Flylady Photography by Wendy Cooper

A Trick of the Tail....

Trip Reports > A Trick of the Tail....
11/02/2018 - 17:01

I'd waited 52 years to see an Otter in the wild, doing 'Otter' things in a river in the countryside.


As long as I can recall, Otters have been almost mythical creatures to me, an animal I might see on a TV wildlife program, or read about in a book. Watching them in the wild has always been something very much on my wish list..


Part of that wish was finally realised last summer, when we visited the Isle of Mull and we got to watch a Mum and cub along the shore of Loch Scridain as they swam, fished and relaxed on the rocks, followed shortly after by excellent views of a handsome Dog Otter as he munched his way through a fish. Long distance views and utter delight...


During my lifetime, Otters have almost been wiped out due to persecution, poisoning from pesticides and habitat destruction, however their population is starting to make a slow recovery and whilst they are still classified as 'Near Threatened' on the IUCN Red list and are a Protected species, they are still somewhat elusive as they are not particularly widespread. 


A few months back, I heard word that Otters had been making a reasonably regular appearance along a stretch of the River Ouse.  I added the location to my 'places I really ought to go visit'  list and thought no more about it until I had a day off in early January and had a hankering to go 'somewhere different', so off I set....


Nearly 53 years...


After a short (unplanned but very pretty) detour through part of Thetford Forest, I arrived in the car park and started to get myself organised with binoculars, jacket and camera, keeping an eye on the photographers and watchers down by the riverbank.  After a few moments, I could see that there was something as caught their attention as they all moved to one spot by the bridge.


I hurried across, trying not to trip over my own feet and there, in the shady water next to the bridge was a young Otter, swimming, swirling and diving in the water.... 


My first Otter in the wild, doing Otter things, in a river, in the countryside...  



Watching the Otter, how it was part of the water, (or was the water part of it?), how it moved, dived with sometimes barely a ripple, surfaced and munched with gusto on whatever it had caught - they eat fish, amphibians and crustaceans and have been know to take waterbirds too, before swirling around again had me transfixed... From time to time it would be full length in the water, blending in, texture and colourwise to the point where the camera struggled to 'see' it.  At others, it would effortlessly 'float' as it ate or disappear under water in the blink of an eye, with barely a ripple to give away where it would surface. (I did kind of get the hang of what to look for after a while, but still a tricky one!)  


After several moments fishing the Otter paused and looked up at it's audience, before continuing under the bridge and upstream. 


Otters have two layers of fur, a thick waterproof outer layer, which protects a warm underlayer of fur.  This coat must be extremely efficient, as many times as I watched, I marvelled at how Otter seemed to be 'wrapped' in water - it seemingly staying on top of the coat, but draining away very quickly when the Otter stopped out of the water.


They are one of our top predators and when they are gliding along the surface of the water, having their eyes on the 'top' of their head enables them to keep a good lookout.  They are powerful swimmers with webbed paws and under water can close their ears and nose.  Their whiskers are extremely sensitive and these help them find fish or prey underwater, especially if the visibility is poor. They are partial to fish and other water dwelling creatures such as frogs and will also eat crustaceans such as fresh water mussels.



Once under the bridge, after a while of diving and eating, it retired to the edge of the river for a few moments, having a little rummage in the vegetation, before starting to swim again. Whilst it sat, with the water drained away, it's dark greyish brown coat and paler chest and throat were clearer to see.



A quick curve over and then we were all scanning the water to see where he would surface - moments later he was gliding through the water again, back and forth across the same width of the river.



whilst diving occasionally and also keeping aware when above water, in case of any danger..


After checking out the onlookers on the bank, to ensure that we remained no threat, 



a quick dive was made and he surfaced and proceeded to chomp his way through a decent sized looking fish, whilst showing off plenty of those sensitive whiskers and a set of lovely sharp, brilliant white teeth!  


After finishing his fish, the Otter seemed to have a bit of a 'play' in the water, swirling and turning just for the delight of it, before powerfully swimming towards us and into the sunshine - some lovely head on views!


