Here are some interesting facts about our native Otters
The European otter is an important part of the ecological systems and are an apex predator sitting at the top of the food chain.
The Latin name for the European otter is Lutra lutra pronounced “lootra lootra”!
They are a protected species under schedule 5/6 of the Wildlife & Country Act 1981.
They communicate with whistles, chattering’s and hisses.
They are member of the mustelid family which includes badger, polecat, weasels and pine martin and is a semi aquatic member of that family.
Otters were close to extinction in the late 1950’s due to organochlorines and pesticides being deposited into our water systems. This affected the reproduction system of the otter and the population took a crash during this time.
They reach lengths of 1.3 meters and can weigh 12 kilos.
They are able to breed at any time during the year, but Spring is common depending on food availability and have 1-5 cubs (usually 3) which are born blind. Light grey in colour and weigh around 40 grams.
Otters can travel over large areas. Some are known to use 20 kilometres or more of river habitat.
Otters deposit faeces (known as spraints, with a characteristic sweet musky odour) in prominent places around their ranges. These serve to mark an otter’s range, defending its territory but also helping neighbours keep in social contact with one another. Females with cubs reduce sprainting to avoid detection.
Fish, especially eels and salmonids are eaten, and crayfish at certain times of the year. Coastal otters in Shetland eat bottom-living species such as eelpout, rockling and butterfish. Otters occasionally take water birds such as coots, moorhens and ducks. In the spring, frogs are an important food item.
Our native otter, the European otter can be found in every county of the UK with Kent being the last county to see the otter establish themselves.
The oldest recorded otter was a captive animal that reached 19 years of age and lived at the New Forest Wildlife Park in Hampshire. It was called Alpha.
The collective name for a group of otters is a “romp” and in sea otters it is known as a “raft”.
Our native otter reach 12kg but the heaviest was recorded at 23kg back in the 19th century being almost 6 feet in length.
The whiskers on the otter are called “vibrissae” and are used to sense movement in water to hunt prey.
Otters are not natural swimmers and at around 3 months of age the mother will drag them out of the natal holt and dunk them into the river. They will often cling to the back of mum and mimic her movements whilst being taught life skills.
Otters can only hold their breath for a few minutes – 3 to 4 is not uncommon.
All European otters have a distinguishing cream moustache which can be used to identify individual animals.
Why not join us sometime soon on one of our wildlife tous. Book here
Suie bothy walk
There is nowhere like the Braes of Glenlivet. The river Livet runs down the Ladder Hills into the valley. Rolling hills of purple heather and tumble-down crofts provide a very memorable days walking and wildlife spotting.
Parking the car at Allanreid we start our gentle climb up the valley with the Bochel (the shepherd hill) behind and Carn na Bruar (hill of the waters divides) ahead. The area is on the Crown Estate Scotland and is way marked as part of a series of low level walks. The track starts by going through fields of hardy sheep. Crossing a bridge, we soon rise onto the grouse moor and hear the mournful cry of Curlew.
It takes about an hour to walk up to the Suie Bothy. The path follows the side of the river Livet as it winds its way down the valley. The hills are perfect breading habitats for Lapwing, Curlew and Oyster catcher which are seen and heard all the time during our outing.
The Braes was once a popular whisky smuggling route and many illicit stills where located in the hidden glens and hills. As you walk you can imagine how it would have been very hard to police this rough countryside and the excisemen would have had to be very cunning to catch anyone.
A herd of deer lower on the hillside stop there grazing then run for the hill tops and of into the distance. We cross the bridge at the Kymah Burn, and stop at the Suie Bothy for lunch. I have brought a selection of local meats (Rannoch Scottish smoked venison, Inverawe Smoked Argyll Ham & Salar Oak Roasted Flaky Salmon) This is a perfect lunch stop, complete with a bench for two facing down Glenlivet. We stopped to enjoy the solitude in warm sunshine, entertained by wheeling lapwings, their sharp cries loud over the sound of the burn.
After our short lunchbreak we turned and head back out of the valley. We can see the rain coming in as we walk down stream. A rainbow appears to our left and soon we are pulling out our waterproof jackets. The rain passes as quickly as it came. Jackets are packed away with this being the first of a frequent ritual during the walk back to the car as we enjoy the changeable Scottish weather.
