Tuesday, 31 May 2011

On the tracks of otters

These are otter prints.  The animal has been bounding along (diagonally left to right in the photo) using the typical bendy movement it shares with its cousins the weasel and the stoat. 

What you see are characteristic clusters of four separate footprints.  First, the left and right front paws hit the ground  slightly out of sync and one in front of the other. As the otter's momentum carries it forward, the body moves over these two prints until the two back paws plonk down beside marks left by the front feet. 
As followers of my previous tracking posts will have guessed by now, I applied my usual techniques of skill and field craft to work this out - which is to say, none whatsoever.  I watched the otter bound by and then went up and had a shufty at the tracks. 
Here is the first bit - front paws hitting the ground, one at the back, the other further forward.  The back legs start to move through.

Then , kerplonk, down go the back feet right beside the front feet  marks but managing not to overlap any of them.

The push off given by the back legs together with its forward momentum, propel the animal quite a way forward such that the next time the front feet hit the ground the animal is far enough away to register a separate and distinct group of four.

With an otter of this size moving at a reasonable pace but not full tilt there is about 9 to 10 inches between the groupings.

The sighting of this otter was just one of those fortuitous things that is bound to come along if you spend enough hours outside in the right places.  Apart from a few tracks and signs it had been an otterless week until the last hour of the last day on Colonsay when I decided to wander along the beach to see off the last ten minutes before heading off to the ferry. I looked up in response to a movement and stood riveted as this otter ran along the top of the beach, not 20 yards away.  Jammy or what!

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