Night Time Message

For a number of reasons, including the continued impact of Covid-19, I have to say that towards the end of summer I began to lose my enthusiasm for my favourite activities.
Furthermore, talks I had scheduled understandably had to be cancelled and in my period of negativity, I decided to not schedule any more, for the foreseeable future, at least.
As much as I tried, I couldn’t motivate myself, until our first grandchild appeared earlier than expected.

The arrival of our grandson, Sawyer Andy, gave me such a boost and his impression of a Tawny Owl was just the inspiration I needed to shrug off the lethargy and get back to my wildlife pursuits, and to the Rivers of Gwent. 

Jeff Chard

Sawyer Andy's Tawny Owl Impression

I returned to my favourite stretch of the River Usk early one morning and surveyed for Otter signs. Evidence was harder to find, as the resident Otter had changed sprainting sites due to a much lower water level than my previous visit. I found a newly exposed slab of stone that had a few spraints on it, one of which was pretty fresh. I settled down for a couple of hours to watch the river and especially the slab.

Although early morning, the combination of the warm rising sun and gentle flow of the river, lulled me into a shallow slumber as I hoped for the appearance of an Otter. I was startled from my slumber by a single piercing whistle, the tell-tale call of a Kingfisher. I scanned the near and far banks and figured it had passed by. But then, some movement drew my gaze to the stone slab, as a Kingfisher’s head popped up. Not what I’d hoped for but, wonderful to see nonetheless. It hopped to the top of the slab, next to the spraint, targeted a fish, dived, missed and then zipped by me to its next perch around a bend.

Kingfisher by Jeff Chard

Jeff Chard

Kingfisher by Jeff Chard

Jeff Chard

Spirits lifted by the Kingfisher, a female, I stayed alert and watched the river for another hour or so before departing. On the walk back to my car, I noted all Otter evidence I could find, for a future visit. Unfortunately, before I could return, new Covid-19 restrictions were introduced for my area and I had to be content with walking local rivers, which turned out to be an Otter blessing in disguise.

I revisited the stretch of the River Rhymney where I’d had the pleasure of watching a Kingfisher family and once again found Otter evidence - paw prints and a sand scrape at a fallen branch that an Otter continued to use as a sprainting site.

Otter tracks by Jeff Chard

Jeff Chard

I secured and camouflaged a trail camera amongst some tree roots. To avoid disturbing the location with daily visits, I decided to leave the camera for a week, to see what footage I could gather. I had yet to see an Otter on my home river and had not obtained any images either. I crossed my fingers and during the following week, I walked other stretches of the river and the Sirhowy River during day time, where I recorded Otter evidence and submitted findings to the South Wales Otter Trust.

 

Otter spraint on grass

Jeff Chard

Otter poo which is known as spraint

During my wait for the trail camera results, I continued to visit my local Badger sett. Although the opportunities for taking photographs in good light had reduced, I did manage a half decent shot of the adult male, testing the air before setting off to forage. It is evident, from a number of visits, that the three kits from last year have now dispersed and worryingly, there is no sign of the adult female. Hopefully, she is visiting relatives at another sett and will return to produce more kits for next year.   

Badger looking around by Jeff Chard

Jeff Chard

The Fox family also appear to have split, as only two juveniles have appeared recently, instead of the Vixen and her three cubs.

Young fox by Jeff Chard

Jeff Chard

Having spent time watching other wildlife for a week and surveying for Otters elsewhere, I excitedly returned to the trail camera, with a great deal of anticipation. Retrieving it from the tree roots, I checked the content and was surprised to find only 8 videos had activated in a week! I climbed the bank and sat to view the videos. The first six and the eighth were a mixture of rats and falling leaves, but the seventh (lucky seven) was my first image of a local Otter! It had approached the camera from the opposite direction to the tracks I’d previously seen and left me with footage of a rear view of an Otter, leaving a message in the darkness.  

Jeff Chard

This footage my not be that interesting to most, but it was no small triumph for me. It has well and truly revived my “mojo” and I am more than ever determined to spot an Otter on my local river. Covid-19 local restrictions were introduced for Caerphilly County Borough in early September and although this means my travelling will be curtailed, I shall enjoy spending more time along my local waterways.

Whilst this year I may not have experienced the number of Otter sightings I’ve had in the past, I take great pleasure from hearing of and seeing images from the experiences of other Otter enthusiasts. In particular, Nelson and Liz, two people I met up with during summer to explore a stretch of their local river. During the national lockdown, they “discovered” their river, spotted an Otter and became hooked. They now regularly monitor a stretch of their river, looking for Otter signs, mindfully photographing and filming whenever possible. Their most recent encounter resulted in the wonderful video below, of an Otter diving from a rock. I look forward to more of their encounters and along with Nelson and Liz, hope for some pups over the coming months.

 

With kind permission from Nelson and Liz