We have established that they have holts in our midst, a holt being the name for the lair of an otter, though never used for other animals as far as I know.
One holt is in a thick hedgerow of bush with densely packed twigs and leaves about two metres high, an almost solid wall of vegetation running downhill almost to the boulders washed by the sea. At its bottom end is the entrance to a tunnel just about the right size for a large otter to enter on its stubby legs. It smells of otter, quite rankly at times, less so when they have moved on. We don’t know how deep it goes and have no intention of finding out.
Their behaviour is constantly entertaining. We watched two sub-adults, one lying at the peak of a sloped boulder in the sea eating a fish grasped in its front paws. The other lay below it on the slope, keening. It approached the one with the fish several times and was rebuffed. The eating otter swung its head back sharply but made no sound. The other retreated, lay flat and opened its mouth in a big O to make the keening sound. Only when the fish was nearly finished did the first otter allowed the second to feed on it.
Three more otters appeared and all six emerged to roam aimlessly about the rocks. The one which had been keening continued to do so intermittently and the attitude of the others towards it became aggressive.
One large otter on top of a rock crouched low on its forequarters, raised its rump and rapidly stamped its hindfeet alternately while swinging its tail violently from side to side. Others in the group made feints or lunges at the keening one, which kept its head raised and moving from side to side. At one point two others attacked it in a flurry of movement so fast it was not possible to see if any were actually bitten. It lasted no more than two or three seconds.
The otters’ arrival is always unexpected. They will suddenly appear from among the boulders, dripping water, and amble up to the narrow strip of wild lawn between the sea and our homes. Their destination is a patch of bare sand about two metres wide and long, a luxurious otter lounge.
There they roll and squirm on their backs, tummies and sides, rubbing against each other sensually with visible pleasure. This can go on for half an hour or more, with one or two peeling off now and then for a quick dip in the sea then back to the pleasure pit. Why? We can only guess that it’s a pleasant change from the water and may help get rid of parasites like ticks and lice. Then they troop down to the well for a dip, and vanish back into the sea.
They appear to be good parents. Liz once spotted a mother otter enter the sea with two very young babies hanging on to her shoulders, accustoming them to the surf.
At dusk one day when the sky was clear and the light still good, an adult otter emerged on the grass with another half its size behind it, clearly mother and offspring. They made their way north, junior struggling to cope with the rubble of rocks, stones and boulders, falling between them, tail waving, while mother waited and turned back and encouraged.
They entered the sea and re-emerged on rocks further north. Junior continued to struggle with the rough passage. At one point mother grabbed it by the scruff of the neck and hauled it across a rock.
A few minutes later five adult otters, all large, appeared on the grass verge where mother and child had been. They made their way north, pausing to frolic and eat pieces of a large fish then took to the water and vanished in the sea.
Question: was the mother deliberately taking her child away before the adults arrived? From past viewing adults can be very rough on the juveniles of other families.
Our freshwater well is the main attraction for them at this bay. It is a round, very old stone-and-cement shaft about a metre in diameter with a flat-topped wall which rises some fifty centimetres above the surrounding rocks. The water is clean – except after use by the otters.
They like to swim in it after emerging from the sea. They dive in and through to come out at the opposite side, or make a turn or two in the water before leaving. They stand on the flat wall and shake themselves vigorously to shed the water.
The level of water in the well varies considerably because it is fed by the underground flow from the mountains and that in turn depends on the rain.
Liz’s husband one day spotted a baby otter trying frantically to get out of the well when the level was so low it could not reach the parapet. He guessed it had been left behind by its family. He went down and rescued it, checked and found it unhurt and released it. To provide escape in the future he jammed the trunk of a dead tree into the well, which we have kept in place ever since.
Sadly, nature sometimes takes a cruel course. The baby met up with the wrong family and they killed it, judging from the injuries he found next day.
To be continued/ Otters 4 – 17 Oct 2014 …