened with extinction two decades ago. A recolonisation plan was put into action, and now their presence is a sure indication of clean water.

In Somerset, 83 per cent of casualties are caused not by chemicals, sewage or the stripping of river vegetation, but when otters try to cross the road. The fact that this is where most people encounter otters makes the sighting of four of them skating especially unusual.

Breakfast is served: Having jabbed through the thin ice with a paw, this otter tucks into a tasty treat - but there didn't appear to be any second helpings

But by the weekend, they might have to learn to ski as well. Forecasters are warning that the second bout of Britain’s Big Freeze is set to bring up to 8in of snow in some parts overnight. Temperatures are likely to fall below -10c.

So what will happen if the otters’ ice rink becomes impenetrable? Happily, they can also survive on birds, mice and anything else that doesn’t see them coming first. But they will need to fluff up those fur coats for a while yet.

source: dailymail

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