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Otters in daylight... In England?!!

Chris Packham Chris Packham | 13:07 UK time, Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Otters in daylight. In England. I mean only yesterday such a thing would have been unthinkable. Indeed, in my lifetime of wandering Hampshire's waterways I have only twice had the fortune of seeing otters twice with the glint of early sun on their glistening backs.

Once on Christmas day (without checking, I reckon 1982), when I was checking Longworth small mammal traps I had set for water shrews. I caught FIVE and gently introduced two into the less than warm Itchen just to watch their silvery twisting bodies writhing away across the fresh white chalky stream bed. I felt guilty then and now for this mean imposition but, hey, I was youngish!

Anyway, whilst shivering between trap-lines I heard a terrible row, splashing, flapping, going on over by the bank. Pretty much too cold to care, I didn't investigate until it went on so long that I had no choice. So I crunched the frost across the water meadow and cautiously peered over the bank to see the slippery form of an otter writhing upstream. It surfaced once, instinctively saw me, dived and disappeared. I saw it for the sum total of perhaps five seconds and yet to this day remains as one of the best Christmas presents that I have ever had. Ever.

The second view - glimpse better describes it - occurred when I rented a house overlooking the same river 20 years later and a strange noise woke me through an open window. I rose to watch a female and cubs scampering across the street-lit mud. It was almost as good, only tempered by the other diurnal encounters I had enjoyed in the interim. Since then I have had other audiences outside my 'home county' most notably and regularly at the Big Waters nature Reserve just north of Newcastle Airport where the irrepressibly enthusiastic Kevin O'Hara has shared my daylit joy of a succession of fabulous otter moments.

Anecdotally, it seems that as our populations of these secretive and mercurial mustelids gradually increases then they have become ever so slightly more amenable to showing themselves in decent light. Forced encounters may breed a little more trust from them but then there are so many more people out on freezing December mornings on the look-out too and, here at Pensthorpe, our comprehensive camera coverage means that in all honesty we are seeing them 'unseen' by human eyes.

With the greatest respect to our marvellous Story Developers, their noisy, smelly human eyes are safely locked up a half a mile away in our 'Mission Control' and the shy otters are blissfully unaware of the treats that they are providing us all with.

I can't help but feel that it will be a few years yet before this understandably cautious sect of creatures becomes brash enough to start tap dancing beneath our bird tables. And all the better for it... there is no allure stronger than that of the oh-so almost attainable, those things that tease us from the brink of our reality. The dream-creatures that might once grace our lives and leave us thinking that there might actually be a Santa Claus after all.

Are you seeing more otters in daylight? Post a comment here and let us know.


  • Comment number 1.

    Interesting read, Chris. I have seen an otter in daylight only once. It was about a year ago. I live in the New Forest, your neck of the woods, and was in Lymington one day. I had always seen a road sign on the bridge over the river running through Lymington warning of otters crossing, but never saw them. As I was walking over the bridge one day I saw a flash of silver out of the corner of my eye and turned to see the otters back and tail, reflecting the sunlight, disappear down into the water. I stood and watched for 10 minutes but saw nothing more of it. Not seen any otters there since.

  • Comment number 2.

    My husband and I were on holiday in Norfolk in March of this year and had rented a cottage in East Ruston (not far from you). The cottage was on a fishery and as we are fairly early risers, we were up by 6.30 on our first morning there. Andrew was watching the lake with a cup of tea when he saw an otter, then another, then another. It seemed to be a mother with two well grown children and she seemed to be taking advantage of the captive fish whilst training the kids. We watched them from the bedroom window for about 3/4 hr before a dog started barking and they were off. The next morning we were up looking for them, but it had rozen during the night, so the sound of them cracking the thin ice as they hunted was very clear. The next day the same again and the next, all week. The last morning we were there (after having bought a new telephoto lens) we were lucky enough to watch one of the youngsters mucnhing their way through quite a large bream! All this time and the lake was only about 12 metres from the back of the house. Plus the barn owl who was hunting over the farmland as we drove out in the mornings at about 8.30.

    I never did catch the owl on camera but I did try to get the otter with his/her breakfast. The picture, despite a new lens, needs a bit of work......

  • Comment number 3.

    I saw an otter in daylight once, but sadly it was dead! :o(

  • Comment number 4.

    Otters are seen regularly in the daytime at a site in Norfolk. We missed one by 5 minutes the other day, didn't mind too much though, as we'd seen the female and her 2 cubs in March. Got some great photos!

  • Comment number 5.

