6 Mar 2013

Otter Prints and Otter Poo

Colin Miles

Wildlife surveys have an important role to play in the conservation and improvement of our Countryside and during the construction of the National Botanic Garden of Wales in the 90’s a number of these were undertaken, including bats, birds, badgers, mammals, insects, amphibians and reptiles.  Since then, apart from the occasional wildlife walks and bat counts, there have been nothing which would enable us to build up a picture of how life in the Garden is changing, for better or worse.  This may be about to change as we are very fortunate to have one of the people who did many of these surveys, Jan Crowden, back with us as a volunteer.  Even better, she and her husband Keith, John James and myself have got together to start a little Garden wildlife survey group, meeting every Tuesday and doing a gentle little walk around the Garden followed by a cup of tea and a chat in the Cafe.  John, who like the rest of us is also a member of the Carmarthenshire branch of the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales, is our note-taker and responsible for the splendid photos you see here.

The first of these walks took place on a bitterly cold and dull afternoon at the end of February and of particular interest was the stream near the Gatehouse and the ponds behind the Polytunnel.  We know that otters are around there and were pleased to find evidence in the shape of otter prints and scrapings near one of the ponds.  Better still, the following week we found very fresh otter poo, or spraint as it is properly called on a rock near the Gatehouse.  But not the rock that had been used last year!  Nevertheless I have managed to put up my wildlife camera and am hoping that this time I will get an otter photo.  At this time of year they are marking out their territories and hunting amphibians like frogs and toads.

As the weather has been so cold everything is much later than usual.  With an average temperature for the year so far not even managing 3C even the grass isn’t growing, the snowdrops are still with us in mid-March and many of the daffs are still not out.  But in the woods at the back of the Aqualab the Hellebores look really spendid and there is a whole batch of red Elf Cups.

Today, March 12th, was bright and sunny, but with a bitter wind. Nevertheless we found Speedwell and even Forget-Me-Nots on the slate beds above the Llyn Uchaf which is the second of the lakes and quite a few Teal on the third lake, Llyn Canol.  Of special interest was the Thrush Anvil that we found on the road near the entrance to Waun Las.  Except that on closer inspection many of the snail shells had been bitten open, not smashed – Wood Mice.

The previous Tuesday was rather warmer and it was pleasing to see the honey bees foraging on the plants outside the bee hut.  During such a hard winter these bees have a hard time surviving and it looks as if only 4 of the hives have made it.  So all pollen sources, like the ivy around the walls along the Spring Walk are important to them, and us.

These walks are very informal.  We go where we fancy looking for all sorts of things – insects, birds, mammals, reptiles, plants.  And so far the weather has meant that all wildlife activity has been low, so not much to report.  But that will soon change and we expect to be very busy.  Indeed, even though we are restricting ourselves to just the Garden and not Waun Las, the area is far too large for us four to manage by ourselves.  So if any other Garden members or Volunteers would care to join us we would be only too glad of your help.  You don’t have to be any sort of expert and it doesn’t have to be on a Tuesday.  If you are interested send an email to Colin Miles