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In search of an otter

Outdoor Living

Country Sights and Sounds
John Shelley

THE otter hunt continues even as my search for the merry mink appears to have reached a satisfactory conclusion. At least I believe so, for he leaves no tracks where he left them before. Perhaps he caught the eye of better huntsmen than myself, and these armed with the necessary paraphernalia, so that he is no more.
In an attempt to lure the otter, I took a tin of pilchards and buried the contents in a shallow grave on the gravel bank over which he runs, then concealed myself in the reeds with camera in hand. There are occasions that time goes more slowly, and lying on ant infested ground with clouds of blood-hungry mosquitoes about ones ears, while waiting for an animal to appear in a five-yard stretch of its five mile beat, is one of them.
I eventually went home with an empty camera, with the intention of returning at first light. An uncomfortable night filled with much scratching and itching ensued. I have yet to decide which brings the greater discomfort – red ant stings or mosquito bites!
It was rather late in the day when I did get back to find my otter had indeed dropped by and had discovered my hidden pilchards, which had been uncovered and consumed. Interestingly, a round stone the size of an orange had been left in their place. I have heard of otters playing with such items and seen bits of film, probably recorded by people fully immune to insect bites and wearing ant-proof clothing, and would very much like to witness such behaviour first hand.
So today I am to return, armed with a small pail of chopped and mashed pickled herrings, the rich odour of which ought to draw half the otters in the county. Whether I get to meet my friend or not, he will soon get used to the notion of finding free food in a particular place and it will only be a matter of time.
Now there are leaves to sweep (ready for summer) and logs to chop (for next winter) and this glorious day baiting its own trail to the river with me as prey ...This, now, is this evening. The sun throws an orange light from the west as if pretending to be warm. The thorn hedge acts as a bit of a heat trap, where butterflies gather to make the most of what  warmth is on offer. Pristine Speckled woods, cream spots on brown velvet, compete for the brightest corners. These are, without exception, newly hatched rather than overwintered. Among them are occasional peacock butterflies, which ought to be nearly as neat, despite having spent the last few months asleep in somebody’s shed or in a hollow tree. It looks as though the weather got the better of them and they are in a state of disrepair with ragged wings and tired bodies. Hopefully they will survive until they have the chance to reproduce, and later in the year we shall be inundated with them.
There are other sorts about as well: Brimstone, Orange tip, Green-veined white. How many were there in the past? How many will there be in the future? The answer to that lies within us. How many would we like there to be?
My trip to the river was a lesson in humility. I made the mistake of taking my fly rod along, which meant the camera was used rather less than intended, and first met a Frenchman carrying a trout in the region of six pounds to his car – I knew where he had caught it, for I had been plotting it’s downfall for the last three weeks - and then an Irishman with whom I walked the river. We spotted a number of feeding fish and took turns casting at each one. For all the skill and dexterity I could muster, I hooked nothing but trees and a fine clump of brambles, while my companion caught almost every fish he threw his fly to.
At least he let them all go, which is more than I would have done.
Perhaps my reasoning is faulty, but if I don’t get them the otter might, and if the otter doesn’t then the Frenchman will certainly have them in the pan with my six pounder.