Nature Notes

Lunch with an Otter.

A text came from my son at college, whilst I was at work. ‘You’ll never guess what I’m having lunch with!’ There followed the most exquisite video clip, taken on his phone. An otter, hunting the shallow stream at one of the entrances to Andover College, rolling, roiling and revelling in its element, stirring up chalk sediment, a crisp packet and riffling the thickening mat of watercress bobbing on the surface. In broad daylight, between a busy roundabout, car parks and classrooms.

I tweeted it (with his permission of course) and, with over 57K views, it went viral.

(NB, video below not playable, find it on Twitter @nicolawriting)

He’d walked right past it at first, glimpsing it before he realised what it was and stopped, in the midst of his long, countryman’s lope and walked backwards. Otter.

He watched it move under the gin-clear, chalkstream, fluent as a water snake, spiralling and turning on itself with the ease of a gymnast’s ribbon, writing itself in cursive flourishes through the water. He glimpsed a paw; a hindfoot kicking off, a thick, Labradorian tail working hard in a tight spot. He described how it swam thorough the pipe-tunnel of a road bridge and went up the bank: water thickening into fur, dissolving back into water. He saw the champagne belt of bubbles, fizzing in its wake, a bubbling galaxy of stars exploding in the dark water behind it. 

He enjoyed the spectacle for as long as he could. An unlikely wildlife watcher, perhaps; bass guitar in hand, leather jacket and Dr Martens on, a lad in need of a haircut, grinning, texting his Mum.

It’s not his first otter, but it might have been his best. He has spent a lot of time tracking otters with me, overwhelmingly fruitlessly (though not always). Even now, we cannot go near a body of water without ‘a quick look’. So his reward, a naturalist’s dream of a ‘walkaway view’ was richly deserved. He left and went to band practice.

The otters on the Andover’s River Anton are remarkable. A female with three grown cubs lives in its tributaries and lakes around the town, well-monitored, cocking a snook at what we think we know about otters. They remain tricksy animals to watch, predictably unpredictable, keeping to their own unroutine, napping at will. Any sighting of them largely given to chance.

But what is incredible is how this large predator, back from the brink, will adapt to live alongside us, given half a chance. As so much wildlife is willing to do.

Much like that other recovering top predator, the peregrine falcon, whose fortune echoes that of otters. The BBC cameras trained on Parliament, cut away to focus on a falcon tearing at its prey among the pinnacles of Westminster, while things fell apart inside. They panned away again. Another walkaway view.

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