Wednesday, 29 December 2010

A ferocious fight

Its been an extremely busy few weeks and so unfortunately there has been precious little time for photographing Otters. Finalising plans for our very busy 2011 season along with rounding off this year of wildlife tours and holidays has unfortunately seen me spending far too much time in doors and of course I have my own little cub to spend time with, our son Casey is a joy that is now just about the only thing that can keep me from the ebe and the tracks of the wild Otter!

Although I have of course been seeing Otters recently, bloggable content and images have just not been possible (see above!). But this was an amazing encounter today involving a resident mother and a dog who I had not seen in the range for some time and I suspect that's exactly why she gave him the send off she did!

I had picked up the dog who was clearly on a mission, following the shoreline and only landing onshore to spraint and sniff out signals as he went. Up ahead though I picked up a second individual coming from the opposite direction. I knew from experience of the area they were both heading for the same 'sprainting junction' which is a small promontory where Otters use both as a lie up and especially as an 'information station'.

Sure enough they were nearing the exact spot, luckily I was keeping up and arrived almost simultaneously to them. I literally had no time to check histograms or check shutter speeds...they met as they landed, both seemingly as surprised as the other. The dog had hardly had time to even sniff the air and she was onto him, her loud whickering and wailing seemed to settle as they dipped out of view then up onto the bank she chased him into a ferocious fight which probably lasted only a minute or two.

Their writhing bodies rolled down amongst the boulders where he swiftly retreated and was most certainly sent on his way. I was amazed at the sheer viciousness of the encounter and yet as I watched and they went off back in the direction they had come, it was if nothing had happened, he was sniffing and sprainting on the shore only 40-50 metres away and she carried on to her cubs, which was where I caught up with her ten minutes later further up the shore.

How fascinating it is to wonder what it was all about, it seems most likely to me (but I cant be certain) that he is not the father of this years cubs and so why he was met with such aggression. I have watched him in this range many times and I'm sure they know each other very well, what ever the reasons were her message was loud and clear- he was not going to be tolerated!

It was rather humbling to see her look down from the bank as he scuttled away...

The photographer in me of course wishes I had had a faster shutter speed and better light, but the natural st in me over rides this, it was a rare opportunity to capture such aggression at all.


My first chance in weeks to get out with the camera and visit one of my Otter families. Fortunately I found her pretty much where I thought she'd be with her cub, Frustratingly however time was against me and the lovely afternoon winter light faded fast, and i only managed a couple of images, she was aware of an unfamiliar object on 'her' shoreline but I was perfectly still and my sent carrying away inland. She looked straight in my direction for a brief second but obviously couldn't see what was there that was different and so carried on foraging. Within minutes the light had gone. I packed my camera bag and just followed them as they fed.

Cubs carried to cover

I'm back dating this posting in order to try to catch up on some postings to my Otter blog. This encounter was to special not to write about, a very rare and privileged spectacle indeed.

Whilst out birding with James McCallum my attention was drawn to the oh so familiar distant calls of young Otter cubs. I encouraged James that we should check it out as the squeaks sounded to me like very young cubs.

On arriving at the shore the squeaks were clearly getting louder, then with a breaking bow wave and a sleek dive we saw the mother as she approached from around a headland, but she looked 'awkward' on the surface. As she surfaced next time I could clearly see what was hindering her profile, she was towing a cub by the scruff of its neck. It was incredible to watch her dive whilst carrying the cub like this, but it was clear she was on a mission.

I whispered to James that she would be moving the cubs from one holt to another and would very well go back for other cubs and we must be extremely careful as mothers with cubs are very sensitive. James though is no stranger to field craft techniques and had witnessed similar behaviour in other mammals such as foxes and stoats.

I ushered James to lye flat in a hollow so as we would be out of sight (the wind was on-shore so not a worry). Surprisingly instead of carrying on along the shore in the direction of a holt I knew of she carried the cub straight towards us, up the beach and then continued on up a deep ditch towards an iris bed some 20-30yards inland.

Leaving the little darkly furred infant cub to squeak for her return, the mother retraced her footsteps to the shore, then back around the headland before returning with another. We were both utterly enthralled, again she passed us barely 10 metres away.

Although i have witnessed this before I have never been any where near as close, I was of course longing to un zip my camera bag and capture these magical and intimate moments that quite literally few people will ever witness. But I knew full well that even a single shot of the shutter release could alert her to our presence and there was no earthly way I would risk that- no matter how rare an opportunity it was to capture such images that only a mere handful of naturalists or photographers have.

We watched and waited totally still for some time in case she had more cubs to ferry but the cubs squeaks got fainter as she led them inland up the iris beds. We only witnessed her transport two but they could have been her third or maybe even fourth trips carrying cubs.

