As a member of the Dorset Otter Group I have a specific stretch of the river Stour that I survey four times a year for signs of otters. Basically that entails scrabbling around in my wellies on the river bank looking for otter poo… or to give it it’s proper name, spraint. Glamorous stuff eh! but you see what you don’t understand is the bubbling-over, child-like excitement I experience when I find some. I will try to explain.
Take this willow tree above. It’s quite an ordinary tree, but to an otter spotter it shouts “spraint”. At this time of the year, when the river is very high, a lot of the river bank is flooded and when the otter is looking for somewhere to leave his smelly calling card he looks for a fairly “solid”, out of the water, place to leave it. That could be a flat rock or some concrete (around the base of bridges is a favourite place), or it could mean a learning-over tree trunk or root near to the water. As you have probably guessed, the red “X” shows where I found the spraint.
So, how do you tell it’s otter spraint? Well, for a start it’s dark green/brown and has small white fish bones visible (see picture below).
If it’s fresh it will be very “gungey” (sorry, but it is!) but once dry it’s crumbly and lighter in colour. It’s about an inch long, and has a very distinctive smell. Believe it or not it isn’t a horrible smell (well at least I don’t think so). It’s very musky and fishy which I guess is hardly surprising as they eat fish, crayfish, shellfish, etc. Spraint is used to mark territory and to let other otters know where they are, so the musky smell is really important as it lingers for a long, long time.
This next picture shows how close I was to the river and how high the water was (the tree where the spraint was found is in the foreground). It also looks towards John Palmer’s land on the left hand bank. I wrote an entry about John’s land last week, and I told him at the time that I was hopeful of finding evidence of otter. Well John, now I have!