Friday 8 March 2013

Otter signs

I have been interested in otters for a good number of years. Having read a few books on otters I decided, back in the late 1970's to take part in the first UK otter survey. I joined a group studying Welsh rivers and had signs on four of the six we surveyed. The 1977-1978 survey became the benchmark for future surveys which have been carried out every seven years .In those days otters were extremely rare and chances of seeing one was restricted to the remote islands or the west coast of Scotland.

The methods employed, was to walk  a 600 m transects along a suitable river looking for Otter spraints       (droppings), especially under bridges or where rivers met. Although we did find a number of spraints on large rocks close to the river as well . In between my survey visits , four in all, I actually saw four otters while visiting the west coast of Scotland. Out of six people in our group only the leader had seen otters in the wild and although we had received training we didn't expect to see Welsh otters as they were considered to be nocturnal.
                                                Taking part in the first Otter survey

 Our first encounter with otters is still very vivid,  I can clearly recall seeing an otter in broad daylight swimming along catching fish in Little Lock Broom, then coming onto land to devour a larger prey item. This sighting last over 20 minutes. Since then i have seen other otters on the West coast of Scotland and the inner Hebrides,as well as Shetland.

Books such as Tarka the otter and Hugh Miles book on Shetland otters, whetted my appetite for more, we even visited Gavin Maxwells retreat on the remote West coast of Scotland.

Shetland on the other hand is the best place to see otters in the whole of Europe. They estimate around 1200 animals but I am sure this is a slight under estimate as lots of young cubs are seen each year. Again the otters can be seen during day light.

We have had over 25 sightings while spending holidays in Shetland, the best was on our last visit. We had parked up in a line of cars at Toft waiting for the ferry to Yell. We were the four car in line. Having got out to scan round for seabirds, along with a couple of others we were amazed to see two otters appearing in front of the line of cars, and then proceeded to run towards us until they were six feet away then they split up and went back into the sea. I had left my camera in the car, but two other people close by were unable to react to this amazing sight and missed the opportunity as well.

You might be lucky enough to see otters on any visit to Shetland but it is always worth looking out for different signs such as tracks and otter spraint sites

                                                         Otter tracks - Norwick Beach, Unst

                            Otter tracks
                                                                       Otter spraint

Again it just goes to show that you have to expect the unexpected !!!!. Otters have even been reported in Sheffield along the river Don, how amazing is that. I can even remember seeing an otter on the local TV which has been caught on a CCTV camera going across a car park in Leeds, this was several years ago.

           Sign at Mavis Grind, Shetland

With water pollution less evident along our rivers& otter hunting banned you can now find otters in every county of England. However you cannot beat finding your own otters in Shetland, set among beautiful coastal scenery, alone, using your knowledge and expertise to see one of these fascinating animals.

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