Tuesday, 9 November 2010

A torrent of otters

It has been nearly five hours of patient waiting, stood on the bridge, watching the river and listening for the telltale calls that would give away the otters’ presence. I’d seen them here earlier in the week, not well, but this weekend was my opportunity to get what I hoped would be a proper view.

Over the past 15 years I have had just three encounters with otters on this particular stretch of the river, so a series of reports of a family party was a clear draw. Patient watching, three hours before dusk last night and two from first light this morning, affords solitude, your senses alert to the wildlife around you but your mind clear to wander where it may. I’ve seen and heard many other creatures but not the otters, not yet at least.

Then a noise upriver suggests they are coming – squeaking calls and splashing sounds – and I feel myself tense with anticipation. They come at a rush, a torrent of otters moving quickly through the water close to the far bank. It is purposeful, with a mother otter leading four cubs under the bridge and out of sight. This is not the encounter I’d envisaged, one with young otter cubs playing in the riffles and pools. The sound of bankside vegetation shows that they have left the water, moving through the thick cover and into the wet woodland that pushes broodingly up against the river. They are heading downstream, perhaps to the old swimming hole, and I decide to reposition myself further along.

The otters are moving surprisingly quickly and are back in the water ahead of me – so much for getting ahead of them. Big, globular bubbles float on the surface as the cubs roll and dive and play. I fire off some shots on my camera – the light not too good but I hope just about good enough. I can, at least, delight in seeing them at play. A litter of four cubs is particularly good (two or three cubs is the more usual number) and these feisty individuals must be at least 15 weeks old.

The otters have spotted something, the mother alarming with a short and rough ‘hah’. It’s not me but a large black dog on a lead that, having seen the otters, lets out a bark. This is enough for the otters and again they take to the cover of the wood, all the while working their way downstream. I follow their lead and am rewarded a few minutes later by the sight of them slipping back into the water just above the swimming hole. Soon it is all over, the otters out of sight, but a magical few minutes nonetheless.

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