A Lucky Encounter

With Spring now well under way we decided to go out and try to see a dancing pair of Great Crested Grebes, perhaps the most extravagant display of courtship in the UK, but first we would have to find a resident couple.

After some Googling we found some photographs taken of a nesting pair at a local Angus loch half an hour away. So on an overcast and slightly rainy Sunday morning I headed out to go for a recce.

The loch and its edges were far more full of life than I had anticipated; Mallards and Goosanders were diving in the shallows, Oystercatchers were regularly flying overhead and Blackbirds were hopping in and out of the brambles looking for worms but I couldn’t see any grebes near or far.

The bird feeders were also packed; I got a fleeting glimpse of a Yellowhammer but was able to watch a couple of floofy lollipops (Long Tailed Tits) feeding before they moved on to the next tree.

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Near the bird feeders is a natural point that sticks out into the centre of the Loch which seemed a good bet to scan the loch for grebes.

There was still no sign of them but there was a group of Mute Swans preening quite close to me, gently moving through pools of light where the sun was breaking through the clouds creating a good opportunity to try and take some interesting images.

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After only about five minutes of sitting with the swans I noticed one of them to my left was disturbed by something in the water which I turned to photograph.

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It moved quickly through the water right past the disturbed swans and then dived.

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While it was underwater, aside from hoping it would reappear, I adjusted the exposure on the camera and as it resurfaced I was able to see exactly what it was.

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An Otter!

I couldn’t believe my eyes. Otters and are typically nocturnal throughout the UK so to have such a close encounter in what was quickly turning into a beautiful afternoon was incredibly exciting.

It was continually diving underwater and then bursting back onto the surface where it would roll around and eat its catch.

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An otters diet is primarily made up of fish but it never seemed to catch any and instead looked to be feeding on crustaceans, insects, amphibians or something else small it was able to catch on the loch bed.

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It continued to get closer and closer to me as I kneeled to get a slightly higher elevation for better photos when it first noticed me.

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I was expecting this to be my last sighting as being a solitary animal they don’t appreciate company. To my disbelief the Otter continued to swim closer, diving and reappearing with a distinctive bubble trail alluding to where it was underwater in between. Eventually it swam right past me around to the other side of the point and out of my sight.

I decided to slowly walk around to see if I could catch another glimpse. As I walked down a slight hill through the reeds I could just make out a four legged figure on land shaking itself!

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Otters have incredibly dense fur which is fantastic at trapping air keeping them warm and dry while in and underwater. It does however require regular maintenance so they will sometimes come ashore to dry off and preen but would usually do this in their Holt.

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Being wary of getting too close I decided to back off to an area where I could sit and give the animal space so it didn’t feel surrounded. I could still just make out my little otter friend as it rolled around on the reeds drying itself. It was adorable.

After about ten minutes a far more fuzzy mustelid came into view out from behind the reed beds.

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Throughout the encounter the otter was always aware of my presence, looking around every so often to check where I was.  Passing dogs however seemed to put it on edge, the Loch is a favoured spot for dog walkers and where the otter had come ashore was fairly close to the walking track and it was far more worried about how close an excited dog was than me.

After it sat nervously watching a young dog run in and out of the water quite close to us it decided it was best to head back into the water where it began diving in around the submerged reeds tearing at exposed reeds with its teeth.

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It wasn’t long before it decided to move on, swimming right past me again and back around the point.

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I decided not to follow this time and give the animal peace and instead hurried home to tell Kirsten all about it.

Encounters like this are thankfully becoming far more common throughout the UK. Otters were nearly wiped out here in the 1970’s as a result of harmful pesticides being washed into streams and and illegal hunting. With a ban of these pesticides in 1979 and direct legal protection bring provided under the EU Habitats Directive otter populations have greatly improved and are continuing to do so.

To date I still don’t know if there are a resident pair of Great Crested Grebes at the loch or not but I will go back soon to look for them and I’ll be secretly hoping for another encounter with my little otter friend.

Thanks for reading.

Elliot

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