Wild Waterways

Species Sighted:         See List at foot of page

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The River Frome

The 21 mile long Somerset River Frome rises near Witham Friary, gathering smaller rivers, streams and tributaries along the way, including those from Colliers Way route 24, before flowing through the town of Frome until it reaches Freshford where it joins the Bristol Avon.

INQUISITIVE OTTER..jpgFemale Otter 2016 – copyright Tony House

The Somerset Otter Group have asked us to monitor a stretch of  the River.  Reports of Otter sightings on Colliers Way sparked our interest; we knew dog otters can sometimes travel up to twenty miles in search of food so the likelihood of a foraging Otter from the River Frome was pretty high.   Somerset Otter Group.

11th June 2018

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Perfect summer’s afternoon – blue skies, warm sun, fresh breeze, a Kingfisher flashing downstream, Beautiful and Banded Demoiselle Damselflies in abundance and the first sighting of a number of Common Blues, several mating, such halcyon days.  There were still a few Mayflies rising, lots of bees and an American Signal Crayfish crawling around in the shallow water on the edge of the river.  Only the occasional butterfly, Large Whites and a Peacock but no others and no signs of Otters today on either the gravel beach, the little beach or the weir.

Clouds of white flowering umbelifers all along the bank, including Hogweed, Giant Hogweed, Pignut, False Parsley and Cow Parsley, lots of bright pink Campion with beautiful falls of pale pink Dog Roses and heavily scented Elderflower and splashes of brilliant yellow Stonecrop clinging to the sides of the weir.  The air was filled with the sounds of Blackbirds and Wrens singing in the trees, the ubiquitous wood pigeons cooing incessantly and the buzz of bees.

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We were fortunate to meet Kevin a keen fisherman who was a fount of local knowledge of the river.  He had seen a female Otter with two cubs last year as well as Mink, but was much more interested in the very large Chubb which he had just spotted lurking in the deep water close to the bank which he thought was at least five pounds plus in weight and the mass of five hundred or so spawning Chubb on this stretch of the River a couple of weeks ago.  He had also seen Dippers on the shallow stony stretch under the bridge, yet another confirmation of the purity of the River; we had often seen Dippers farther downstream but never around here, so it was really good to know they are here.

23rd May 2018    /    9.30am – 2.45pm / 12.5 C – 19.5 C / 53.5 F – 67 FDSCN3998.JPG

There are days and there is, as Lou Reed sang, A Perfect Day which must surely include a beautiful day in May wandering through river meadows in warm sunshine, when the blossom on the wild flowers, trees and hedgerows are at their flawless best, damselflies are fluttering among the reeds, mayflies rise from the river, and when swifts speed, swerve and turn high in the bluest of blue skies overhead in their never ending attempt to catch insects on the wing – what joy!

The morning was unpromising, cloudy with a chill, strong wind, but the country lane was so quiet and serene that little by little we were seduced into forgetting the weather and just glory in verges filled with gypsy’s lace in full summer bloom, thick with deep scented flowers, shaded by branches of newly opened Hawthorn blossom and sprinkled with deep blue birds eye speedwell.

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We climbed over the old wooden stile into the river meadow, knee high with summer grass, buttercups, stitchwort and red Campion.  As we walked towards the river, we could hear and eventually see the massive harvesters in an adjoining field working their way in perfect symmetry down the meadow cutting and stacking the grass in long fat snakes, followed by the smaller tractors and trailers, completing in an afternoon what in years gone by would have taken weeks.Red_Kite_lr.jpg

In the sky above hung the raptors, circling slowly on the thermals, heads down, eyes fiercely concentrated on the thick lines of hay, hoping to spot a harvest mice, vole, any small mammals or a ground nesting bird running, scampering away to escape the sharp blades of the harvester.  The count was astonishing:  ten Buzzards, two Peregrine Falcons and two Red Kites, all hungry for prey which proved to be pretty elusive.

Red Kite – Rebecca Muirhead

As we searched the muddy edges of the gravel beaches, around the roots of trees, on logs and boulders and along ditches for signs of Otter spraint, padding or fish or crayfish remains, it was easy to be distracted by the brilliant metallic blue bodied Banded Demoiselle, the pale blue White-Legged damselflies, and the flash of copper-bronze winged Beautiful Demoiselles, both immature males with the blue bodies and green bodied females  in uncountable numbers in amongst the water plants edging the river.

We found both fresh and old Otter spraint on flat stones near the river edge and  so were not surprised when a man walking along the opposite river bank said he had seen a mother and cub swimming downriver only a week ago on this stretch of water.  The water crowfoot, not yet in flower, trailed its long vivid green tresses to ripple in the brisk current on the broad gravelly shallow river bed from where every few seconds yet another dun, a ephemera danica Mayfly lifted up from its long two year immersion to float free for a day, an hour, a few seconds dependent upon wind blowing it off course or a hungry rising trout’s mouth preventing it mating or laying its eggs before dying.

