1 EAGLETON NOTES: Balance of Nature - Otters

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Thursday, 19 May 2022

Balance of Nature - Otters

We all have a vague understanding of the balance of nature. I've been experiencing the balance of nature changing year on year since I moved into this house 3 decades ago and in the half century since I moved to Lewis.

My house sits on a croft which, until around 10 years ago, was full of sheep. The croft is possibly 30 metres wide and runs from the village road to the sea. Crofts were very frequently very long and very narrow. As a consequence they are often referred to as the farming of fences (about which I have blogged several times).


The grass used to be kept under control by the croft cow (eating the long grass) and then the sheep kept the grass short. Now there are no cows and no sheep on the nearby crofts. So it's now difficult to walk down the crofts and the chance of them returning to agricultural use diminishes year by year. 

This is part of the change in the balance of nature in the crofting communities which I'm hoping to write about over the next few months. Today I'm concentrating on the return of otters to the the area adjacent to my home.

Down the far side of the croft on which my house was built is a stream. When I arrived I was told the stream was an otter run from a loch well above the township to the sea below my house. Despite that and the knowledge that there are otters in the area, I know no one who has actually seen one here in all those years.  That all changed a few weeks ago when someone sitting on the rocks below the house saw and photographed an otter sitting eating a fish amazingly near to him. He posted some of his photos on Facebook. With his permission I'm reproducing a few of them here.



All otter photos courtesy of Jason Spinks.

42 comments:

  1. Absolutely stunning Graham, and please thank your friend for generously sharing the images.

    Many years ago I was able to witness very similar scenes in Torridon (but without the excellent pictures!)
    It is an experience which was profound and a privilege and I have never forgotten it. Wishing you many happy hours watching "your" otter over the coming months.

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    1. Thank you, Jayne. I'm hoping to make some excursions down the croft to see if can see the otters. They usually require a lot of time and patience but, given a nice day, I might go and have a sit with my camera, Such photos would be the highlight of 70 years of photography.

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    2. Graham, may I make a suggestion which might improve your chances of success? Could you borrow or perhaps buy a TrailCam? We have a couple by Bushnell (bought through Amazon) which are excellent and very easy to use/set up. Reviewing the images would show you what times the otter comes across the croft (they are creatures of habit) and you could then position yourself comfortably an hour or so before they are due.

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    3. Thank you for that suggestion, Jayne. I shall investigate.

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  2. How wonderful! I just posted about the balance of nature as well, with regard to cosmic turtles. Make of that what you will - or come by my blog and see for yourself. Hugs!

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    1. Marcheline, cosmic turtles (post now read and commented upon) are not quite in the same league! I did enjoy your mistooking incident and had a wee giggle.

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  3. These images are wonderful. I hope you manage to see one yourself. X

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    1. Jules, to see an otter here close up would be magical. I've only seen one in the Islands (many years ago) since I came here nearly half a century ago.

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  4. Our most favorite wild animals of all. We love this post. Here's hoping they thrive and build a sustainable population.

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    1. Tigger, otters are wonderful animal in so many ways. I hope they are back to stay and increase in number.

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  5. What a privilege to be able to see such a beautiful creature up close.

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  6. What incredible good fortune, Graham. Before I met Miriam I owned a rural property in Woodville, ON with a 20-acre beaver pond and otters took up residence there. I regularly watched them cavorting and it was hard not to project that they were having great fun. It was a privilege for me to see them on a regular basis. I look forward to more news of the rewilding of your croft. Thanks to Jason for permitting the use of his pictures.

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    1. David, your experiences with wildlife seem to be more than most people could ever dream of.

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  7. Wow! This is thrilling to learn wildlife returns to an area. Beautiful photos. Thank you!

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  8. I like the second picture of the otter. He appears to be sunbathing.

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  9. Gorgeous photos and what a thrill it must have been to see the otter - I hope one day soon you get the chance to see it as well. Must be an amazing experience :)

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    1. Margaret, it is amazing and the only one I've ever seen on the Island was at a distance. I'm living in hope.

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  10. Interesting. My English wife talks about the croft but she knows nothing about it. She came to Canada when she was 14. So I'll follow this series with interest.

