Otters on Mull

Otters are simply irresistible!

I visited the Isle of Mull at the beginning of November to photograph the Eurasian Otter, Lutra Lutra.  Otters on Mull and in other parts of Scotland are active dependant on the tides rather than the time of day.  This makes them somewhat easier to photograph providing you know where to look and have the suitable fieldcraft to observe them unnoticed.

The Otter has an amazingly acute sense of smell which makes it challenging to get close to them, getting downwind of them is essential if you are to get good views.

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I soon located a dog otter working the shoreline of one of the sea lochs so I carefully approached after checking the wind direction.  Moving only when the otter dived, I soon found a nice rock to get close to and allowed the otter some space on the shoreline to carry on fishing.  Soon enough he caught a flatfish and headed back to the closest landfall which was directly in front of me.  Amazingly, once he came ashore I noticed he appeared to be blind in one eye, yet this clearly had no ill effect on his ability to hunt.

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Later in the week I managed to locate a family of otters in a different sea loch.  The mother was patch fishing whilst her two adolescent cubs followed her progress from the shoreline.  After getting myself into a good position I was privileged to watch the family interact as the mother brought food in to the cubs then headed back out to forage in the food laden shallows.

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On some occasions she would return with a fish and be hounded by the hungry cubs as she neared the shoreline, on one occasion she landed less than 10 feet from me… a real test of fieldcraft which I was delighted with as she did not see or smell me and carried on behaving naturally.

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Then all of a sudden disaster… one of the cubs turned back towards me and came over the top of a rock towards my position.  I froze, any movement would have certainly alarmed the cub and ruined both the encounter and more importantly scared the cubs away with the mother out in the bay fishing.  I can honestly say my heart was pounding as the cub strolled over the rock and nosed the lens hood on my nikon 200-400.

Miraculously it just stood there, looked straight through me, turned and went back over the rock, curled up and went to sleep with its sibling.

Otter Cub

After a few minutes I decided that they were clearly unaware of my presence and slowly moved out of the yoga position I had contorted into to disappear!!  I was so elated that my fieldcraft had paid off, rolling in seaweed and getting covered in “sea smells” before starting the stalk had certainly paid off!!!

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As the tide turned an hour or so later the mother came back to the cubs and took them to the safety of a nearby holt.  As the began to move a car drove past on the road behind the loch.  This immediately alerted the mother and she made a very short whistle to her cubs before freezing until the car had passed.

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It was nearly dark and even the D800’s amazing low light performance was struggling in the gloom as the mother left the shoreline, capping off the best day of wildlife watching / photography I have ever experienced.

Being so close to such a charismatic and elusive animal was a truly amazing experience and one that I shall never forget.  I hope to return to Mull in the new year to catch up with the family as the cubs start to become more independent.

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