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07 January 2011
The Paisley Otter December 2010

While Paisley Buddies trod warily on their way around a frozen town during December 2010, Paisley’s newest Buddy was busy catching trout at the Hammills waterfall.  I refer, of course, to the Paisley Otter which was first reported by the Paisley Daily Express at the beginning of December.  The otter delighted the townsfolk who braved the arctic temperatures during the following weeks as it regularly hunted for fish between the Town Hall and the waterfall at the Hammills Bridge.  It seemed to be quite undisturbed by people along the river-side pointing telescopes and cameras at it.  Evidence of otter activity on the Cart between the falls at the Hammills and the Town Hall was reported in a survey of wildlife in that area undertaken in the spring of 2006 but no otters were seen.  The recent sightings are believed to be the first record of an otter living in the centre of the town since 2006.

The Paisley Otter fishing at the riverbank below the Abbey Bridge.

Fishing in a ring of bright water near the Hammills Bridge.

So, where did the otter come from and why?  It is highly probable that this animal came downriver from Pollok Country Park where evidence of otters is regularly found by the park rangers.  The White Cart meanders slowly through the country park and the waters freeze fairly quickly during extremely cold weather.  In Paisley the water downriver from the weir at the Watermill Hotel is fairly fast-flowing and is unlikely to freeze over.  It was this area that the otter frequented.  On one occasion it was watched collecting ivy and grasses which it took into an ivy-covered hole at the base of a wall near the waterfall.  The concealed resting place of an otter is known as a holt.  This was where the Paisley Otter rested and slept for the duration of its stay.

Otters are carnivores and feed mainly on fish. Our otter was often seen diving in the large, deep pool below the falls where it was able to catch some large trout as can be seen in some of the photographs.  The creature has also been watched turning over stones underneath the Abbey Bridge and catching the small creatures escaping from underneath.  It is known that otters will sometimes take small birds or mammals if the opportunity arises.   This happened on one occasion when the otter was watched carrying a Cormorant which it later dragged back to its holt.  The Cormorant is a fish-eating seabird which often comes up the River Cart during the winter months.  They dive deeply and, if our otter was swimming underwater chasing fish, it is possible that it may have thought the Cormorant was just another large fish.

The Paisley Otter swimming near the Hammills Weir.  Note that the small head, the back and the tail are all clearly seen.  This profile cannot be confused with a seal because only the seal’s head can be seen when it is swimming at the surface.

Our otter is seen gracefully slipping underwater with little disturbance to the water.

The tail of an otter is stiff and when the creature dives the tail is often seen rising into the air with water falling from it before slipping from sight.

In the turbulent water around the falls, the otter struggles with a large, newly caught fish which it proceeds to bring ashore. 

Any large prey item is usually brought ashore to be devoured
There is only one species of otter found in Britain.  Some choose to live on rivers and some choose to live at the coast.  Coastal otters are often active during daylight hours because their feeding activity is regulated by the state of the tides.  The salt water damages the waterproofing of their fur and so coastal otters are often seen walking up freshwater burns that flow into the sea to wash the salt from their fur.  In conrast, otters living on rivers are usually nocturnal and are mostly inactive during the daytime.  As a result they are seldom seen but they do leave signs of their presence which can be found by experienced otter spotters.


A large trout struggles to free itself from the otter’s grasp.

Taking the fish away from the water’s edge in case the fish escapes.

Settling down to eat the trout starting with the head.

Another view of the otter chewing the head of the fish.

Licking its lips after feeding on another small fish.

Heading back to its holt for a break from the photographers.

Otter spotters on the Hammills Bridge

All the above pictures of the Paisley Otter were taken at various times during December 2010.  There have been no reliable otter sightings reported since Christmas day.

All images copyright T. Norman Tait

T. Norman Tait


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