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    1. I'm fascinated, Red, that your English wife talks of the croft because they are a Scottish land holding rather than English. I've read, though, that the term has a Germanic derivation.

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  11. How wonderful. If there's one, there must be others. I had no idea that Crofters land was divided into strips like that.

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    1. Cro, not all crofts are in strips like that but the great majority in townships are. A map of a crofting area is fascinating.

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  12. Otters! I love them almost as much as I love foxes, but of course the chances of seeing a fox are much higher than of spotting an otter. In fact, the only otters I have ever seen were captive ones; the Sea Life Centre in Scarborough has a family, and there were some in the Bavarian Forest Wildlife Centre during our visit four years ago.
    Jason was very lucky, and I hope you will be, too!

    Wildlife has certainly changed here over the past few decades as well. I remember how jays used to be almost exclusively wood dwellers, often to be heard, rarely seen. About 30 years ago I noticed how they were visible more and more often in the gardens and parks here in town; nowadays, they seem to be around whereever there are a few big trees nearby, and are not so shy anymore.

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    1. Meike, we have no foxes on the Islands. But then we had no frogs, hedgehogs or mink 50 years ago either. I was fascinated to hear that Jays have lost their shyness. I have only seen a few down in the woods of England years ago. They were one of the most shy of birds.

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  13. Stories like this give me hope! Nature is so very resilient (as she needs to be with humanity about) If we can just allow her a little space, miracles can happen.
    How very special, I hope you get to see otters eating fish and cavorting

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    1. Thank you, Kylie. Nature is very resilient although I do sometimes despair.

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  14. Those are terrific photos of the otter that Jason spotted. Hope you get to spot some too! What will happen to all of that croft land in the future? Will it be subdivided and built on? That's what happened in the area where I live - my home is one of many built on what used to be farmland here.

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    1. I apologise, Ellen, for not responding to your comment. I was going to come back to it and say that I hope to addresss the question you asked in a post at a later date.

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  15. Seems to me the charm of the Outer Hebrides has had a giant boost. I do hope you get to sit a while with the otters. Wouldn't it be wonderful if sightings such as this became a regular thing? I wonder what will become of the croft land?

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    1. Pauline, as you know, otters are very shy creatures and most people (including me) don't make the time to sit for hours if needed to see one up close never mind capture a photo. I'm going to explore Jayne's suggestion of putting in motion cameras to try and find out when they come down and perhaps find a vantage point.

      As for croft land who knows what will happen. I suspect in the dim and dark future people will start using them again to grow food when it becomes obvious that the state can no longer feed everyone. Some of our disused crofts and peat banks are coming back into use already.

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  16. 60 plus yrs ago Mum & Dad and I visited a Pub near Dorking and there was a sign --To the Water Otter. Round the back of the beer garden was a smallish wooden hutch/kennel with straw inside fenced around. Inside was a black kettle. As a kid I loved it and still do.

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    1. Potty, that's the sort of humour that I enjoy: a harmless, funny play on words.

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  17. Wish you luck with the otter-watching! I don't think I've ever seen one in real life.

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    1. Monica I think that you are probably part of the great majority of people on the earth who have never seen one.

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  18. They're so cute, I've never seen one but wish we had them here.

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    1. Amy they are beautiful creatures and I don't think they would be a big threat to indigenous wild life.

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  19. The only live otters I've ever seen were in Monterey Bay, California where my husband and I had gone for a weekend. We spent most of our time on the balcony of our hotel room watching them frolicking in the kelp beds. Fascinating little critters and delightful when they floated on their backs with a food morsel on their bellies.

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    1. Well, Jill, you've seen more than most of us have seen. You're very fortunate.

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  20. Carol in Cairns19 June 2022 at 19:03

    I am presently visiting my Mum in Rockhampton. Last week we took a trip to the city zoo to see the meerkats and chimpanzee. We were pleasantly greeted with two otter from Asia as well. They were fascinating scampering around and digging for ground beetles that they would take back to the water to eat.

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    1. Carol, I'm fascinated by the fact that they took the beetles back to the water to eat. I suppose it's just their natural environment or perhaps they were cooler in the water.

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