Took My Breath Away

Jeff Chard

Well over a month since my Otter first sighting after lockdown and numerous visits to my usual riparian locations were very quiet indeed. Initially I blamed the warm weather and low water levels, but then other reasons became apparent....

Chatting with two farmers I learned that, like me, the river had become a magnet for people who wanted to escape the four walls they had been cooped up in for weeks before.

Sadly and most annoyingly, not everyone seemed to have been out to enjoy nature, wildlife or the freedom the outdoors provide. Whilst enjoying themselves they forgot  to respect their surroundings and perhaps unwittingly, are disturbing wildlife and other  people who simply enjoy what visiting the river has to naturally offer.

The farmers described how people had driven their cars into private fields of livestock, right on to the riverbanks; had picnics; barbeques and swimming where neither are allowed; dogs running free; left litter and smashed bottles into the river and blocked gates with their vehicles. Worst of all, which showed total disrespect, estate staff were threatened and an angler had objects thrown at him, when they tried to inform those people of their wrongdoings. Hardly surprising that wildlife, particularly the Otters and Kingfishers, moved away from those areas.

Avoiding times of likely human activity, I persevered and even visited new locations that I hoped would be somewhat more peaceful. Early one morning, at the spot where I’d seen swans before (see my previous blog); I sat watching a swan family swimming upstream near to the far bank. They left the water in single file and on reaching the top of the bank; they sat and began munching on the grass.

Swans on the riverbank

Jeff Chard

Jeff Chard

To my astonishment a few cows in the field began to harass the swans and very quickly separated the adults from the cygnets, driving the parents back into the water. The same group of cows then chased the cygnets away from the bank, until out of sight in a dip beyond. I feared for their safety as one of the cows was bucking up and down. From my position, there was nothing I could do, other than listen to the frantic, plaintive calls of the parents.  It wasn’t until five minutes later and with much relief, that they appeared to be safe……….Thankfully, all cygnets returned unharmed to their parents and I’m sure they’ll all turn into “very fine swans indeed”.

Common Sandpiper on the riverbank

Jeff Chard

About to leave for home, I had a little visit from a Common Sandpiper that checked if I was okay under my camouflage.

Jeff Chard

I had a break from the dramas of the riverbank and revisited my local Badgers sett instead, to check that they and the vixen nearby were still okay. On the first visit I caught sight of at least two badgers, in near darkness at the sett entrance and a glimpse of a fox’s tail as it disappeared into some bushes. Over subsequent visits, I had the pleasure of confirming that at least three of the badgers, from a family of five were still at the sett and what they feel about horses and me.The horse frightened the life out of me too!

Jeff Chard

I had no idea a badger cocked a leg like a dog!

 

Jeff Chard

The highlight of my most recent visit was not only watching the badgers, but also the vixen and what she had brought with her that evening.

Mike, my fellow Otter enthusiast, with whom I share surveying and monitoring of river locations, had found a new location on the River Usk where he’d spotted an Otter on his first two visits. Obtaining permission from the landowner, we met one morning, at social distance and watched the river some 200 metres apart. An hour or so later, Mike alerted me to a sighting, but by the time I reached his spot a female and her pup had vanished, but not before Mike took photographic evidence.   

Otter observation

Inspired by Mike’s sighting, I returned a number of times to the location, catching glimpses of a lone Otter in the distance on my next two visits and then nothing for a few visits afterwards.

Otter in the river

Jeff Chard

Finally, after a period of rain, I returned to find the river had risen somewhat and was pretty murky. Would I see anything, let alone an Otter, in such conditions? I was encouraged by lots of Kingfisher activity and after a relaxing wait of almost five hours; an Otter appeared in a way that I hadn’t witnessed before. In slow, calm waters, there was no noise, no bubbles, no splashing, nor shaking of its head as might happen during fishing. It silently rose, full-bodied to the surface and took my breath away!

Otter surfacing in river

Jeff Chard

As Mike and I discussed previously, this is one sharp Otter and it melted back into the water just as silently as it appeared. Hopefully I’ll see it again soon.