I may not have told you this before, but my favourite British animals are otters. I love them. They’re so good at what they do, and they look like they have fun. But I’ve never seen a Eurasian otter in the wild. So when I found myself in Hampshire with time to spare, I couldn’t resist another go at trying to see some.
Back in March I visited a couple of nature reserves where otters are frequently seen in daylight. They also contain what looks, to my inexpert eyes, like ideal water shrew habitat. On that occasion I had no luck with either species.
This attempt felt quite different. Rather than a cold March morning, it was a warm, sunny May evening. The vegetation had grown a lot since my previous visit, and the floods had receded so all the paths were open.
Dr C and I set out on a lap of the first lake, not entirely optimistic as a dog was running loose. Within a few minutes we came to a bridge over a stream crowded with watercress. Soon Dr C spotted a water vole, which hid before I could join his side of the bridge. We waited quietly, and it soon re-emerged, seemingly oblivious to our presence.
This was only my second sight of a wild water vole, and a much better view. It was only a couple of metres from us, happily eating watercress. I managed to get some photos before it disappeared into the undergrowth.
Dr C and I continued our lap of the lakes. Sadly there were no otters or water shrews. But we did see more water voles, including a baby.
Water voles are delightful. They look plump and good natured, manipulating their food in little hands. You can see where Kenneth Grahame got his inspiration for Ratty’s marvellous picnics.
We had no luck at the second nature reserve, but left feeling our evening had been well spent, getting such a good view of one of our rarest mammals.