Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Cubs carried to cover

I'm back dating this posting in order to try to catch up on some postings to my Otter blog. This encounter was to special not to write about, a very rare and privileged spectacle indeed.

Whilst out birding with James McCallum my attention was drawn to the oh so familiar distant calls of young Otter cubs. I encouraged James that we should check it out as the squeaks sounded to me like very young cubs.

On arriving at the shore the squeaks were clearly getting louder, then with a breaking bow wave and a sleek dive we saw the mother as she approached from around a headland, but she looked 'awkward' on the surface. As she surfaced next time I could clearly see what was hindering her profile, she was towing a cub by the scruff of its neck. It was incredible to watch her dive whilst carrying the cub like this, but it was clear she was on a mission.

I whispered to James that she would be moving the cubs from one holt to another and would very well go back for other cubs and we must be extremely careful as mothers with cubs are very sensitive. James though is no stranger to field craft techniques and had witnessed similar behaviour in other mammals such as foxes and stoats.

I ushered James to lye flat in a hollow so as we would be out of sight (the wind was on-shore so not a worry). Surprisingly instead of carrying on along the shore in the direction of a holt I knew of she carried the cub straight towards us, up the beach and then continued on up a deep ditch towards an iris bed some 20-30yards inland.

Leaving the little darkly furred infant cub to squeak for her return, the mother retraced her footsteps to the shore, then back around the headland before returning with another. We were both utterly enthralled, again she passed us barely 10 metres away.

Although i have witnessed this before I have never been any where near as close, I was of course longing to un zip my camera bag and capture these magical and intimate moments that quite literally few people will ever witness. But I knew full well that even a single shot of the shutter release could alert her to our presence and there was no earthly way I would risk that- no matter how rare an opportunity it was to capture such images that only a mere handful of naturalists or photographers have.

We watched and waited totally still for some time in case she had more cubs to ferry but the cubs squeaks got fainter as she led them inland up the iris beds. We only witnessed her transport two but they could have been her third or maybe even fourth trips carrying cubs.

Our birding had indeed been great, but this was an encounter that will never be equaled, enjoying such intimate and secretive behaviour of a mother and infant cubs, which I reckoned to have been no more the three months old- simply unforgettable.