Back at the car we look at our list of sightings during our three hours. Lapwing, Oystercatcher, Curlew, Buzzard, Kestral, Stonechat, Meadow Pipet, Wheatear, Heron, Red Grouse, Dunnock, Dipper, Sand Martin, Swallow, Common Gull, Carrion Crow, Jackdaw, Rook, Raven, Blue Tit, Coal Tit, Chiffchaff, Chaffinch and Red Deer.
Book your wildlife tour here.
Our ranger Justin has greatly enjoyed meeting many guests on our wildlife tours in the Cairngorms National Park.
Here are his thoughts on the summer season tours
It has been a great first summer season for us here at Wild Alba. We have welcomed many guests from all over the world on our wildlife tours. People have travelled from the U.S.A, Spain, Sweden, Germany, Italy, France, Holland, India, Belgium and the UK to experience the living landscape of the Cairngorms and Speyside.
It is amazing to hear their stories about wildlife from where they live and how we are all experiencing incredible change. It was interesting to see how long it took for the name of Donald Trump to be brought up by our American friends or Brexit from our European neighbours. We have greatly enjoyed there company on our safaris and walking tours. I have personally shared a dram or two on our whisky tours and told the stories of illicit stills in the Glenlivet hills. We have learnt a lot from each other and will use these experiences to develop our tours for next year.
Here are a few more photographs of our guests and we look forward to welcoming them again on our wildlife nature tours.
We will be running a number of tours over the Autumn, Winter & Spring so book now here
Experience the Red Deer Rut Tour
Our Ranger Jackie will be doing an exciting Red Deer rut tour in the Cairngorms National Park this Autumn.
An unforgettable experience and one of nature’s most incredible moments in the wildlife calendar is the autumn red deer rut. Come and join Glenesk Wildlife this October and not only will you experience the sight and sound of red deer rutting but you will be wholly captivated from the moment you meet your guide Jackie by her incredible knowledge of these beautiful, majestic creatures.
The tour will begin at Tarfside car park in Glenesk where you will be met by your guide. You will be taken by 4×4 to a known spot where you will look and listen for the red deer stags. You will continue to drive and walk, looking out and listening for the stags’ bellow echoing around the hills. During the evening, you will be introduced to a Highland working pony (commonly known as Garrons), these ponies are still used on the estate to transport deer off the hill during the stalking season. You will eventually end up at Glenesk Bothy for a welcome hot drink and delicious cake where you will have a fun and interactive chat about deer. There will be some interesting props and facts including deer behaviour, ecology and management.
An experience you will never forget and certainly one to add to the bucket list! Be sure to book soon, these tours will be popular!
- Tours will run at 4 pm every Saturday and Sunday from 29th September – 28th October 2018.
- Tours will last between 2-3 hours and must be booked in advance.
- Maximum 4 people per tour
- Minimum 2 people per tour
- Adult £40
- Child 5 – 16 yrs. £30
For more information or to book:
or telephone 01356 624566 (9.00 – 5.00 weekdays only)
Wild Alba Tours are passionate about whisky.
In 2018 we have started doing wildlife tours looking at the living landscape of the Cairngorms and Speyside. With our passion for all things outdoors and a wee dram we have found that the combination of wildlife walking and whisky to be truly intoxicating.
Spending a few hours in the rugged countryside around Glenlivet talking about the illicit stills and the smuggling of whisky does make one rather thirsty. So, come along with us and see what we can show you and who knows you might even spot a Red Deer, Curlew or even an Golden Eagle.
We would love it if you could join us.
Check out whisky tours here
Have you ever seen a Pine Marten? Jackie our Ranger has been lucky to see them on her wildlife tours in the Cairngorms National Park.
The Pine Marten is a very elusive animal. It spends it time climbing trees in search of its favourite food of eggs, insects, birds or small rodents. It also loves fruit and has been known to visit bird tables. Bilberries can make up to 30% of a Pine Marten’s summer diet resulting in its droppings turning blue in colour.
Recent research has indicated that pine martens also prey on grey squirrels which are larger, move less quickly and are on the ground more often than red squirrels. Analyses is incomplete, but this could be good news for the endangered red squirrel, and many trees that are frequently harmed by grey squirrels stripping their bark. We are lucky here in the Cairngorms as the grey squirrel has not yet managed to get this far north.
Pine martens have a distinctive bouncing run when on the ground moving front feet and rear feet together. They may stop and stand upright on their haunches to get a better view.
