An otter of my imagination

The bats appear out of the twilight, like shadows made solid. Flitting and falling at tremendous speeds over the water, they melt into the evening sky before taking form again as they belt after the midges that form low-lying, nibbling clouds above the hide. As one makes a tie-fighter dive across our line of vision Sam suggests they could be noctules – Britain’s biggest bat. Fat as butter, but still small enough to fit in the palm of your hand.

But we’re not here for the bats tonight; we’re looking for Lackford’s otters. Going inside the hide, the shutters creak as we open them, the low light from outside barely filtering past our faces. A perfect V of geese, possibly Canada, head straight towards us like heavy feathered arrows, the powerful whooshing strokes of their wings clearly audible.

Sam and Shaun point out widgeon and teal clustered by reeds, while further away other water fowl, rendered anonymous by the light, land with celebratory quacks. Not so much flying, I think, but falling with style.

Picking up the binoculars again I scan the water for the otter’s sleek profile, or for the tell-tale v of an otter pushing through the water. Several times my heart skips a beat before the promising silhouette I’m staring at in the distance changes direction, revealing itself as a coot or a duck.
Earlier, as we walked to the hide, the reserve had been relatively quiet but here at the water, there are endless calls, splashes and flaps. Too noisy, I think, to hear an otter.

Shaun leads us to another spot. Like the last, a filled in gravel pit, it looks slightly like an ox bow lake. Otter spraint has been found not far from here. We peer out into the gloom again, but the dark is over-running us now – filling in the light patches of water with shadows. Even the bats have been swallowed back into the night. It’s time to leave.

Crunching down the path back towards the car park I glimpse a dark shape slinking across the gravel 50metres ahead; head down, hump-backed. It lollops into a field before I have time to react, time even to tell Shaun or Sam. I think about the ‘otters’ that had previously turned into coots. Maybe it was a rabbit, Shaun suggests playfully, just an otter of my imagination.

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