An pair of otters on Lough Ree, a few miles from Athlone. Photo: Owen Murphy.

Pair of otters spotted close to Athlone

The otter is generally a very secretive, noctural mammal rarely glimpsed in the wild by the public. However, new photos show a pair of otters on Lough Ree, just a few miles from Athlone last week.

The photos were captured by Owen Murphy, who is Warden for the Lough Ree and the Mid Shannon Callows area with the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS).

In Ireland, according to the Vincent Wildlife Trust, otters are found in a diverse array of aquatic habitats, from small streams to major rivers, upland lakes to coastal lagoons and sandy beaches.

Otters that live in rivers and lakes tend to be completely nocturnal so much of their activity peaks at dusk and dawn.

Highly territorial, otters use droppings called spraints to mark their home ranges with boulders, bridge footings and grass tussocks being popular as their refuge.

An opportunistic predator with a broad and varied diet, the otter feeds on a variety of fish from sticklebacks to salmon and eels will be taken, while crayfish and frogs can be important locally or seasonally.

The numbers of otters have fallen dramatically across Europe in recent decades, however, the population here of the protected species is said to be stable, albeit reducing somewhat in recent years.

An otter on Lough Ree, just a few miles from Athlone. Photo: Owen Murphy.
An otter on Lough Ree captured by Owen Murphy of the NPWS.