Pine Martens in Scotland where almost extinct in the nineteenth century due to farmers and gamekeepers trapping them. Their fur was also highly valued, so they were captured and killed for export across to Europe. The destruction of many of Scotland’s forests and natural habitats are another reason why Scotland’s Pine Martens have become rare today.
The fantastic news for Pine Martens in Scotland today is they are now on the increase and are seen more often in many areas, and in 1988 it was made illegal to kill Pine Martens. Successful re-planting of these many forest and the conservation efforts of land owners and many other groups have also helped increase the amount of Pine Martens in Scotland today
So, if you are out on a wildlife tour there is now a much better chance of seeing these magnificent animals.
Our ranger Jackie tells some interesting facts on her guided wildlife tours running in the Cairngorms National Park. Here are her thoughts on the Peregrine falcon that can be seen in the great out doors around Scotland.
While out on a wildlife tour, I was fortunate to get a brief glimpse of a peregrine disappearing at speed over a ridge. Ever since I was a child I have always had a fascination with these incredible birds.
Peregrines populate large areas of every continent apart from Antarctica and they have managed to customise their hunting methods to suit almost every habitat, including in our cities.
We as humans very quickly realised how high their hunting success rate was. We also very quickly realised how trainable they are. As a result they have become one of the most popular birds for falconers throughout the world. Some peregrines have gained themselves very important jobs in our society, warding off other birds where they have become a problem, e.g. pigeons at Wimbledon, Lords cricket ground or at airports. I have also heard some have been trained to catch drones!
They really are an apex predator. So what is it that makes them so much more successful than other birds of prey?
If we start by looking at the head, a peregrine’s eyes make up more than 50% of its head; to give you a comparison our eyes make up 5% of our head. Peregrines eyes are also very clever because they can see in both monocular and binocular vision. So when a peregrine looks at something close by it uses both eyes together to create an image in the same way that we do, but the clever bit is when they look at something far away. Often you will see peregrines turning their heads sideways to look at something. This is because they are using their monocular vision, which for us would be like looking through a telescope. A peregrine can see a tennis ball from 3 kilometres away! This means an unsuspecting pigeon can be being hunted with out even realising. A peregrine will then use its next weapon, the one they are most famous for and deservedly so, because it is the fastest creature on the planet.
Peregrines have been recorded at speeds of over 200 miles an hour. What’s also amazing is their ability to get to high speeds incredibly quickly, faster than any sports car.
Being able to accelerate from 0-60mph in less than a second has its issues though. This is why peregrines have very strong dense skeletal structures and relatively short, stiff, pointy wings. The tail is wide but also short and stiff. All of these traits help it to cope with the extreme speeds, acceleration and high G forces, up to 18G, which is double what any of our best fighter pilots can deal with.
I have been fortunate to see wild peregrines hunting a few times and also been out with falconers on a few occasions in the past; watching peregrines fly while hunting is a truly incredible site. I’m not sure I can really put into words how beautifully graceful and effortless it is.
So once the peregrine has spotted and managed to catch up with its prey, it will now grab it with its talons while on the wing and then deal the fatal blow with its sharp beak. Both the feet and the beak have hidden secrets though.
The feet have a clever ratchet like system on the end of each digit that means when the 2cm talons have hold of the prey they will not let go. The other big advantage of this is that no energy is expended holding the prey. This also means peregrines can take on prey far larger than themselves.
The peregrine’s beak has a small, easily missable notch on the inside of the upper mandible that is called a tomial tooth. This is used to fit between and dislocate the vertebrae in the victim’s neck and results in almost instant death.
When it comes to parenting peregrines take it in turns to look after normally about 3-5 eggs. Once hatched the chicks mature very quickly partly due to a constant flow of food from both parents. The chicks are trying to fledge after 7-8 weeks. Once they have the hang of basic flying, together the parents teach the chicks the skills needed to hunt.
So when you are next out and about in an open area, do keep your eyes peeled for these amazingly swift, beautiful birds.
While on a wildlife tour with Jackie you can learn some interesting facts about nature in the Cairngorms National Park. Here are her observations on the Cuckoo bee.
Most people will be familiar with the cuckoo (Cuculus canorus). The medium-sized bird with the familiar disyllabic call. The females laying their eggs in the nests of other birds, especially meadow pipits, dunnocks and reed warblers.
Less well known is the fact that there are bees with a similar habit to that of the cuckoo. Other than honey bees most wild bee species are solitary. They do not have a complex social structure with queens and workers. Females of these solitary bees build their own nest, fill it with pollen, and then lay an egg in it. Often a nest contains several compartments with pollen on which the bee larvae will feed.