    In 30 years of wildlife watching, I hadn't seen an Otter in the wild until about a month ago. I'd stopped next to a tiny fenland cut to listen to a bird singing, and noticed a bow-wave coming along the water. About 5m from me, a head popped up - an Otter!. We stared at each other for no more than a couple of seconds before it was gone back underwater.
    I picked it up again seconds later surfacing about 40m from me, then it went under again and it was gone.
    A magical few moments.

  • Comment number 6.

    Saw an Otter in the estuary of the River Naver as it meets the sea at Torrisdale Bay halfway along the Northern coast of Scotland. A good few years ago on a sunny August afternoon we had gone to Bettyhill village from our camp site for provisions, bought an ice to enjoy sat on the cliff top our legs dangling 4 or 5 metres above the river. Noticed movement against the waters edge up river and then, for the next half hour or more, held our tongues & bodies still while a big male otter swam lazily down past us then up & down diving catching crustatia & fish and even floating on it's back to eat at one point. The memory is burned in my mind as one of the most unexpected wildlife events, probably a one off, I'll ever enjoy. Sadly, no camera with us that walk.
    The whole area is rich in Wildlife and on checking the online info just now it seems Otters, Pine Martens & Birds of Prey are regulars in the area these days.
    JNCC Info for River Naver:
    General http://is.gd/czPJE
    Species http://is.gd/czPFO
    Mammals http://is.gd/czPGK

    A few years later my Son was luck enough to spend an afternoon kayaking in Monterey Bay California specially to observe the Sea Otters that frequent the surface floating seaweed where they can get rich pickings from the crabs etc that live on the plantlife. He wonders if climate change will bring that scenario to our shores.

  • Comment number 7.

    Hi Chris

    Haven't seen any otters recently however did want to get out to you at Springwatch that we saw a Yellowhammer which I believe are quite rare, back in March. We were out walking to Beaupre Castle in Cowbridge, Vale of Glamorgan and there were two chasing each other in the trees. I have posted a photo of it on Flickr but was uncertain as to how to let you know.

    I hope you find this useful and that I have succesfully found a rare bird coming back!

  • Comment number 8.

    There is a reserve in Somerset where you can see otters in the day. We had two good sightings there last year and according to the log they are still being seen on a fairly regular basis. It is amazing to see them so close.

  • Comment number 9.

    daylight Otters are regularly seen in three Northumberland nature reserves..

  • Comment number 10.

    We see otters in daylight nearly every day now. We live on the Isle of Arran on the West coast of Scotland and feel really lucky to be able to watch these creatures at very close quarters so regularly. A few years back we would only see them at dawn and dusk, however now if the tide is right we can spot them throughout the day. There is a mum with 2 young at the moment and it is a joy to watch them playing, diving, feeding and suckling on the rocks at the bottom of our garden.

  • Comment number 11.

    I have seen otters during the day in Maldon, Essex.

  • Comment number 12.

    Otters are regularly seen in daylight in some areas of the Norfolk Broads, so not too far from you. Mainly on the north broads around the River Ant and Horning, but I have also seen them on the River Yare near to Brundall. If in a quiet area you can sometimes hear them whistling before you see them.

  • Comment number 13.

    yes the norfolk broads is the place for otters, i was privileged to see 4 otters on three seperate occasions whilst fishing in september and october last year, in daylight and with boat traffic too. one of them actually left the river and ran to a dyke only yards behind me :-)

  • Comment number 14.

    At about 4.30 last Wednesday afternoon my friend & I saw a mole crossing the busy A259 (between Chichester & Bognor Regis) right in front of us! It was a blistering hot day, so we can't work out why this secretive creature would be out in the open like this?
    Any ideas?

  • Comment number 15.

    I help run a conservation group to the north of Bognor Regis that has recently been awarded Local Nature Reserve Status. In broad daylight my husband saw a lone female roe deer on the edge of the reserve. We don't have much in the way of tree cover, so would this be unusual behaviour?

  • Comment number 16.

    I regularly see otters in Somerset in the middle of the day. Best view was of two running across a frozen lake this January. Last summer I heard, then saw one crossing the River Yare in Norfolk, I think it was calling to either a mate or cubs on the bank. The island of Mull is probably one of my favourite places to see them, feeding in the seaweed exposed at low tide.

  • Comment number 17.

    Last year on a May bank holiday myself and four others were walking along the river Wear near Bishop Auckland at about 11am. we saw a female otter with cub,come to the side of the river bank and for a few moments looked at us then carried on down the river and out of sight.Only my second sighting in 60 years, and so close.

  • Comment number 18.

