Otter tracks (photo by Dave Hanna)

The greatest excitement of January was the discovery of otter prints in mud beside a small stream. The photo has been shown to two experts (a member of the Environment Agency and a mammalian ecologist), who both confirmed the prints’ identity. There are hundreds of dog footprints all over the Marshes, but they only show four toeprints, usually grouped with the middle two at the front, and the outer two set rather further back. By contrast, some of the prints in the photo show five clear toes and, while the toe imprints are not in a line, the outer ones aren’t set back as far as they would be in a dog. In a good print you can also make out the webbing between the toes.

Otherwise it has been rather a quiet month. In the past two years, flocks of snipe have numbered in the sixties in January; this year just two, seen on January 26th. Was it because it was too mild and the birds hadn’t dispersed so far from their breeding grounds? Then when it turned colder, perhaps the ice cover was preventing them from feeding and they’d gone in search of softer ground. Who knows. The shallow flooding did draw in a few mallard and larger numbers of black-headed gulls – 49 on January 7th and 75 on January 15th. The pair of stonechats observed last year have not been seen again.

On neighbouring Tonford Lake, 18 tufted duck were present on January 26th, along with up to four coot, which have a habit of not colonising the lake until late winter. One or two little egrets are regularly gracing the margins, along with a heron.

Also of interest were six stock doves (usually only two or three are seen together on the old railway embankment), the return of the handsome cock pheasant, and a single greylag goose flying over.