Oct 30, 2010

Otter at the Loons

On Thursday I was well impressed to see photos of otters on a friend’s facebook page. My mate Alfie Stanger had the good fortune to have a large dog otter put on a fine display in front of the loons hide just as the light was going. The sighting log in the hide also made mention of an otter sighting a few days back. Now the otter is one of the most elusive of all our wild life. I have only seen them on a few occasions so the temptation to go for a look at the end of the day yesterday was just to much for me. Shooting out as the day was ending I arrived at the loons hide to find Alfie there and primed for more action. Taking a seat and setting up there looked little In the way of bird life let alone otters.
The day before the otter had appeared on the far off left of the pool moved on to the wee island for a sniff about. There were mallard on the bank and water and they were unperturbed by the large mammal moving amongst them. He moved along the reeds in a dabbling manner with the rear end and tail in the air whilst I presume searching for food on the shallow bottom. From there he swam across the pool from left to right before emerging on the cut reeds at the mouth of the water rail channel and disappeared in to the reeds.
That was yesterday though and after hearing the description of what happened I settled to have a spy about for birds whilst keeping a weather eye out for wee tarka!! The seemingly empty vista before us soon began to offer up sightings, in the stubble fields far above us a gaggle of greylags were feeding then in the grazings below that a few curlew poked about. The field below this that leads to the reserve edge held three hares and along side these but not close enough to cause them concern a feral tabby cat was hunting a mouse or vole. One thing that had been called yesterday was a fox along the fence line. This was called by a visiting birder and Alfie managed a distant view in his bins as a Rufus looking rear end disappeared down a dip not to be seen again. We were discussing what it could possibly have been as foxes are not something we have on the northern isles when a flash of red bushy back end has me shouting FOX!! It was on the farthest comfortable view of my binoculars and it also disappeared down a dip. With the heart pumping and the mind shouting that it cant be can it??? I jumped on to the scope and swung it in the direction whilst explaining where I was looking. Within moments the culprit emerged, it was a huge ginger tabby cat with a monster tail. We both got on it and had good views in the scope. I am pretty sure that this was the fox from the previous night. It’s a good example of assuming the identity of a sighting when you are familiar with a species…its easy to convince your self you ken fine what your seeing. Assumption is a powerful psychological tool…and one I am personally all to familiar with as a birder!! With that wee mystery kind of settled it was back to the birds. Little did I know I was about to fall fowl of exactly the same assumption! Looking across the reed tops Alfie says look what’s that as a large gull floated away from us and moved on to the side of the hill. Oh its just a gull having a poke about I said with confidence. Yet it was seeming to be hunting in a quartering sort of fashion rather than the typical sort of herring gull flight Just as I was saying och its just a gull it spread its un gull like tail in a big fan and wheeled about to show its self in good view. It was a first year male hen harrier. It had passed over the three brown hares and they had not flinched. Now it moved along the fence line towards the farm and disappears. Its presence had stirred two flocks of Golden plover to take to the air, these gave a fine display wheeling about and changing colour as the changed direction before settling back to ground. The Peewits that were along the reserve edge were also spurred to take to the air but soon settled back in the same area as they had emerged.
Time passed but still no Otter, geese passed nosily over and the Harrier returned to plunge into the reeds way off to the left of the pool and not emerge, probably scoffing some prey!. Still no sign of Otters though!.
Passing time looking for a Reed bunting that was making occasional calls I was delighted to see a Water Rail walk over the cut reeds at the mouth of the channel. No sooner had I said water rail it walked in to the reeds and was gone. This was the first Water rail I had ever seen and I had the tingling thrill of discovery that you get seeing a lifer!! Still no otter though and now the rain started with a heavy thud thud The few Mallard on the pool seemed un bothered but a female Teal began rushing about like a loony, slashing and diving. The light was getting impossibly poor and we decided to head off and give it up for the night. It was a shame that the Otter did not emerge but that’s about par for these elusive creatures, never mind though I had a lifer and a good chat and laugh whilst birding and you cant beat that!! Even the ride home with out waterproofs wasn’t going to bother me tonight!!

It’s a shame the night didn’t produce an Otter but Alfie has said I can show a couple of his photos here so you can see the beast for your self’s though…Thanks for that Alfie!!

1 comment:

  1. Nice account Daf glad the bushy tail dilemma was cleared up thanks to your excellent scope, Another enjoyable venture into the Orkney wildlife