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A brilliant turquoise rifle shot exploded past, barely seen, as a Kingfisher flashed down river while a beautifully lazy Little Egret snowy white and elegant lifted herself and flapped slowly away to perch in a nearby tree.   Orange Tip Butterflies, Red Admirals and Large Whites were busily feeding amongst the red campion, cow parsley, hemlock water dropwort, comfrey, herb Robert and dog roses which edged the river banks and a large light coloured Grey Heron hunched stock still in the shallows patiently hoping for a kill.

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We met a man who had been checking his American Signal crayfish traps (for which he held an Environment Agency licence).  He usually caught around 30 crayfish at each site during the season which lasted until August.  He hadn’t seen any Otters but had seen lots of brown trout and roach and had  noticed crayfish remains left by feasting Otters which we had also seen under the bridge and on the beach in the adjoining field.  His companion who spent some time in Bath while researching his doctorate on climate change had often watched Otters playing in the River Avon but had never seen them along the Frome.

We were weary at the end of our stint – climbing stiles, wriggling under bridges and tramping mile after mile along the river banks but it was a good weariness and we were content to saunter back through the afternoon’s sunshine pleased with our count and blessed to be able to enjoy such a wonderful stretch of river.   So, with many apologies to Leigh Hunt for messing with his famous poem: Say we’re weary, say we’re sad,  Say that health and wealth have miss’d us, Say we’re growing old, but add, this day kissed us!

28th/29th April – Temperature 8.5-9 CFEMALE KIT.jpgFemale Kit – copyright Tony House

Drenching rain and strong cold north-easterly winds didn’t dampen our determination to get to know our patch of the River Frome and examine it thoroughly as part of our first two-day survey for the Somerset Otter Group, although, discretion being the better part of valour, we took a carefully considered joint decision not to enter the field containing a very large, very magnificent looking bull who showed rather too much interest in our presence!  We hurriedly skirted the field beyond the wire whilst keeping a careful watch on him and his altogether more docile looking harem of fifteen young heifers, and walked on to the next site.

This is an event which takes place annually when volunteers check all the rivers in Somerset for signs of otters as well as reporting any sightings of Dippers, Kingfishers, Water voles, Goosanders, Herons, Egrets, Dabchicks and Mink all of which indicate the health of the river system.  Dippers are especially indicative of water quality and a good bug life.  The Somerset Otter Group works in association with Somerset Environmental Records Centre (SERC) and Cardiff University.

After hours of clambering over stiles, wading through knee high grass and slithering and sliding under bridges, we were rewarded with fresh spraint and padding on one site and recent spraint on another on the first day and fresh spraint at yet another site on the second day, all encouraging signs of an otter being active in our patch.

P4190182.JPGMandarin Duck copyright Tony House

We were disappointed not to see our usual Kingfishers and Little Egrets, which had no doubt found somewhere warm and dry to sit out the truly awful weather, but we did see a Heron, a Cormorant, a pair of Canada Geese, 5 Mandarin Duck, 3 Mallard and a pair of Swans (the female on the nest).  We didn’t see any water voles, those shyest of creatures, but we saw several banks peppered with what we believed were their holes, but always bearing in mind Tony House’s caution that both American crayfish and Mink have been recorded using/adapting water voles’ burrows.

We were pleased to see a good harvest of garlic mustard this year which should please orange-tip butterflies looking to lay their eggs, as well as dove’s foot cranesbill, ground ivy, lady’s smock, cow parsley, white dead nettle, ramson, red campion, lords and ladies, comfrey and buttercups, daisies and dandelions galore scattered across every field we crossed.

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The blackthorn was in full flower along the banks of the river, the willows flaunted their beautiful new soft green leaves and despite the rain tiny Wrens as well as Crows, Jackdaws, Wood Pigeons and Blackbirds  were still going about their business and one Pheasant managed to make himself a snug roost which offered some protection from the strong, biting wind.

19th April 2018 – Temperature: 22 C

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No signs of otter spraint or padding; there were the dried hairy remains of what might have been old mink spraint, but although the overnight rain had provided good of padding possibilties, the beaches showed only bird and dog tracks.

It was very quiet along the river apart from the sound of two Greater Spotted Woodpeckers drumming in the woods echoing across the water meadows, and from the trees along the banks, the twitterings and tweetings of lots of Tits, Robins and Blackbirds.  We saw a couple of moorhens on the river, a sharp warning shriek alerted us to the brief brilliant sight of a Kingfisher flashing past upstream, a pair of graceful Little Egrets making their stately way along the shallows before lifting effortlessly and flying downstream out of sight and of course we heard the ubiquitous Wood Pigeons in full voice.   We were pleased to see that the single Little Egret which had been alone here at this stretch of the river for so many years had at last acquired a mate.

