By Denis O’Connor

Wharfedale Naturalists Society

A SPRINKLING of snow lay on Ilkley Moor and Otley Chevin, an unusual sight these days, as my son and I headed for Staveley Nature Reserve near Knaresborough. On arrival we had an immediate reward for on the near side of the East Lagoon a flurry of surfacing heads, backs and tails revealed otters. At first it was hard to work out how many we could see but we eventually decided there were three, probably a female and two large cubs, more concerned with playing than fishing.

They worked their way across the lagoon, continually diving, surfacing and intertwining until at the far side the water went still. They had vanished, presumably through a narrow gap showing in the reeds but amazingly they must have done so underwater. They did not reappear.

A fox then showed briefly close to the spot where we had first seen the otters but that too then vanished and I wondered whether it had hunkered down over the remains of a fish left by the otters on the bank.

The unexpected continued with an orange-breasted male stonechat on a reedhead. The stonechat is a partial migrant with many heading south for the winter while others come down from the moors to lower ground as was perhaps the case with this bird, with the nearby North York Moors also under a thin blanket of snow.

From the hide overlooking a narrow channel and reedbeds at the other end of the lagoon we spent a while watching birds coming to the bird feeders, a similar mixture to those seen at home with the welcome additions of reed buntings, tree sparrows and greenfinches. Below the feeders the falling seeds brought in a water rail which dashed back into the reeds at any unusual movement. Spread around the two lagoons were ducks, with about 50 wigeon, the males resplendent with golden crowns (pictured) being the most numerous. Mallards, teal and tufted ducks were there in dozens with a few shovelers and gadwalls.

I counted a total of 15 goldeneye, flown in across the North Sea to winter here. Intriguingly, almost all were females and the few males were immature. The adult males take no part in rearing the young and leave their breeding grounds earlier than the females, so dominate the inshore waters of the Baltic along the Finnish coast which are now ice free - another result of global heating. The females, arriving later, are unable to compete so continue their journey to winter here.