Nighttime Marsh Ottering.
Sunrise: 07.47 Sunset: 05.59
I went out ottering on the marsh this evening. I’ve watched them swimming and playing in the River Stour on a number of occasions; each time in darkness, through my night-vision scope. I have found spraint, otter tracks in mud and snow, and even seen an otter juggling pebbles. I have followed the tracks all over the marsh, hoping to find a holt, but without success. I’ve seen an otter cross the northern corridor on its way to the flooded withy wood, and I’ve disturbed them a couple of times around North Pond. There are holes in the ground around the Lightning Tree, on the east bank of North Pond, and I have suspected otters of using these, but I’ve not found tracks there to prove it. It’s likely the holes are rabbit burrows, but the water table is only half a metre below ground, and the marsh fox digs them out every few months. I suppose the holes are really tunnels; they go down into the ground to emerge a metre closer to the pond. I wouldn’t be surprised if these are used occasionally by otters, mink, and rabbits – they might even be bolt holes. I’ve placed camera traps to watch each end of the tunnels, but I’m none the wiser about what is going on; the ground is always disturbed here, too.
This evening, leaning against the tenant farmer’s gate, in almost complete darkness, I listened to the sounds that are nearly always present. The roaring of water rushing over the north weir being most audible; the dull repetitive thud of metal bashing presses wafting down from the industrial estate, high up on the west bank; bellowing and coughing cattle; barking muntjac deer; squawking from the heronry, and rabbits or other small animals squealing out their final breath from the jaws of a fox. These are all normal marsh noises that I have grown used to. I am amazed that other quieter and less intrusive sounds find their way through the ever-present background cacophony. An odd out-of-place noise can prick the senses. Consciously, I might not be immediately aware of an unusual sound, but my head will move like an organic radar, turning slowly to the right and then to the left. My brain sifts incoming audio signals, and filters out normal background noise. Although a new sound might not reoccur for a while, or at all, I know something has happened. My whole being is switched to alert mode. I have experienced this 6th sense many times on the nighttime marsh: sometimes manifesting as a compulsion to focus my night-scope on an invisible target in the darkness. If you don’t believe in the existence of a 6th sense, try a week of nighttime marsh roaming; I guarantee you will either be converted, or find yourself running screaming, arms waving in the air, never to return to the marsh in darkness ever again. 😀
I didn’t see hide nor hair of an otter tonight!