Sunday, 25 January 2009

A new site

Visited a new site today and as I expected, was far from disappointed! It's a stretch of coastline which I have always thought looked good, and had heard it was but never actually explored. No matter how many good sites you know and how many reliable families inhabit them, new sites are always handy.
Perfect habitat, to get to which I had to drive in a private dirt road. Fortunately it turns out the land owner knew exactly who I was, is a cousin of mine and was delighted to allow me vehicle access across his land.
As I reached the end of the dirt track road and cut the engine, i caught sight of the glistening rear end and tail of a feeding otter disappear bellow the surface, just a few metres off shore. When the otter surfaces just a few seconds later and I see that it is an adult female. She carries on feeding, each time she surfaces a little closer to the low headland about 30 yards along the shore. Waisting no time I sneak along the shore while she dives, leaving my camera behind.
I follow the shore heading out to the point, keeping below the bank and hide amongst some large boulders. Eventually she heads for the shore, straight towards where I am hiding. I sit electrified and totally motionless as she hauls out just metres in front of me, sprainting before beginning grooming. She carries on, slipping in and out of a rock pool before heading back off to feed, i wait till she is under and slip away myself.
Further along the shore I come across another, again a female but this time a mother with two cubs, I watch them enthralled till the darkness begins to close in and I am forced to head for home, buoyed by the success of my reccie, I know this will be the first of many visits here.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

14th January

The weather cleared up in afternoon today so I headed out to check on one of my furry friends. From where I park I can view her holt, not far from the waters edge. I'm nearly certain she has cubs in there, perhaps yet to see the light of day.
I watched her make three trips up over the bank and onto the old dead grass, each time hurriedly returning and disappearing into the holt with a mouth full of soft and dry dead grass for beading. After the third time when she re-appears she slips away behind and between boulders on the beach and slips away into the water, keeping a very low profile as she heads out to feed.
I watch her through my scope feeding further along the shore for another fifteen minutes before heading off.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

New years day

I can think of no better way to start a new year than spending what ever hours of the day weather permits along a beautiful remote coastline, a place that means more to me than any other I have ever visited. watching otters. For many years this has become something of a ritual, admittedly I have missed the odd year, perhaps after a little over indulgence in hogmanay celebrations.

Although there is rarely more than a week that will pass when I dont visit atleast one of my favourte otter sites, for me there is something very special about watching them on the first day of the year, with heart warming thoughts of the year which lies ahead and the encounters and experiences watching them will bring.

Today the weather could not have been better, clear skies and hardly a breath of wind. In total i saw five otters, all regulars; a mother and cub, a female and a dog passing through.

Welcome to my otter watching blog

About this blog

For enthusiasts who have visited Shetland or perhaps intend to, I hope to share my passion for otters with this blog, providing an insight into the secret life of Shetland’s otter families that give me so much pleasure through out the year. The blog will be updated regularly (though bear in mind that in winter especially, a week or more may pass without suitable weather for observations).

Although I have grown extremely fond of many different individuals over the years and often felt as if relationship of mutual trust and respect has been built, I have always avoided the temptation to name the otters I study. My main and personal reason for this is that they truly are wild animals and naming them, harmless as it may be, some how humanises their existence.
About otters in Shetland
Otter watching has long been one of the main attractions for nature-lovers coming to Shetland – perhaps not surprisingly, since the islands support over 12% of the entire UK population of Eurasian Otter Lutra lutra, the highest density anywhere in Europe.

In Shetland, unlike many other parts of the UK, the otter’s behaviour tends to be governed by tide and daylight. They typically prefer to hunt either side of low tide, (especially as the flood tide comes in) and in daylight hours, when the nocturnal fish that make up the large majority of the diet are more easily caught. The otter will also eat crabs, other crustaceans, birds and, very occasionally, rabbits too.

Over a long period of study, it is possible to gain an intimate knowledge of inhabited territories, and even predict their movements, learning where and when they prefer to feed, the locations of holts and ‘lie ups’, where they sleep play and groom and the subtle signs which reveal their presence. What’s more, while to the untrained eye all otters will look alike, they are in fact always identifiable, either by subtle markings on the chin, throat and lips, or battle scars which they often bear on the nose!

My favourite sites
I visit many sites around Shetland, some of which are well-known territories on the mainland and larger islands, some which are on small, uninhabited islands, where the only other human presence is the occasional visit from a crofter tending his sheep.

Throughout the islands, visitors and locals alike occasionally enjoy views of otters in or around areas with much human activity, the inter-island ferry terminals being a prime example of places where a lucky sighting is always possible. However, these encounters are a mere substitute for the much more personal and intimate encounters you can experience in an undisturbed territory along a beautiful, remote Shetland coastline.

To avoid potential disturbance to the sites I visit I will avoid disclosing the locations of sites I visit.

Otters are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act and are extremely sensitive to disturbance. I operate under a licence authorised by Scottish Natural Heritage.