There is something truly magical if you’re lucky enough to encounter an otter, as I did recently on the Little Ouse. Sleek and glistening they seem to just “melt” in and out of the water as they forage along the river bank. Pictured are a mother and her cub and these images are the result and reward of several weeks tracking on the Suffolk/Norfolk border.
The Eurasian otter is well known for its playful nature which is encapsulated by the work of Henry Williamson in his book Tarka the Otter; but they did face near extinction in the late 1970’s due to polluted habitats and intensive hunting. Fortunately they are now a protected species and the use of agro-chemicals is more tightly controlled. Of course we need to do so much more in the protection of our environment; but as habitats slowly recover through careful management the good news is there has been a noticeable increase in the prevalence of otters along our rivers and waterways.
Otters are elusive creatures by nature, but look closely and listen carefully enough and you may be able to spot the signs of habitation. A local river, pond or lake is a good place to start as they live in holes along the bank called a holt which will typically have two or perhaps three entrances. Often these will be positioned close to a fallen tree or old stump but also look out for black, tarry droppings (known as “spraints”) around 2-6 cm in length. Otter prints are also easily identified as they have five toes and are another very positive sign of recent activity. If you hear twittering, squeaks or whistles you know they are very close by. The most important thing to remember is to watch with wonder but do not disturb the otter as it interacts with its habitat.
Nick Hurst is an award winning wildlife photographer based in Suffolk.