Tag Archives: otter

Otter encounter

It was fairly early in the morning by winter standards, the sun and been up for less than an hour. I was walking the towpath – which isn’t quiet. A chap ahead of me whipped out his phone, slowed down and appeared to be filming, so I started looking around to see what he’d seen. I was hopeful it would be an otter. Filming otters in the canal has become something we do in Stroud.

He pointed out where the otter had gone, and then when she came back, he made sure I’d seen her before he headed off for work. I’m pretty sure the otter was female, based on size, and the probability – because this is the second otter sighting on the same few miles of canal in a matter of weeks – that she’s working a smaller area than a male would.

I followed the otter for a while. She was hunting, making big ripples each time she went underwater. The distinctive bubble trails looked more random as she chased fish, and when she didn’t make a catch, her time above the surface was brief. I realise how easy it would be to walk past a hunting otter, but now I know what to watch for I may see her more often.

On one occasion, she surfaced just a few yards from where I was stood, and looked at me. It was just the two of us, and we shared a long moment of eye contact. It is a powerful thing, to find nature looking back at you. When anything looks back, it creates feelings of intimacy and engagement. We stop being observers of the scene and become participants in it. The otter showed no signs of being bothered by me, and having checked me out, she got back to the import business of breakfast.

I was able to point the otter out to a dog walker. She’d never seen one before and didn’t know they are in area, and it was clearly a moment for her. The next passerby had a camera and stopped to film, and I left him with her, confident that anyone else going by and paying attention would be alerted to the otter by his presence.

I love the way these encounters allow people who are strangers to each other to engage and communicate as well. Those of us who get about on foot will often greet or acknowledge each other as we pass, and maybe even exchange a few words, but an otter encounter draws people together. We’re better humans when we have other creature to connect and engage with. We’re better humans when we’re showing each other where the otter went, or making sure someone else sees the kingfisher. The world is a kinder, happier place when you can stop a random stranger to point out the heron, or the cormorant in the tree, or the fox in the field opposite, or whatever it is today.

When we make environments that exclude other forms of life, we’re less happy, less well, less able to connect with each other.


Otter encounter

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.

Hymn to an unexpected otter

An otter at a bus station

Is clearly in want of a punchline.


He might have been whimsy personified,

With top hat and cane, descending.

We knew he’d alight in Stroud,

The place is a byword for such fancies.


He might have been a metaphor,

Wild nature, back from the brink,

Dark pelt in yellowed street light,

Away to the secret urban stream.


The otter at the bus stop

Speaking to life’s absurdities,

Uncertainties, and little wonders

Before an elegant exit.


He may have been a God

In water resistant fur,

Sprung from the fabric of night

To re-enchant us all.


An otter at the bus station

Waiting for his punchline.

Probably three will turn up at once.


(This is based on something that happened – it was definitely a dog otter based on size, which is why I’ve gendered him, he was indeed very close to the bus station in Stroud, just passing through, as dog otters tend to do. We were very close, briefly, and it was wholly surprising.)