Chasing Otters

IMG_0060

The remains of an otter’s lunch.  Otters that live by the sea eat all sorts of different animals and not just fish.  This sea urchin must have made a very tasty lunch!

I really wanted to meet an otter on Skye.  Otters used to be very common across all of Britain but since the 1950’s their numbers have dropped.  This is because humans have changed the rivers and lakes where otters live; the water has become polluted because of changes in farming, there is less space for otters to live because of building, and there are more roads near rivers which otters get killed on when they try to cross.

Thankfully, our rivers are starting to get cleaner and now the numbers of otters has started to increase again.  You can now find otters in every county in the UK!

Otters do not only live in rivers.  I was told that there are quite a lot of otters living in the sea around Skye.  However, otters are very shy, nervous animals and are very hard to meet!  I spent a lot of time looking for them amongst the rocks but never managed to see one.

I did, however, see lots of signs that there were otters around!  When otters catch a meal, they will bring it to the shore to eat.  You can tell that otters live in the area because you find the remains of crabs, lobsters, sea urchins, mussels and anything else otters eat.  Even though never met an otter, I was happy to know that there are many living in Skye and that they are eating very well!

IMG_0061

I only eat grass and plants so have never eaten crab, but I’ve heard it’s very tasty.  The otters on Skye seem to really like them because there were crab shells everywhere!

If you want to try and see an otter, the wildlife trusts have a guide of great places to see them here.

Marine Mammals

IMG_3324

It’s very hard holding binoculars with hooves.  Thankfully I had a helpful human on hand to hold them for me.

As well as lots of seabirds, Skye is very famous for its marine mammals.  If you spend enough time looking, you can see porpoises, dolphins, whales and seals!

IMG_3462

You can tell that this is a harbour porpoise and not a dolphin because it is very small and its fin is a triangle shape with straight sides like this /\, dolphins fins are curved backwards like this shape )\

Did you know you can see dolphins in the seas around Britain?  Unfortunately I didn’t see any dolphins but I did see lots of Harbour porpoises.  These are similar to dolphins but much smaller; adults are around 1.5 metres long, about the same size as a human. They are quite common around the British coastline.  If you are near the sea in Wales, Scotland or Ireland then you may see them!

IMG_9534

You can tell it’s a minke whale because of the shape of its fin and because it has a very long back.

You can also see whales in the UK!  Minke whales are the easiest whale to see in Britain.  They grow up to 10 metres long!  If you want to see a minke whale, the best place is the west coast of Scotland.  I saw them quite a few times while on Skye.

IMG_9553

You can tell that this seal is a grey seal because it has a very flat face.  You could lay a ruler from its forehead to the end of its nose.

IMG_3240

These are common seals.  Their forehead is rounder than the grey seals.  I think their heads look a bit like dogs!

There are two types of seal in British seas, the common seal and the grey seal.  I think seals are great fun.  They are very curious animals and will come and look at you if you stand still on the shore.  You don’t even have to be near the sea to see them as sometimes they swim up rivers to find fish to eat.  You can see seals all around Britain, and in many places you can take boat trips around seal colonies to see their babies, which are very cute!

For information on where and how to see whales and dolphins in Scotland, have a look at the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trusts website.  Wildlife extra also have information on where to see seals in the UK here.

Nature’s night time symphony

This video was sent in from Luxembourg, which is a small country in Europe.  Thank you very much, Laurent!

This is what Laurent wrote about the adventure:

On an abandoned railway line in the “Schwaarzenhaff” protected area, part of the largest Natura-2000 zone of Luxembourg, a handful of male European midwife toads (Alytes obstetricans) hidden under stones call for females. On 4th July 2014, Sasha the Saiga visited this area and thoroughly enjoyed the concert given by the toads.

If you would like a Sasha the Saiga of your own to take on adventures, please visit the Buy your own Sasha page!

Watery wildlife

The boat’s captain, Gordon, was very friendly and showed us so many different animals.  He even let me drive the boat!

I am visiting the Isle of Skye in Scotland with some of my human friends.  Yesterday, we went out on a boat to see what wildlife we could see living around the sea.

There are lots of different types of sea birds that build their nests on the cliffs.  They catch fish from the sea to feed their chicks.  My favourite birds that we saw were gannets, black guillemots, kittiwakes, razorbills and shags.

