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.