Having not seen a single otter along the River Torridge last year, I was quite keen to try my luck now the water level had dropped after a week of dry weather. There was plenty of evidence of the recent heavy rain, however, with all the driftwood dammed up against the bridges.
Otters are incredibly difficult to observe because they are extremely elusive and shy, not to mention being mainly nocturnal. So I made an extra effort to get out onto the water at first light. By the time I paddled off my fingers, despite wearing gloves, were already numb. Maybe not a surprise as it was minus 3 degrees. What an idiot. I certainly didn’t anticipate encountering any other kayakers.
I wasn’t at all prepared to see the first otter which was just around a corner only five minutes into my trip. I was fiddling about with my camera and the otter sensed my presence and vanished. I have learned from experience that if you get too close they just disappear and you will not see them again, no matter how long you wait.
The Torridge is fun to paddle, whether you see any otters or not.
Today’s eighteen mile, five hour paddle was as absorbing as ever and I soon found myself in the ‘zone’, paddling along in absolute silence and looking out for the slightest movement on the water or along the bank. The only noise I made was the occasional slurp of a warming draught of coffee. And crunch of an Orange Club.
Seventeen kingfishers, twenty-seven Dippers, five Goosanders, a Woodcock and a possible glimpse of a Mink, and of course I was hoping for another otter.
I looked at all the little patches of sand along the banks as I drifted past, and to my surprise nearly all of them had footprints and little scuffs that I’m pretty sure were otter prints. The owner of the footprints often seemed to have come from out of the water, and some of the tracks in soft sand were clearly webbed, so some were otters for sure. There was hardly a patch of sand without any tracks, so it looks like there’s plenty of them about.
After a couple of hours, along a straight bit of river, there was a big otter swimming in the middle of the river directly towards me. I paddled as fast and as silently as I could to the bank and hung onto a branch with one hand while I prepared my camera with the other. Excellent, it hadn’t seen (or smelled) me.
It worked its way up the river catching a small crunchy snack at every dive. At the end of this next clip I think it can sense my presence so it submerges with hardlyt a splash, and is gone.
I waited for it to reappear but soon gave up because I was getting cold, and I more or less knew it wouldn’t show again anyway.
To my astonishment, half-a-mile downstream was another otter also fishing in the middle of the river. This one put on a good demonstration of the technique of porpoising.
I knew it couldn’t resist climbing out on one of the mini islands to ‘mark’ it, as it drifted downstream away from me, so was ready with camera raised when it did so.
This otter was spooked by the whine of a slurry tanker in a field half a mile away, instantly disappearing as soon as the pump started.
Absolutely fantastic, two of my best otter sightings away from the coast of Scotland, and within a couple of minutes of each other.