The Blackthorn had formed a riot of frothing white blossom promising a good sloe season in the autumn, there were enormous great clumps of marsh marigolds, striking in the sunlight, garlic mustard, red dead nettle, lady’s smock, lesser celandine, fools water cress, water forget-me-not, and dandelion scattered along the banks.

A small tributary of the River Frome near Lullington showing travertine deposit on the stream bedDSCN3813.JPG

15th April 2018: 10am – 1.30pm

We travelled to Glastonbury to meet up with Jo Pearse our S.O.G. trainer who gave a thorough explanation of the health and safety aspects of surveying, together with methodology and some basic ecology before we and the six other trainees followed Jo through the marshes of Sharpham Moor seaching under bridges and along the banks for any signs of otters.

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Despite the cold driving rain and strong blustery winds, we saw lots of spraint, otter slides and tunnels which otters make through the undergrowth to the waters edge.  It was extremely informative and an extra bonus to hear a Water Rail, Blackcap and Cetti’s Warbler and to see Heron, a group of Swallows and a small herd of eight or so Roe Deer grazing together on one of the the marsh islands.

5th April 2018: 10am – 12.30pm

We have volunteered to survey a stretch of the River Frome for the Somerset Otter Group which isn’t presently being checked.  As we are complete novices, we were very fortunate that Anthony House, a committee member who has been surveying and recording otters for more than twenty years agreed to show us the ropes.  Not surprisingly his knowledge and expertise is prodigous and as we walked the course, he pointed out the areas where we could expect to see spraint (scat), tracks, slides and scrapes if an otter was active in the area.  He explained that spraint is often deposited on prominent features like rocks, fallen trees, bridge supports and storm drains and that the deposits act as scent markers to other otters and are used to define territories.

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We couldn’t have wished for a better day for our search – the sun was warm, the skies a cloudless blue and the breeze slight and fresh as we clambered over stiles, peered under bridges, pushed our way through thickets and wandered beside the river which was in full fast spate after weeks of constant rainfall.  Eventually, to the great delight of us all, we came across a small silted beach where there was not only clear spoor but also a patch of anal jelly, the two together a clear confirmion of otter presence.

We look forward to our half-daytraining session with Jo Pearse at the Somerset Levels and hope one day we will also be lucky enough to actually see a local otter!

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List of Species

sighted on the surveyed stretch of the River Frome

Animals:    #Otter, #Fox, #Mink, #Chubb, Brown Trout, Roach, American Signal Crayfish.

Butterflies, Dragonflies, Damselflies and Insects:   Garden Tiger Moth, Common Blue, Green Veined White, Large White, Small Heath, Comma, Peacock, Red Admiral, Speckled Wood Butterflies.

Common Blue Damselfly, Banded Demoiselle Damselfly (M&F), Beautiful Demoiselle Damselfly (M&F), White-Legged Damselfly (M), Dark Bush Cricket (F), Red-Headed Cardinal Beetle, Knot Grass Leaf Beetle, Mint Leaf Beetle, St Mark’s Fly, Hornet, Pond Skater.

Birds:    #Dipper, Kingfisher, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Goosander, Mandarin Duck, Moorhen, Garganey, Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Mallard, Pied Wagtail, Grey Wagtail, Yellow Hammer, Goldfinch,  House Martin, Swift, Swallow, Chaffinch, Song Thrush, Blackbird, Wren, Carrion Crow, Jackdaw, Wood Pigeon, Green Woodpecker, Greater Spotted Woodpecker, Red Kite, Raven, Buzzard, Peregrine Falcon, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel.

Plants:   Water Crowfoot, Fools Parsley, Black Mustard, Brook Lime, Saracen’s Woundwort, Hemlock Water Dropwort, Cow Parsley, Crosswort, Dove’s Foot Cranesbill, Water Forget-me-Not, Yellow Flag Iris, Meadow Cranesbill, Angelica, Purple and White Comfrey, Mares Tail, Stitchwort, Ground Ivy, Marsh Marigold, Lesser Celandine, Buttercup, Red Campion, Bird’s Eye Speedwell, White Dead Nettle, Red Dead Nettle, Red Clover, White Clover, Dandelion, Garlic Mustard, Lady’s Smock, Fools Watercress, Daisy, Herb Robert, Bramble, Watermint, Ivy, Common Nettle, Shepherd’s Rod, Purple Loosestrife, Yarrow, Wild Marjoram, Hedge Woundwort. Tansy, Burr Reed, Great Willow Herb, Himalayan Balsam, Yellow Stonecrop, Field Bindweed.

Trees, Shrubs:   Norway Maple, Snowberry, Blackthorn, Hawthorne, Elder, Alder, Goat Willow, Field Maple, Larch, Horse Chestnut, Oak,

# Sighted by Others

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