With the passing of the winter solstice and the lengthening of days, the bees are too busy preparing for spring for us to visit. Otters, on the other hand, are always happy to entertain their guests.
WWT London Wetland Centre is a popular nature reserve close to the heart of the city and described as a ‘haven for birds, wildlife and people’. Considering how close I live to the reserve it was the ideal place to enjoy a day out with my mum and walk-off recent over-indulgences.
It was a cold, grey Sunday with rain threatening in every cloud, but there was plenty of winter wildlife to see. The courtyard’s main glass observatory offered incredible views of the reedy lake, with ducks, geese and wading birds, against the misty, yet familiar, skyline of the BT Tower, London Eye and the Shard.
After bird watching – my mum’s a bit of a twitcher – and a walk around the lagoons, we went to see the otters being fed.
The wetland is home to a family of Asian short-clawed otters who live in a specially designed holt where visitors can watch them swim, play and feed. In the wild, Asian otters are threatened by habitat loss and hunting, so this family is part of a breeding and conservation programme. Why not the European otter? The keeper explained that the Asian otter provides better opportunities for observation and entertainment. ‘We know from experience that the Asian short-clawed otter exhibits well, whereas the European ones tend to be more solitary, more shy. If we had six or seven European otters, they would probably be at the back, drinking wine.’
The otters were fun to watch, but I’m not sure that they found us very entertaining. When they realised we didn’t have any food, they soon grew bored of us.
The sleepy otters yawned and dipped their tails in water until the keeper arrived for the daily feed. They watched him with intent as he entered the holt and chased him across the rocks till he stopped to throw pieces of meat.
While the otters enjoyed their meal, the keeper apologised to the crowd for making a quick exit. ‘They only tolerate me when I have food, but once they know it’s gone then my ankle might look tasty,’ he explained. ‘Not that I’m scared or anything’ as he cautiously backed away from the pool. As if on cue, the otters paused tearing chunks of meat to watch his hasty retreat behind the trees at the top of the holt. They looked at each other with narrowly slit eyes, then ran across the rocks and up the hill to cut him off. There was a commotion in the bushes, but to everyone’s relief the keeper ran out with both his ankles.
These otters will eat almost anything, apparently, which made me think that this morehen was braver than the keeper as he waded in their pool.
The otters were not the only wildlife devising plans. I saw this plotting pigeon sitting on a bridge, until he caught me watching and purposefully looked like a pigeon again.
The ducks and geese were more relaxed and happily enjoying swimming in the lagoons as the rain began to fall. I’m not sure what type of duck this green-eyed beauty is, but the exotic-looking goose is Egyptian.
At 3pm it was the bird feed with the warden. So we watched as the geese eagerly waddled up and the children threw feed in the water. By this time we were getting cold so it was time to leave, but I look forward to returning in spring to see more wetland wildlife including slow worms, dragonflies and bats.
I really recommend a visit to WWT London Wetland Centre. Rain, wind or shine – the animals don’t mind. There is lots to see in all seasons, although for me the highlight was the otter feed.
A very Happy New Year everyone and may 2013 bring luck, love, prosperity and good fortune!
WWT London Wetland Centre
Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT)
Nothing hotter than an otter – Emily Heath of Adventures in Beeland writes about her visit to WWT London Wetland Centre
ZSL London Zoo ‘Keeper for a Day’: dreams do come true – my favourite animal adventure of 2012, being a zoo keeper at London Zoo for the day