Signs of otter are everywhere at the Suffolk Wildlife Trust’s Hen Reedbeds. Determined paw prints pressed sharp and clear in the soft mud. Spraint in strategic places along the river wall. Slinking slides through the long grass into the safety of the channels and pools deep within the reedbeds. I’ve been lucky enough to visit the reedbeds many times, but I’ve only ever seen an otter once. That one, breathtaking sight and constant messages from an otter’s world has kept me looking ever since.
It was dusk when I saw the otter. Just a few moments before, I’d watched a water vole chopping through irises to gather material for its nest and also witnessed a bittern ward off a marsh harrier, so the sight of a bow wave followed by the noble head of an otter was almost unbelievable. Slicked-back fur, keen, bright eyes, and grappling with a fish. The light was fading fast but I could clearly hear the contented lip-smacking and crunching of fish. Electrifying.
It was a photograph of otter tracks I’d shared through twitter that sparked a thought in my friend Matt Gaw’s mind - we’d try and catch sight of these river ghosts together. Matt is a wonderful naturalist and is also the editor of Suffolk Wildlife and author of The Pull of the River: A Journey into the Wild and Watery Heart of Britain. His writing is sensitive, deeply perceptive and beautifully lyrical. I like to think he’s Suffolk’s Robert Macfarlane but more rock and roll. Otters also hold Matt under their spell.
You can read Matt’s wonderful account of our magical morning at Hen Reedbeds in the April 2019 edition of Suffolk Magazine (Issue 225, pp 56-59). Spoiler: we didn’t see an otter, but we were fairly sure they’d seen us…