There aren’t as many kittiwakes or shags in the UK as there used to be, because they don’t have enough fish to eat.  They eat a type of fish called a sand eel, but humans have been catching so many that there are not enough for the birds.

Thankfully, people noticed that the birds were finding it hard to find enough food to feed their chicks, so they stopped catching sand eels near where the birds live.  Hopefully, the numbers of sand eels and birds will soon start to recover!

Here are some photos of the birds I saw.

IMG_3439

Gannets are beautiful birds.  They catch fish by flying high above the water then diving down very fast.  They can dive at up to 100 km per hour, which means they can dive to depths of up to 20 metres!

IMG_3407

Razorbills use their wings to “fly” underwater and chase fish.  They can dive as deep as 120 metres!

IMG_3399

These kittiwake parents are still working hard to raise their young.  In a few months, those balls of fluff will be able to fly and may spend the whole winter out at sea without coming back to land!

IMG_3364

Shags are one of the birds that need lots of sand eels to eat and feed their chicks.  The chicks we saw looked very healthy so I think there must be lots of food around this year.

IMG_3337

I thought these black guillemots were very beautiful birds.  They chase fish like razorbills, using their wings like big paddles.


Beautiful Birds

IMG_3007

Hides are great for watching birds from.  With a pair of binoculars you can get great views.

I recently visited a nature reserve run by the RSPB called Dungeness.  It is a great place for seeing all sorts of different birds, especially birds that live in and around water.  There are lots of buildings at Dungeness called hides.  These buildings let you get close to birds without them seeing you, so you can watch them without scaring them.  I saw lots of different types of ducks, sea gulls, waders, cormorants, terns and grebes all living on the water, and many of them had babies!

IMG_2962

Seagulls, ducks and cormorants resting on a small island

IMG_2970

These reddish birds are called Black Tailed Godwits.  They are a type of bird called a wader.  This is because they have long legs which means they can wade through the water while they use their long beaks to search for food.

The RSPB have over 100 reserves all over the country, so if you want to get close to some birds have a look at their website to find a reserve you can visit near where you live!

https://www.rspb.org.uk/reserves/

Electrifying Eels

IMG_2522

You can see the wires going into the water with the electric current and the scientists catching the sleepy fish in a bucket.

Have you ever heard of people fishing with electricity?  I had not until I went electro-fishing with some scientists on the River Stour in Kent.  Electrofishing uses an electric current to stun fish so that they fall asleep.  Then, while they are sleeping it is easy for scientists to catch them using a net.  The fish wakes up again after a few seconds so it is a good way of catching fish to study them without hurting them.  The scientists I was with were trying to understand how clean and healthy the river was by looking at how many fish were living in it.

IMG_2526

Can you imagine one of these Eels swimming all the way to America?

What was very exciting is that we managed to find lots of Eels!  Eels are very special fish.  They spend most of their lives in rivers in Europe, but when they become adults they swim out into the sea and then swim 4,000 miles to the Sargasso sea near America to breed.  The baby eels then drift on currents in the ocean all the way back to Europe where they grow up in the rivers, then they have to make their own journey back to Sargasso Sea to breed.  Unfortunately, the numbers of eels in our rivers has dropped by 90% in the last 20 years.  Scientists say they are critically endangered, just like saigas.  They are worried that they may disappear for ever, so it was great to see so many in the river!

For more pictures, videos and facts about eels, click here.

 

Moth Night

IMG_4133

This is an Eyed Hawk Moth.  Can you see the fake eyes?

Did you know that there are over 2,400 different types of moths that live in the UK?  Most of these moths are very small and hard to see, but I recently met a big and very beautiful moth called an Eyed Hawk Moth.  They have large spots on their lower wings that look a bit like eyes.  If a bird is about to eat the moth, it flashes the eyes at them which surprises and confuses the bird.  This gives the moth a chance to escape from being eaten.

IMG_4141

What do you think this Buff-tip moth looks like?

Other moths try to avoid being eaten by being very good at hiding.  When it’s resting, this Buff-tip moth looks just like a twig which nobody wants to eat!  Trying to blend in to where you live is called camouflage.  Some animals do this so that they don’t get eaten.  Other animals use camouflage so that they can sneak up on other animals to eat them!

I think moths are very cool animals.  Tonight and tomorrow night are part of Moth Night.  If you’re interested in moths too, you can find a moth night event near you where people will be recording all the different moths they see.  This will help scientists understand more about these amazing creatures which fly at night when most people are asleep!