Being an island off an island, only released from the vice-like grip of ice sheets a mere 10 – 12,000 years ago, Ireland has relatively little biodiversity.
We can only boast around 25 land-based mammal species, of which around 10 are bats. But one great guy we share this land with is the wonderful otter.
I’m fascinated by the otter. I think the animal is really one of our most interesting. While those that live near the sea (for example, along brackish water lakes) have food from both fresh and sea water to fill their stomachs, those who live exclusively inland would appear not to have such choice. Why don’t they move to the coast (joking)?
By the way, sometimes people erroneously believe we have two sub-species of otter in Ireland – the ‘Sea Otter’ and the ‘Freshwater’. In fact, it’s the same animal (Eurasian Otter, Lutra lutra) in both habitats.
So let me share with you two otter encounters in Mayo I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing.
Otter Encounters in Mayo – Inland
A chance encounter a few months back with two otters in a conifer plantation drainage ditch, no more than 1 m wide with water no more than 15 cm deep, has me even more intrigued. The nearest stream of consequence was 500 m away, with a reasonable sized river 1 km off.
I was in the area to look for merlins flying low over the bog, but a kestrel perched in one of the outer conifers caught my attention. Keen not to be spotted, I crouched down so as not to cut the horizon. Suddenly, I could hear a clear “glub, glub” sound from behind me and I popped up to take a look. Lo and behold, a large adult otter was moving along this ditch containing barely 20cm of water. I had a good long look at him as he made his way.
delighted with the encounter, I assumed that would be it for the day, but no. Barely a minute later, a second otter did exactly the same thing. Fantastic!
On another occasion, I was actively searching for otters along the coastline. While normally this would not be a successful pursuit, on this occasion I was lucky.
Here, one otter was having a great time messing between the grassy bank of the estuary and the water itself, popping in and out quite often. The grass was long, so that he could not be seen while on land, but he was very obligingly getting back into the water frequently.
For more detailed information about the otter and its conservation status in Ireland, visit this Vincent Wildlife Trust webpage.