For some weeks now, I’ve seen reports and amazing photographs of Otters in a town not too far away from me. Finally, I could no longer resist such a fantastic opportunity, and today I set out to find them. The Otter is an iconic mammal, shy and elusive, gracing our rivers once again after many years of persecution. But these guys are the new kids on the block, bold as brass, with attitude and charm in equal measure, they’ve swum their way into our urban environs.

Walking along the river footpath, I have a moment of uncertainty about the direction of the trail, when suddenly there’s a great big splash. Peering through the bushes I glimpse my first wild urban Otter, incredible. I see her shake out her coat and then dive right back in with another splosh of water. A photographer comes round the corner hurrying and struggling through the undergrowth trying to keep up. My senses come back to me and I hasten away from the action, they’re heading downstream and I’m already ahead of them, so I circle round a bend in the river and set up and wait.

European Otter, lutra lutra

What happened next, I could never have predicted. Many gardens back onto the river, and at the edge of this particular garden there were a group of chickens scratching through the leaves on the riverbank. The opportunistic Otters didn’t miss a trick, and leapt from the water onto the bank and gave chase, there was a lot of clucking as the panicking birds scattered out of the way of the Otter, as he pursued them back and forth. Cleverly, he slipped back into the water. One of the hens froze in fear, caught between the wrong side of the fence and the river and unable to see the predator, a fatal mistake. The Otter came silently and swiftly, propelled from the river by wide paws and thick tail, two bounds and he caught the hapless hen, who barely had time to react. Squealing and flapping hard she nearly broke free in a cloud of feathers, but the Otter dragged her to the water where she finally met her end.

European Otter, lutra lutra

An astonishing thing to witness, nature red in tooth and claw. A fine meal for the two Otters, but not so pleasant for the chicken’s unfortunate owner. Hopefully, with their preferred diet of fish, this isn’t a scene repeated too often.

The Otters were totally unconcerned by the human onlookers, and as more people joined the group they ate their fill, then had a swim and paused to dry off their fur and rest.

European Otter, lutra lutra

But that’s the only thing that spoils this for me. To my left, twelve cameras all set to ‘machine-gun-fire’, a barrage of shutter noise whenever the Otter moves. Call me a purist, but this isn’t wildlife photography. Not one of them is watching their back, thinking of wind-direction or stealth. For me, that’s wildlife photography at it’s best – watching and photographing an animal without it knowing you are there, and creating images different to anyone else. It’s not the Otter’s fault, they’re a modern mammal, adapting to the increasing urbanisation of their natural home. Perhaps I ought to get with the times too. But it’s great to see so many people taking an interest in our wildlife, it needs as many protectors and supporters as it can get. The Otter’s are unfazed by the attention, but I’ll be back at a quieter time.

Posing for the cameras…

European Otter, lutra lutra

 

Domestic chicken

Is it safe to come down yet?
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