River Stour Otters

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.

Otter Spraint Tree

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).

Otter Spraint

Otter Spraint

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.

Location of Otter Spraint

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!

8 thoughts on “River Stour Otters

  1. What great news! We cheered when I read your email. You are welcome anytime to revisit Bear Mead to have a look for spraint on our side of the Stour. Do you remember the ‘trench’ I’ve had dug re-connecting the Stour with the Old Mill Stream? The last near-flood showed it worked beautifully. I think you said otters might be interested in entering it. Well, the powers-that-be want me to fill it in again, so if otters were interested it may be a way of preserving this centuries-old waterway. Lets hope.

  2. Thanks for your comments John. Yes, I was very happy too! I think a couple of passing walkers thought I was quite deranged when they saw me by the river on my hands and knees, smiling insanely to myself… I will be over for another look at Bear Mead as soon as this blessed rain stops! Thanks again.

  3. please make the picture more clear.
    if u have got the picture of pellets(spraints) of asian small clawed ottter send it to me.
    u can send me the pellets picture of other otters which r found in Asia, especially Nepal.
    I am also doing research on otter, so I gave u this trouble plz dont be angry.

  4. Hi Jyoti. Unfortunately our otters are the “Eurasian otters” not “asian small clawed”, so I’m afraid I can’t really help you. Thanks for visiting though!

  5. Hi there today I went over the [edit] over the river stour by the [edit]. I saw an otter there swimming in the river. I have a lovely photo of it if interested.

  6. Hi. How amazing – you lucky thing! I would love to see the picture. Could you send it to me? I have emailed you with my address. Also I have removed the location of the otter from your comment. I thought this might be wise, as there are some strange people around that might try to harm it. I hope you don’t mind. However I will be letting the Dorset Otter Group know of your sighting for their records. Many thanks Michelle for letting me share in your exciting discovery.

  7. Hello Jane, Thanks for your advice. Next time the weather’s not too bad, I’m going down to our Mill Stream at dusk, well wrapped up, to try and see the otters we’re sure we’ve got. The tracks are usually in the same spot, by the little concrete bridge over the Mill Stream, good place to have a chair for the long wait. I’ll keep you posted on the results!

  8. John. No problem. Good luck with your otter watch! let me know how you get on. When we walked along the river, that was the part I always thought might have otters…. it would be good to get a proper sighting of one. How exciting! Jane

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