Just along the riverbank, was a little tangle of twigs and reeds and he made his way towards it, surfacing with a bit of a shake


before stopping, sitting bolt upright and staring back at us all (missed the moment with the camera as I was so delighted at what I was watching!)


He stayed around this little tangle, diving for snacks, watching us back from time to time and seemingly enjoying the sunshine, rolling around in the water eating or pausing and just looking about.    



All of a sudden, without seeming to draw breath, over and under he went..



Disappearing, before fishing some more, then climbing up the far bank to go back to a holt to sleep off breakfast. 


Now as a rule, I don't usually just go to see one species then pack up and go, yes I may have a wishlist, however I love watching everything! As I still had some time, I decided that a little wander along the riverbank was in order to see what else was about, so I set off, heading upstream for a short wander.


Concentrating on the river (just in case!) the first birds I saw were a trio of Little Grebes, all diving and fishing.  I saw quite a few of them all along the stretch that I walked and every time that they dived seemed to be successful with tiny fish caught


or sometimes little 'tubes' which possibly held Caddisfly larvae.


As I wandered along, I could hear Nuthatch and Wrens from the woodland on the far bank as well as Dunnocks and Robins singing and the chatter from Chaffinches, Great Tits and Blue Tits.



Looking up the river, there were a pair of Mute Swans gliding serenely along towards me at a sedate pace,



coming close by as I stood and watched.



Sometimes, there's nothing quite so calming as just taking the time to stop and watch... a lovely few moments admiring them as they made their way past.


Further along, I could see a smart male Mallard speeding downstream, however he headed into the branches of a birch which had fallen into the river to forage; when I got closer, many of our smaller birds were taking advantage of the mid-river perches, foraging in the vegetation which had got caught up.  


There were a number of Chaffinches low down and also the occasional Blue or Great Tit higher up. A slightly larger bird was hopping about busily through the branches and across the floating vegetation, a Grey Wagtail!



He stayed out in the middle for a while, before flitting off to the raft of weeds against the far bank,



before flitting off to find another site to forage.  Looking upstream, I could see a family of Mute Swans, two adults and a youngster, all taking turns at upending and dabbling along the far side of the bank. 



As time was getting on, I started to walk back, peering at the Alder trees across on the othe bank, there was a familiar but not often heard chatter emanating... Carefully with the binoculars, I had a look (I was right against the sun & didn't fancy an eyeful!); there amongst the branches were a flock of Siskins feeding busily and flitting about.


I rarely see these at home and the only other place I have had reasonably good views of them has been in the Forest of Dean, so this was a second treat of the day!



Siskins are a lively member of the finch family, are stripey yellow and have a forked tail. They habit the higher parts of trees, rarely feeding on the ground, preferring seeds from pine and spruce as well as Alder and Silver Birch. They seem to like to travel - whilst some will over winter here, some birds have been found to be in the UK one winter and in parts of Europe another. There is a resident breeding population, however, these numbers grow during the winter months.


Whilst I was admiring the Siskins, there was a loud splashing from the water, it was a Little Grebe that had dived and caught a fish, possibly a Stickleback.  I watched for a few moments as it attempted to subdue the fish, before paddling off downstream.



Continuing my leisurely walk back, one of the Wrens I had been hearing from the little bit of woodland on the far bank flew across and into the reeds ahead of me.  I could see the reeds moving as it hopped between them low down before it flew across into the scrub the other side of the path.  After a moment of two it popped up on the remains of a common hogweed plant and I was treated to a brief serenade before it flew further off, out of sight but not out of earshot!


I did wait awhile further along the path, enjoying watching the river and listening to the birds, however, there were no further signs of the Otter...  Still a return wander at some point is in order and there was a very silly grin all the way home - best way to start a week!


I hope you have enjoyed my blog, if you would like an email notification when my next blog is published, please add your email address to the 'Sign Up' box below, you will then receive an email with which to confirm your subscription.


As always, comments, feedback or questions are welcome, so please feel free to contact me via the comments section below or via the guestbook






Return to Top










Add a Comment


Email (not displayed):