Finding Coastal Otter Spraints...
Tony Atkinson was telling me about his experience looking for otters around the coast of the Llyn peninsular in North Wales and reminded me that not all otter spraint sites are conveniently located on rocks by the river’s edge. It may seem a bit disheartening to try and find spraint on the open coast where there are no obvious features to start with.
On river sites where animals are travelling along the feature, spraint is most often left at the junctions of watercourses, at the apex of major bends or on prominent rocks or tree roots. Spacing is very variable but something like 50m is average. Where there is an obstacle or constriction such as a bridge or a waterfall spraint is often left close by, presumably on the basis that other otters are more likely to notice it. Where banks are relatively featureless otters will often use anthills or grassy tussocks. Repeated use of these sites can result in a build of nutrients so that the grass around the spraint is much richer and greener than the surrounding landscape and the mound often is brown or ‘burnt’ where the urine has scorched the vegetation. Closer inspection can reveal the remains of old spraints.
These spraint heaps are often seen around where otters frequent the coast and are a great sign to watch out for. In the Scottish islands, spraints sites are often associated with dens and resting sites which might be a pile of rocks or dense undergrowth. More usefully they are also commonly associated with freshwater pools. Otters hunting in seawater need to return to the coast on a regular basis to wash the salt from their coats and refresh its water-repellent qualities – usually, this will be a stream or pool accessible from the fishing area so look out for small ponds or depressions where rain collects and see if any green tussocks are nearby. From the cliff tops, it may be possible to scan for particularly rich grass areas – depending on safe access it may not be possible to do anything beyond check with binoculars but it can at least indicate possible otter presence in the area.
Spraint site North Wales. Image: Tony Atkinson
Coastal spraint site Shetland. Image: Dave Groves
Coastal Spraint site North Wales, not rich green grass and scorched top of tussock. Image: Tony Atkinson