Last night, walking home late after a Show of Hands gig (they were great) I saw an otter from the towpath. At first I caught a glimpse of movement out of the corner of my eye, and thought I was seeing a cat. I had a few seconds of a dark shape with an arched back over fully stretched legs. This is a pose I’ve never seen an otter in – and I’ve watched a lot of otter videos, and read otter books. The characteristic otter is fluid and close to the ground. This one was moving like a cat. Then it dropped into a more standard otter shape, and I realised what I was seeing.
I alerted Tom, and shortly after also alerted the chap who came down the towpath after us. We all stopped and looked. From a matter of yards away, the otter stopped and looked back at us. I’ve written before about how powerful I find this when encountering deer and foxes. I’ve never had a wild otter look at me before. He looked long and hard – from the size of him (huge, easily four feet from nose to tail tip) he must have been a dog otter. He looked at us like he was sizing us up and making choices. Then he carried on the way he had been going, down the lane parallel to the towpath.
We all stayed still, hoping for a second sighting. Not many yards away from us, the otter came up over an earth bank – fluid darkness moving like something in water, or something that is water. He crossed the towpath in front of us, flowed into the canal and swam off at an impressive pace, leaving the trademark trail of bubbles in his wake.
Given that otters have big territories, this is very likely the same massive dog otter we saw at the bus stop locally about eighteen months ago. My guess is that he was changing waterways – as there’s a small river on the other side of the road he was on, and otters have been seen and even filmed only a little way further up that river. The canal is teeming with fish, I see a lot of them every time I’m wandering along it. Last night it was also teeming with insect activity on the surface. The fish eat the insects, and the otter eats the fish. Given how itchy I am today, I think some of the insects had a good go at eating me, as well. It is curious to think that in a roundabout way, I may become otter food.