Wotter Return!

Jeff Chard

More amazing wildlife Tales from the Riverbank with UK Wild Otter Trust Ambassador 2020 and Gwent Wildlife Trust supporter and volunteer Jeff 'Otterman' Chard.

As a result of my Otter spotting experiences, I’ve learned to be a lot more patient when watching wildlife. But, I was champing at the bit when the Welsh government announced on Friday 3rd July that we could travel further than five miles. I was eager to return to my favourite Otter spotting location, not just in the hope if spotting an Otter but to enjoy a walk, the wide open space and the opportunity to enjoy a variety of wildlife.

I leapt from bed at 5am and found myself at the river by 6.15am. A fox in one of the lanes on the way to the river was a good omen, as I hadn’t seen one in the five years of travelling around that area. It was a beautiful morning, blue skies and fresh, clean air. The troubles and stresses of the past three months or so, washed away with the current I as stepped onto the river bank and raised my binoculars to scour the river and its banks.

I chose to head up river and sat at a bend, where I could view an Otter’s approach from up or downstream. Another omen, I hoped, as I sat down against a fallen tree, was a single spraint amongst a patch of grass a foot from the tree, the patch thicker and slightly darker than the surrounding grass (probably due to nutrients from the spraint).

Otter spraint on grass

Jeff Chard

Otter spraint

I soaked in the ambience of the location and my spirit soared with the sand martins that flew back and fore to their nests in the opposite bank.  A family of swans fed close the bank, as they approached the colony of Sand Martins, oblivious to my presence and I watched as they floated along, seemingly care free (although my next visit to the river proved that it’s not all plain sailing for swans).

 

Sand Martins in flight

Jeff Chard

Jeff Chard

Following a breakfast of hot cross buns and coffee, I set off to walk further upstream, checking old sprainting sites, finding little evidence of Otters until I spotted a hole in the far bank that could potentially serve as a holt or a couch (a resting place). For fear of potentially disturbing the potential holt site, I recorded the location and moved on, finding some older spraint and tree roots, approximately 100 metres away.

As I followed a right angled bend in the river I told myself, almost out loud, that I’d never seen an Otter along this particular stretch of river. To my utter amazement, within three strides of that statement, I spotted the wet sheen of an Otter’s curved back, mid-dive. I dropped to a knee, behind some Himalayan Balsam, watched the tell-tale the bubble chain drifting with the current and waited for the confirmatory rise of the Otter’s head. The Otter surfaced a couple of metres ahead of the bubbles and created a ring of bright spray of water that made me gasp.

Otter diving

Jeff Chard

Otter in riverbank

Jeff Chard

Keeping my distance, staying silent and using whatever cover I could find, I was able to watch the Otter, for over an hour as it hunted along its way upstream, foraging amongst roots and under bushes along the river bank, deep diving in calmer water and porpoising in rapids, until it finally went to ground, presumably for some grooming and a well-earned rest. This was the longest I’d watched an Otter in water without taking a break on land. Although, being masters of evasion, it probably popped out a few times, when I thought it was under water. I took very few photographs, as I relished the opportunity to simply watch this magnificent creature once again.  

Jeff Chard

Like the Swans, I floated back to a wooded area of the river bank, in a euphoric, trance-like state which was only broken by the sight of a kingfisher diving from a perch and flying away, fish in bill. I decided to tuck myself in amongst the trees and waited for the Kingfisher to return, as they often do after touring their fishing perches. Forty minutes later, my patience was rewarded, as the Kingfisher landed back on the same branch. It dived just once and went on its way again.

I too went on my way again, watching Oystercatchers and Swans flying by, a Red Kite gliding above, Wagtails skipping from rock to rock, trout leaping for flies, butterflies galore and the occasional Banded Demoiselles, to name but a few of the species that greeted me that day. I set off for home, smiling all the way and thinking “wotter return” to the river that was.

Perching Kingfisher

Jeff Chard