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European otter Lutra 207012 Andrew Parkinson (rspb-images.com)24/02/2009

Sleek and often secretive, the otter is a mammal that you need luck and good judgement to see well. Much of the Scottish coast is excellent for otters, plus many inland waters as well. Be patient, travel in hope and your luck could hold for a sighting of this marvellous creature.

What to look for

Otters always dive with a characteristic down-curve of the back, the tail slipping under last. To stake-out a likely piece of coast or wetland edge, keep a low profile, with your outline beneath the horizon behind you. If you see an otter dive, you can move forwards for 10 seconds or so, then crouch before it’s likely to re-appear. Look for rounded paw prints in sand and droppings - 'spraints' - rich in fish bones or crab shell.

Interesting facts

Otters have been recorded in every 10x10km square in mainland Scotland. They’re widespread on the islands and have even been seen close to Glasgow city centre. Adults can cover long distances at night in search of food, such as fish and frogs. Coastal otters love crabs and inshore fish such as butterfish.

When and where to see

Otters are widespread, year-round residents. Some areas have more watchable otters than others. Shetland is perhaps the best otter spot of all, with a strong population which (like other island otter groups) can be active by day as well as by night. The Kylerhea Otter Haven, south of Broadford on Skye, has a hide overlooking an ottery coast.