October 2nd   1 comment

The dead adult female otter hit by a car last night just outside of Crail

The dead adult female otter hit by a car last night just outside of Crail

I got up at first light this morning. Not so hard for the next couple of weeks before the clocks go back. There were 4 ring ouzels reported from Kilminning yesterday so I headed out there in hope on my way to work. No ring ouzels but hundreds of redwings dashing about in the high winds. Not perfect birding conditions so I certainly missed more than I saw. I heard a yellow-browed warbler so there are still some left over from last week: my 11th I have found this autumn. I am definitely heading for a record.

As I drove out of Crail towards St Andrews I was suddenly brought to an abrupt halt by a familiar shape I passed lying on the road. I hoped I was mistaken but as I reversed back and got out I realised to my horror that I was looking at an otter. A big, beautiful but sadly lifeless otter that had been hit by a car sometime last night. I picked it up. Its fur and every detail of it was just beautiful. I have been very close to wild otters but in your arms they are even more fantastic from their stiff bristly whiskers to their thick rope of a tail. Its neck had been broken but otherwise it looked as if it might wake up at any time.

I have been looking out for otters in Crail for as long as I have been here. And since the minks disappeared suspiciously a few years ago it seemed likely that there were some otters about. Like the road-kill barn owl earlier this year – the only consolation is that I now know they are definitely here. The worst of it was when I picked it up and turned it over – it was a female and I thought initially, from its baggy tummy, it was pregnant. Otters can mate late summer and gestate for a couple of months so it is possible if not likely. The alternative is even worse though. Probably it gave birth in the last month and there are some small cubs starving to death tonight.

I put the otter into the boot of my car and took it to the University. After a few phone calls I tracked down Andrew Kitchener from the National Museum of Scotland at Chambers Street who was interested in having the corpse. There is a lot you can tell only from a dead body – age, and body condition for example, and when you have a few, you can tell things like population size and even whether the population is increasing or declining. And road kills are at least fairly random. They are more representative of the whole population than when you draw conclusions from a dead animal you have just found lying about. That’s a bit like trying to infer the health of a town by visiting its hospital.


The paws are beautiful with their webbing

A female otter - either pregnant or just having given birth

Either pregnant or just having given birth

I put the otter in a chest freezer in my department (the Biology department has a lot of this kind of stuff in its freezers as you can imagine – might be more of a problem if I worked in the catering department of St Andrews University though) and I will take it to the museum when I next pass through Edinburgh in a couple of weeks. I feel fairly sad about the whole episode. But it does give me hope that maybe the next wild otter I see will not be on the West Coast but right here.

The otter was over a meter in length and probably weighed about 6-7 Kg

The otter was over a meter in length and probably weighed about 6-7 Kg

Posted October 2, 2013 by wildcrail in Sightings

One response to “October 2nd

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  1. This is a real shame. Thought you may be interested to see a video I recorded with a Camera trap by a pond between Anstruther and St. Andrews.

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