These bees are targeted by other insects that take advantage of the available shelter and food. The females of these cuckoo bees locate a nest of a specific host bee species and lay their eggs in the nest themselves. Cuckoo bees may revisit a nest from time to check if there is enough pollen for their future offspring to feed on. If so, the eggs are deposited and the pollen that was collected by the host bee will be eaten by these cuckoo bee youngsters instead.
On one of our tours we found the cuckoo bee Nomada panzeri (Panzer’s nomad bee): a little bee that looks a bit like a wasp because it isn’t as hairy as a lot of other bees and because of its yellow and dark red markings. The presence of this bee meant that its host species was likely to be around too. Sure enough, a female of Andrena lapponica (bilberry mining bee) seen. Females of this bee build their nest in the ground and visit mainly bilberry for nectar and pollen. Pollen is collected on the pollen sacks on the hind legs and later deposited in the nest for her offspring to feed on, or the offspring of the cuckoo bee of course.
Click here for a UK bumblebee species guide.
Our botanist Dr Oliver Moore has been out and about on nature walks in the Cairngorms and wants us to love nettles.
The common nettle is, in my opinion, a misunderstood plant. I think almost everyone in the UK who has spent any time in the countryside has a story about how they fell in a patch of stinging nettles. Because of this they get a bad reputation and most people are a little frightened of them. In my case I have many childhood memories of being stung, then rummaging round looking for dock, or ‘doctor leaves’ as they are known in my family, to try and ease the discomfort.
Nettles are part of the Urticaceae family and are found almost all over the world and tend to be a good indicator of moist, nitrogen rich soil. This is why they are often found near livestock fields, dung heaps, riverbanks and hedgerows. As most gardeners know once they get going its incredible how fast they can take over an area.
There are six subspecies of nettle, not all of which sting; the five that do are all covered in small hollow hairs that are full of a chemical called histamine. When you come into contact with these hollow hairs they act like thousands of hypodermic needles that inject the chemical into the skin thus causing a painful sensation. For nettles this is a highly effective method of protecting themselves from hungry herbivores. How ever, nettles are an important food source for both the peacock and small tortoiseshell butterflies, as well as a large number of moths and other insects which in turn pollinate and continue the spread of nettles.
Nettles produce a lot of seed but it often doesn’t travel far from the plant, which is why they are often seen growing in clumps. They can also spread by rhizomes. Having both options means if the plant is damaged or burnt it will quickly re-establish and over take other plants.
Nettles have been used in traditional medicine for hundreds of years and although they have great ability to cause discomfort they are also said to alleviate symptoms of allergies, hay fever, muscle cramps, joint pain and urinary issues. This is due to their high numbers of nutrients and minerals. It is also excellent for your compost heap (without the seed heads) for the same reason.
Nettles can be made into tea and there are many entire cooking books dedicated to cooking with nettles. They can be used any of the ways you might cook spinach, as well as being a great ingredient in soups, smoothies, pesto, risotto and many, many more. I have recently been enjoying them in soup and pesto, and hold out hope that they are going to reduce my hay fever symptoms!
It’s spring meandering into summer, the uplands are rich in wildlife and vibrant colours, the nights are short, the days are long and the natural world is alive and screaming (Swifts spring straight to mind). Now coming into nesting and fledging time, the birds are feeding up and finding food for their young.
A glimpse out of the window and suddenly an aerial glider comes into view and spiralling in the wind, the sight of an Osprey is enough to get a whole office excited, communal awe of the wonders of nature.
Sometimes going on a recce reaps the rewards. Whilst trying to find a good spot to cross a burn, I witnessed something that lifted a somewhat dreich day in the field. I saw red, no I’m not talking about an angry farmer chasing me off his land. In fact something far more adrenaline pulsating, a sight I’d never seen before, a PINE MARTEN, an unmistakable big bushy red-brown tail scuttled out from the riverbank and into the undergrowth. As quick as I’d locked eyes on the Marten it had gone. Still that special moment lead me to feel a sense of elation, a feeling only endured during times of success!
Several weeks later Oliver came running into the kitchen with excitement exclaiming the words PINE MARTEN on the front wall, I ran outside but once again this elusive mammal had gone. Still that same sense of emotion raced through me, rare or common, the natural world is all around. Get out there, live it and enjoy it…