    Mr Packham, I live in a wonderful part of Cornwall and often go walking along the river Tamar,The first time i spotted the otters I never had my camera with me, at that time there was what looked like 2 adults and 2 cubs, the time was between 7 and 8am, the next time i saw the otters which was a couple of weeks later there was only one adult with the 2 cubs.
    Going on a year from that this was at MIDDAY about 11.45am this year I was walking again along the Tamar and spotted a cormorant on a low branch from a tree that was protruding from the river, underneath the branch was 2 otters playing around in the water and maybe catching fish, i wonder if the bird was waiting for a free meal.

  • Comment number 19.

    Hi Chris,

    I was sitting by the river lunchtime today (12.20) watching the kingfishers flying up and down the river making quite a commotion when suddenly i noticed something on the other side of the river about 40 mtrs away on the river avon nr Bath. It was a single otter with the tell tail bubble trail behind it in the water, just managing to get a shot of it in the drizzle, and posted on flickr s/w group.

    I last saw them twice in January this year, the second time managing to capture on video 3 otters playing in an offshoot of the river. Have sent video to s/w and hope you get to see it.

  • Comment number 20.

    My wife and I saw a pair of otters in the river in Inverness very close to the city centre in January last year, frolicking on the bank for quite a few minutes late one afternoon. Was a magical few moments.

  • Comment number 21.

    Hi Chris, still plenty of otters up here to see if you put the effort in or not as the case may be. Took a journo out from the guardian the other week saw nothing, following day walking my border terrorists along the river Wear near Fatfield guess what is sail up mid river, yep an otter 12.50pm sun out big smile on his face. watched him proceed to hunt down and kill a cormorant.

    You and springwatch need to get up north more and tell it as it is to much anthropomorphism

  • Comment number 22.

    First saw an otter in daylight in 1988 when I was a student nurse, doing my district nurse stint at Glencoe. We visited a patient at their home between Ballahulish and Fort William, his house was near the sea and he pointed them out playing in the water.Since then I've seen them on a few occasions in the Sound of Raasay, which is also a great place for spotting dolphins. Raasay really is a good place for watching wildlife.

  • Comment number 23.

    I saw my first otter in England last night and it was pretty special, and it was less than 1/2 mile from my home. I've seen a few in Scotland over the years, but have never seen one in England before. We live in Cumbria, at the bottom of Lake Windermere, and I knew Otters were about in the area. I often go down by the River Levens in the evening just to see whats about and had hoped an otter might appear. After many attempts over the last few weeks I'd given up. Yesterday evening I was actually watching a Tawny Owl fledgling in a tree, when I happened to notice a tell tale wake in the water. I then had a pretty good view of the otter diving and swimming for about 1 minute. Think it was a dog otter as it was pretty chunky and was solitary.
    Although it was great seeing otters in Scotland, and I've had some excellent views of them up there, none compared to the fleeting glimpse I had last night in England in daylight (just about) and on my local patch. I feel hugely priveleged.

  • Comment number 24.

    On a recent holiday in the Norfolk Broads we were privileged to be able to watch otters on 4 different occasions all during daylight hours. The most memorable occasion I was sitting in the salon on the boat facing the bank and an otter climbed on the boat and ran along the side, stopping right opposite me. It stood up on its hind legs, looked at me for a few seconds and then continued along the boat and back onto the bank and away. I had to call my partner to come and verify that I had in fact seen an otter as I didn't quite believe it!!!!

  • Comment number 25.

    Just come in from a bike ride and straight onto the web to report this. I am 40 years old and never seen a wild otter, 9pm tonight still very bright stopped at the side of the river wear at Fatfield for a rest and to my astonishment watched 2 otters hunting, one came up with a fish and they both climbed up the muddy slope (low tide) into a hole in the embankment. As they were carrying a fish in am i right to assume there may be young in there. Not going to give the exact location away for obvious reasons ! I assume these must be the same as the ones Kevin OHara wrote about above. I couldn't belive my luck, how chuffed am I tonight !

  • Comment number 26.

    My friend and I (along with ours young sons) had the great fortune to be able to watch an Otter fishing for over 30 minutes in the River Stour at Flatford on New Years Day 2009. During a particularly dull Pike fishing session we saw a disturbance along the bank and could not believe it when an Otter surfaced not more than a metre away. Rather than diving away, never to be seen again, it proceeded to patrol up and down the river seemingly unconcerned by our prescence. It even climbed out of the water and devoured a small roach on the bank less than 10 feet from us. Typically, the youngsters just did not appreciate how lucky they were. I am 40 this year and this was the first wild Otter I had ever seen.

  • Comment number 27.

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