Our birding had indeed been great, but this was an encounter that will never be equaled, enjoying such intimate and secretive behaviour of a mother and infant cubs, which I reckoned to have been no more the three months old- simply unforgettable.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Belated posting

What a struggle its been over past few weeks, I've been with out a laptop since my hard drive crashed so editing and uploading images has been few and far between.

These images are of a mother and two cubs taken the week after I returned from the Birdfair a few weeks ago. The cubs are between four and five months old I reckon. Although they seem to be quite familiar with the water they were reluctant to follow the mother off shore when she was foraging.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Cubs at play

Finally managed to upload a few images from my Otter antics over passed couple of months. This sequence are from an encounter I enjoyed in late July, of a mother with her two cubs. It was a beautiful still summers night, but unfortunately the light was rank. It was a fantastic encounter none the less, I was with them for nearly two hours, at one point down to about 20feet as the cubs play fought in front of me in a mirror calm rock pool. This family are not animals I know well as they are at a location I do not normally visit, I reckoned the cubs to be about 10 months old.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Unique encounters

Few people are lucky enough to enjoy an encounter with wild otters as they awake and start out for the day, or often in their case, tide. I took up position just after the tide had turned and had started to ebe, soon after they emerged, stretching and yawning as they slowly awoken, each sprainting then sniffing the air. I sat totally motionless, confident that to them I was no more than a part of the landscape I had blended myself into.
I followed them for over two hours as they foraged and hunted amongst the kelp Forrest's and rock pools till eventually they settled down for a good grooming session, which I new would lead to a snooze and when it did, I left them to do so.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Time out

What a wonderful afternoon. I took time out alone today to get out with the Otters and visited one of my favourite females. Her single dog cub is about nine months old now. I was with them for over two hours, often less than 15 meters from them. They slept for just under half an hour during the encounter, only to be woken by a dog Otter, who I am almost certain is the cubs father. Unfortunately their brief encounter was just out of view from where I lay. From what I did see though the encounter was actualy amost affectionate, he even groomed for a short while close by before carrying on his way.
The thrill of lying so close to an animal as shy and secrative as an Otter, knowing full well that the slightest sound or movement is all it takes and the animals will be gone is a feeling that I know will never tire of.
This was just what I needed today, with few spaces free from guiding and seemingly endless sleepless nights due to our six and a half month old son teething- I needed some quality time in the place where nthing else matters- in the ebe alone with the Otters!

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Four days- 26 Otters

What a fantastic four days! Never really tend to post about taking Otter photography clients out but on this occasion I was encouraged to. The weather was at times horrendous but the company was great and the quarry even better! We were out for four days, visited eight sites and saw 26 Otters. This may sound impressive to some, and indeed it is, but the sites I visit throughout the Isles it is not uncommon to see up to or over double figures in a day.

It was indeed hard core though, 0600 starts meant it was up and about at 0530! Just what you need to do to catch the tides some times. Not all photographers encourage you to take your own camera and indeed I never set out to, but I never take much persuading when asked to do so!

We witnessed some awesome activity, some of which was even unusual for me to see, a bitch taking out a rabbit was enthralling to say the least. She caught it on her way back from bathing in a freshwater, peaty water pool.

A close encounter watching a crab being consumed was also rather special. As is so often the case, I was able to predict the next move by an otter, this time, bound for the shoe with a crab, ready for consumption. A rocky out crop covered in Bladder wrack seaweed was an almost certain 'haul out' for the otter to land on the shore, and thats exactly what happened. Having had the fore site, I was in position in plenty of time and with my 'Stealth Gear' on, I was all but invisible to an Otter.

Being low down, flat on the bladder wrack I was in a fantastic and rare opportunity to get 'full frame' eye level otter images. I even managed to very tentatively shuffle a couple of feet to the side so as I had a totally empty backdrop with the open mouthed otter in full gape, I have to say was rather pleased! By no means the best otter photo I have taken, but a hard to get composition.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Fantastic light, what a night!

Re visited one of my favourite sites yesterday evening, a real wilderness. An endless stretch of remote and flat coastline where you are extremely unlikely to meet another soul, only otters! We arrived at the site with only a few hours of day light remaining, but the evening spring low sun light was truly fantastic. On our way out to the site, myself and good friend David Gifford, were treated to several Mountain hare, mid way between their winter and summer coats.

From some distance up on the hill side I spotted a family foraging in the ebe. The low evening sunlight was perfect as was the wind direction so we set off for the shore. Nearing the waters edge we still had good time to read the situation and suss out our most suitable location, most importantly a spot where we would not be seen by the family.

There was a clear choice for me of where the family would probably choose to haul out, (who were now moving towards us) , all three of their low profiled bodies on the beautiful mirror calm surface, each opening up the still water with their own wakes.

We stealthily moved into position, in good time too. My prediction was spot on, minutes later they were closing in, incredibly though, they had been joined by a fourth animal, a dog probably even their father. His head and especially muzle being much broader than that of the mothers. He swam along closely, interacting with out any distress from the mother before splitting off but by then, with the family moving in close and hauling out exactly where I thought they would, the adrenalin was pumping too fast to see where he went!

