We've all got our 'bogey' species of wildlife. The bird, animal, or insect that you just can't seem to connect with, no matter how hard you try. Hours spent waiting in silence, patiently and visiting sites recommended by the experts, adopting all the tricks of the trade, resulting in nothing but a sore bum and disappointment. You know the feeling.

I'm a man who spends a lot of time in wet places. Marshes, rivers (I live very close to the River Ouse), lakes and lagoons are places I spend a lot of time. I've even had a long trip to Shetland, the stronghold of my bogey, but came back with nothing. Scotland's west and north coast has provided a few glimpses (even a poor photo), but the otter remains something of an enigma to me.

I know they live on my local river; I know they're seen, often the day before, on RSPB reserves I visit with Strumpshaw Fen in Norfolk and Minsmere in Suffolk places where I've heard the "You should have been here yesterday" comments. It was even slightly painful writing and working with Joel on commissioning illustrations by Robin Carter (including the one below) for our otter piece in Wildabout feature in the current (Winter 2012) issue of Birds magazine.

However, last Saturday the tide turned, the lights went green and the planets aligned. Last Saturday, on my first visit to the new Island Mere Hide at Minsmere, the otter was not a rotter - one showed and it showed well, right in front of the hide, clambering up onto land just a few yards away. It spent the rest of the late afternoon fishing in Island Mere, looking a little like "Nessie" as its head emerged in the water: a slinky, oil slick-like shape wriggling through the water before submerging with a roll and a  flick of its tail. With bitterns and Bewick's swans, water rail, a murmuration of roosting starlings, barn owls, plenty of marsh harriers and bearded tits also logged from the comfort of the new padded seats in Island Mere hide, plus a surprise pipistrelle bat (considering it's mid-December) it was a great couple of hours.

So thank you Minsmere and I love the new look visitor centre, hides and play area (just for the record, I didn't actually play on it myself). I am now officially not completely rubbish at seeing otters. If you'd like to try for otters yourself, have a look at our Minsmere web pages and I hear that otters are also showing well at Strumpshaw at present so check in there too.

if you have more luck than otters than me, do feel free to rub it in by posting a comment below and letting us know about your sightings!

  • Hi Isabelle.

    Unfortunately I missed the Springwatch otter programme, so thanks for the reminder about IPlayer. I'll definitely take a look because I've clearly been doing something wrong when it comes to seeing otters!

    I was going to go looking for footprints and spraints by the River Ouse over Christmas to track down otters on the edge of my village, but the flooding put a stop to any attempts to try that. Glad to see it subsiding now, but it was the worst I've ever seen.

  • I watched the Springwatch otter program with my husband last night. Some very interesting pointers on how to detect the presence of these wonderful creatures. Watch it on IPlayer if you get chance.

    Have a lovely Xmas and I look forward to reading more of your blog posts in 2013!

  • Hi Phil.

    I don't do too badly for wildlife time, but I used to be out and about even more when I was a single man. Luckily we have some cracking wildlife on our doorstep so I don't always have to go far with owls, badgers, foxes and buzzards as my closest neighbours.

    I have had good looks at Canadian beavers, but haven't seen a Scottish one -  yet. I hear they are doing well up there though, now they have been reintroduced, so hope to make a visit soon. They are brilliant to watch - I highly recommended them!

    Glad you've done well for otters - beautiful palces to see them too. I've neevr been to Mull (have only seen it from the mainland) but have done Skye once - white-tailed eagles were on the menu on that trip. I remember a friend of mine who was with us being a bit grumpy not bothering to come down to the clifftop with us. he stayed behind and went to sleep in the car. We stumbled on a pair of eagles soaring around just below us -  I've never seen him move so fast after I'd gone back to tell him!

  • Great description of your otter sighting at Minsmere. You find a lot of time to be out and about looking for wildlife- you must have an understanding partner!

    I find it difficult nowadays to put the time in that I used to for outdoor pursuits.

    Have had great sightings of otters on the sea in the past on Skye & Mull. Even got the opportunity to watch one devouring an eel which was superb. Would really love to see a wild beaver- have you ever caught up with one in Scotland??