Sunday 1 July 2012

Otters in Northants! - Wednesday 27th June 2012

Things have been a bit quiet in Northants recently bird wise so I have been concentrating my efforts on catching up with a few of the commoner birds I have been unable to see so far this year. The main one quite unbelievably is Kingfisher! In fact I've never had to look for Kingfishers in the past as you normally just see them while out birding anyway. This though has been a different story, for me anyway, and has resulted in me putting in hour after hour walking lengths of river after work and into the evening without success. Whilst doing this though I have of course been admiring a lot of the other wildlife the rivers around here have to offer. Barn Owls seem to be everywhere and I had found at least 3 in different locations over the last few nights. The other species being Otters. I have known for a long time about the presence of Otters at various places in Northants but I have never been lucky enough to encounter them. A couple of weeks ago did get a glimpse of a head disappearing under water and the shadow of one swimming past me but that's been about it - until Wednesday the 27th of June when I had an evening that was special in every aspect, and one that I will certainly never be forgetting. The area will remain a secret I'm afraid as they're obviously breeding so to keep disturbance to a minimum I won't be posting any photos of the area. I arrived at the site at 19.30 and it was a gorgeous summers evening, hardly any wind with bright sunshine and warm. The river was still with hardly a ripple on it and with fish jumping everywhere it just felt good for Kingfisher, so with binoculars slung over my shoulder I started the walk along the river. I had gone about half a mile when as I was scanning the banks of the river from a viewpoint I noticed two strange shapes floating in the water, they didn't look like birds even at this distance as they circled around and dropped under water before coming up again. I got a bit closer and looked again - oh my god they're Otters!!! I watched for a while as they dived and surfaced and then dived again, and trying to use all my fieldcraft I crept along the bank and got closer and closer. The whole of the area if reed fringed and getting a view (and of course doing it quietly through vegetation) was quite a challenge to say the least. The area the Otters were hanging around in is part of a backwater to the river which has no access but this actually worked in my favour as it meant I could creep around it to get to the river on the other side without getting too close to them. When I got further down stream I found a gap in the reeds and looked back up the river to where they had previously been, I couldn't see anything at first glance but then a splash in the reeds to left and the large concentric series of ripples heading out into the river signified the presence of something close. I sunk down lower and the reeds rustled before an Otter emerged right infront of me and swam passed - it was so close I could actually see right into its earhole! It somehow never noticed I was there so I continued along keeping as quiet as possible before reaching another bare section of bank in between thick vegetation and sunk down again. The Otter seemed to have split from the other one and was hunting in the reeds along the bank, the views were simply stunning as it dived, surfaced, crashed up into the reeds and then plopping back into the river again. It was once again getting closer and closer and nerves started to kick in as I prayed it wouldn't see me - and then as I crouched down it came out of the reeds this time much closer and I watching the Otter swim underwater right underneath my feet! I couldn't quite believe what was going on, I have been lucky enough to see Otters in the past up in Scotland but to get these kinds of views in my home county was just something else. It was making its was further along the bank towards a calmer area of river just before a weir so I made my way here and say down patiently tucked away in the corner and waited. It wasn't long before it came around the corner and I was then treated to a fantastic show as it swam backwards and forwards across the small pool and sometimes rolling around in the water with its long tail flapping around in the air - all the time calling to its mate! I feel so privileged to have been able to witness this first hand and in the end I watched these for a good hour and a half before a couple walking a dog along the river path and chatting away disturbed them and they vanished - I wonder if they'll even know they had 2 Otters about 10 feet away from them at one point! As its pretty obvious they have a holt in the area I will just leave these guys to it, I may perhaps pop down if I have another nice evening free just to keep and eye on them but the views I had that night will never be surpassed and as I have said before will never be forgotten. The icing on the cake came at 22.00 as it was getting dark, as I walked slowly along the river I heard the unmistakable "pip pip pip" call from a small branch and I looked up just in time to see a Kingfisher flying down the river. At last a Northants Kingfisher, after 6 months of the year already passing I was starting to get worried!

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