Otters have featured several times in this blog, whether it is indicting them as the culprit of a crayfish mutilation; hypothesing on five-toe footprints in the snow or analysing the contents of their droppings.
It is one of the new year's resolutions of this blog to try and see an otter in the wild. Whilst photographing water voles one evening, there was a commotion amongst the nearby mallards and not one, but three otters showed themselves.
Having watched them swimming and diving below the water, two cubs (or puppies or kits depending upon noun preference) obliged for a photograph and stuck their heads above the water - photographs are dark and grainy as a high ISO (3200) and no flash was used.
And the mother who could obviously detect my presence on the river bank came for a closer look:.
Otters are a controversial subject at the moment (although not as much as badgers). Some, like the Environment Agency, view their return as an indication that British rivers are returning to their former health.
Others, having seen rivers adversely affected by poor management, pollution and the introduction of invasive species like the signal crayfish (who eat fish eggs in vast numbers), view the return of a top predator, which can eat 15% of its own weight each day, as yet another contributer to the decline in numbers of fish and other wildlife, especially aquatic birds.
Yet from conversations I've had alongside the river it transpires there have been otters on the Ock a lot longer than this blog has been in existence, and apparently last year there were three cubs.
So maybe, the Environment Agency's predictions are correct and the river has reached a natural stability, even if some of the damage cannot be undone, and given the otters fondness for crayfish, maybe they can even help the situation.
Two new year's resolutions done (badgers and otters). The next one on the list: a seemingly insignificant, hard to identify and very rare insect.
Update: In an interesting comment below, Anne says "I've read that otters may keep the numbers of introduced mink down".
The relationship between mink and otters is a somewhat complex subject. Otters can attack and drive mink out their territory, but scats and spraints have been found together, indicating that mink can change their behaviour to avoid the otters.
None the less, mink were once seen on the Ock and as far as I'm aware there haven't been any sightings for a few years. So maybe breeding otters have, as Anne suggests, have had an affect and could be partially responsible for recent water vole resurgence.