Country Corner - Getting down to basics in search for otters

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Spraint and spoor are used to refer to the droppings and paw prints of otters, writes George Hogg (Hogg Estate Services).

Otters were very rarely reported in the Lothians when I was an exploring boy.

Persecution had reduced them even before the post war onslaught of agricultural chemicals contaminated the natural food chain and fatally accumulated in apex predators.

Thankfully, we have come a long way in restoring the balance and otter numbers have been increasing year on year as a result.

Even in Edinburgh's Holyrood Park, otters are regularly spotted now.

In county areas sightings and reports have also greatly increased.

Sadly, otters have even begun to feature in roadkill, but many naturalists take that as an encouraging sign of the species spread.

An easy way to survey for otter signs is to check under bridges where they habitually mark their territories using their distinctive droppings placed on prominent rocks or other features.

This spraint is easily recognised by all the small bones, scales and other indigestible parts of their fish and amphibian prey.

Failing the presence of spraint you might still find the distinctive spoor of passing otters.

These footprints are large, five toed, hand like impressions, often showing the webbing between the toes on ideal surfaces.

There may even be muddy chutes where otters like to slide down steep river banks.

If you are really lucky, a half eaten fish or eel might have been left on the bank in times of plenty.

Otter tracking is something I find quite addictive and I find it hard to pass a bridge without a quick check to see if an otter has been about.

And if you want confirmation, you can photograph the signs and post them on iSpot if you need verification.