The mother left the cubs (which I reckoned to be about 5 or 6 months old) on the shore only a few meters from us and went out to forage, leaving the cubs to groom one and other and play on the rocks in the stunning evening sun light. After a while the cubs swam out to her then all returned to the same rocky outcrop then moved on along the shore- a perfect encounter!

By the time we finished up back at the car, only three hours later we had seen 8 animals, it is little wonder this is one of my top sites! David labeled the evening 'his best ever otter encounter!!'

Monday, 5 April 2010

Stealth Gear

I was absolutely thrilled to be given the opportunity to review the latest range from Stealth Gear (I will be writing a full review of this on our website at ). Not only was I excited about getting new out door clothing but also how good a development it was for 'Shetland Nature' to be provided with a brand of clothing as reputable as Stealth Gear

With it being my first day out with the suit on, I was like a kid with a new football strip off for a kick about! The gear was far from disappointing and certainly lived up- managed to stalk myself into a fantastic encounter, down to about ten meters from a mother and cub. With my knee's and elbows and often behind, pressing into the salt water soaked seaweed, I would normally be sodden, but not a problem any more. This clothing has been designed by Wildlife photographers for Wildlife photographers- nothing has been overlooked! Anyway, as I say, I will be reviewing in full in the coming days on our site.

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

A grand day out

Finally managed to arrange a day out with my mate and birding comrade, Jason Atkinson to photograph otters. For a few months now we we have been trying to fit in a day that I would take Jason to one of the sites I visit and at last we nailed it, and a splendid day it was too- Seven Otters in total and we only covered half the site. It is quite common to visit that site and see double figures in a day.
The seven animals (three seperate encounters)cosisited of a fine dog and three families, two mothers with single cubs and one with two.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

15th March

Had a close encounter with this dog otter today. Walking along the shore-line, a good distance along ahead of me, I picked him up swimming towards me, quite a distance off shore. The water was still and my attantion was quickly drawn to the bow waves of his wake. The tide was very low, leaving many reefs and rocky out crops exposed, one in particular is where I was almost certain he would be heading for. With this in mind i moved quickly as he dived under water (each time having about 15 seconds before he surfaced).

i managed to get myself tucked in and blend into the barnacle covered boulders, as usual, head to toe in camo clothing. I judged it well, each time he surfaced it was clear he was indeed coming straight for this rocky outcrop, one of his favourite haul ups. Many a' time I have watched him do exactly this, perhaps to doze off and curl up on the seaweed; taking a fish to shore to devour or maybe even just to spraint/sniff, read the signs and keep moving.

He stealthily approached, occasionally slipping underneath the blades of exposed kelp before emerging onto the rocks only 20 meters away. With the wind 'on shore' I was confident he would not pick up my scent, instead he went about his routine, sniffing the spraint points on the rocks, no doubt reading the many signs otters leave one and other using this method. He spainted and urinated on two seperat points then carried on his way in the direction he had been heading.

Sunday, 28 February 2010

29th February

Shame about the light!

Visited a family I have not been to see for a couple of months now. On approaching their favoured stretch of coastline in the ,others range, I could hear the unmistakable and oh so familiar sound of the young dog cub's whistling squeak. There are few, if any sounds to be heard along the Shetland shores that kicks off my adrenalin levels like it! Most cubs, when awake and out of contact with their mother use this contact call, which can carry some distance, especially on a calm day. Even at well over a year old they use this call, which although adults are not often vocal becomes a much more subdued and quieter short yelp. The often whickering used confrontationally or even at play is more perhaps typical for adults
From a distance I scanned the shore and rocky outcrops and reefs exposed by the fallen tide. Sure enough, their he was, squeaking away, eagerly awaiting his mothers return- and no doubt hopefully with lunch!

By the time I got into position and had merged myself into the rocky shoreline, she had joined him. They groomed and played, typically of families do as if they had not seen one and other for weeks! After a few minutes she sneaked away to forage again, leaving him waiting, nervous as he watched for her return, not able to settle till she did.

She returned with a tiny sea scorpion, which he was not long in pollishing off. After more grooming and play they took to the watter, where they set to and played. Like many winter days, there was very little light and I was up to ISO 1600. But, the days are lengthening in a few months it will barely even get dark!!

Saturday, 27 February 2010

A couple more images from Feb 24th

When editing through my images from the day with that family in the snow, I couldn't help want to add a couple more images.

Watching young cubs of this age at such close range for so long truly is a wonderful experience. Having a baby son of our own, who is only four months old, perhaps makes me relate on a new level as to how special and intimate the bond is between mother and cubs.
Otters at any age are captivating creatures, but at this young age, cubs are simply adorable!