One positive aspect of this year’s lockdowns has been seeing more wildlife in the city’s green spaces. Earlier in the year, when there was very little traffic, animals seemed to pluck up courage to venture on to the quiet golf courses, parks and hillsides. We saw lots of deer, frogs, and horses who seemed keen to have a chat over the fence. Lots of unusual birds too – or perhaps I was just watching with more attention. Thrushes, whitethroats, stonechats, warblers of various kinds sang in the woods. Sanderlings, oystercatchers, cormorants fished off Portobello beach. Red kites and buzzards swooped above the Braid Hills.
My favourite discovery was that otters had come to live in one of the lochs [loch = lake] in Holyrood Park. Walking there one day, we saw a cameraman with a long lens trained on something distant, and asked him what he was watching for. ‘An otter!’ he replied. As far as I know, otters have not been seen in that loch before, or at least I had never heard of one. But suddenly there was an otter, turning circles calmly in the water, undisturbed by his fan club gathering on the bank. I thought otters were nocturnal and extremely shy, but this otter seemed not to know the rules.
We have seen him (see photo) a number of times now. He isn’t always there – on the one occasion we dragged a friend up there to see the otter, the loch was still and quiet (of course). But yesterday we saw two otters – a big one and a small one. Passing walkers alleged that there are three, though it would be an incredible stroke of luck to see them all at once. Two otters felt like a gift.
I have always liked otters – doesn’t everyone? – but I’ve had a feeling of special kinship to them ever since I was a student, when some friends on a music course played a game of ‘Which animal would so-and-so be if they were an animal?’ When it was my turn to be transformed, someone proposed that I would be an otter, and everyone laughed and clapped. I didn’t dare ask for an explanation, but just decided to accept my otter-ish fate.