Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Otters in Shetland- a mother with her three young cubs, late October

It often takes far me too long to sort through images after an exciting session with Otters and this is certainly one of those occasions. This was the day I spent with Italian photographer Mauro Mozzarelli who I was leading a one-to-one photography assignment with, specifically to work on young-cub families like these guys. Grey seal pups were also worked on. Late autumn- a mega time to visit Shetland.
  We had already had some fantastic otter photography and worked on several families and this was the third three-cub family I had taken him to. It was a superb morning despite the weather! Very over cast with drizzle or rain almost constant.
Mauro is one of those marvellous guests who quickly become good friends and as with any other assignment I take him on- he insists I also shoot my own images- something I don't do as a rule with guests working on Otters. So this mum and three were certainly a lot of fun for the four hours we spent with them. For over two hours they were taking it in turns to eat away at an enormous Lumsucker- possibly the biggest Ive ever seen an otter with, at least a third of the size of the mum.
She had already caught it when we picked them up on the shore- she must have had some strain landing it- it appeared similar size to cubs!

They'd chew away, often two or three of family at the time but then of course the cubs would set to for a good old play fight and ruff'n tumble- something I could watch forever. They are so boisterous and mischievous, not to mention utterly adorable! They have such energy.
It was actually time pressing for Mauro's departure that finally saw us actually leaving. They seemed so content to work around the vicinity of the comfort and safety of their holt and the massive meal of the Lumpsucker on the shore- which barely looked even half done when we sneaked away.

Like all the other families I am working on at the moment, I really hope for a settled winter so that the good breeding season otters appear to have had, pays off. More with these guys very soon.....

Friday, 7 November 2014

Introducing Doug Allan to Shetlands otters

What a privilege to take out one of the worlds best known and experienced wildlife cameramen to search for Shetlands otters. On top of a career spanning over 30 years making wildlife films and documentaries for the BBC (and many others) it is easy to see why Doug has had such a prolific and successful career as he is such a genuine, committed and considerate fellow who is a joy to spend time with.

Although time and tide was perhaps not in our favor we did well on our day out and spent time with one of the many families I study.

"Not the most promising of days when Brydon picked me up in Lerwick, the mist hanging on the hills, white horses on the water. But the man’s utterly enthusiastic, his passion for Shetland wildlife shines through.
As he we explored stretches of shoreline where he knew the otter territories, Brydon patiently explained about heeding the wind direction, staying off the skyline, talking softly, how to look for the tell tale signs of the otter signs and holts. Iv'e worked with many guides while filming, and I could see he had real sensitivity and all the patience. The afternoon slipped by effortlessly.

We spent 30 minutes watching a female with her two cubs full frame binocular view, diving, catching fish and taking them ashore to eat and playing on the shore. Simply magic.

You know the great thing about Brydon? No matter what happens, you know you’re going to have a good day when you’re with him".  
Doug Allan

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Shetland Otter families on a beautiful late autumn day


A superb encounter today, well actually several. So nice spending time in the great company of Mauro, who more than a client has now become a good friend as is so often the case when spending such special time with such captivating wild animals. The fact that Mauro insists I also take pictures- something I don't do when working on such itineraries, has made it all the more enjoyable. We spent time with three different families today at one site- its the busiest I've seen this site in years.


This particular site is pretty much as good as you can get for photographing otters; long relatively straight shoreline, fairly flat and open terrain with a good sized bank to hide in the shadow of with lovely 'gravelly' stretches of beach where the composition is nice and clean and very few if any boulders that often they can be behind and out of view.

All these images except the last one of two cubs together, are of the same mum and two cubs, which we spent several hours with, often within just a few metres and can sometimes be the case, with them too close to photograph. At one point the trotted up the beach, passing us by about five meters away when all we could do was hide our faces, keep completely still until they continued on along the shore after habitual spraining on a favoured rock high up the beach.

At one point during the encounter the mother landed an eel pout which you can see the dog cub holding in his jaws. Rather typically he spent several minutes 'toying' with the live catch in the shallows after receiving it from mum. This is quite typical behaviour of cubs of this age, playing with prey no doubt helps them hone their hunting skills and seems to be something they really enjoy. Often they will toss it into the air and then dive back onto it as it tries to sprickle away to escape.

We continued along the shore where we spent time with two more families, both mums with two cubs but with the way the wind had slightly altered and also the angle of the coast also changes, wind was not suitable for an approach so we just simply enjoyed an hour of observations and while doing so we had a Rough-legged Buzzard (one that's been around for a couple of weeks) drift over- all in all the perfect day!

Monday, 27 October 2014

A session with mum and three older cubs

The first morning of this weeks one-to-one photography assignment, with returning guest from Italy Mauro Muzzareli- who I have now come to know so well he insists I shoot my own images too- Im hardly going to refuse now am I?!! What a way to start his week itinerary, I took him to look for this mother and three fairly well grown cubs and we found them as soon as we arrived, I picked them up foraging offshore together before we had even gotten out of the car. We spent over three hours with them before leaving them foraging further out of the voe. This is one of the older of several three-cub families that I am working on just now- i'm not sure if I've ever seen such breeding success at so many sites- its awesome! 
Mum and three cubs; a typical composition of how a family of otters thrive on the intimate bond.
 The dog cub of this family of three landing his own octopus.

One of the female cubs eating a sea scorpion she caught herself, all paws and jaws as she enjoys her catch.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Shetland Otter families in late September

 The older three cub family above (around five/six months) and the younger ones, around four/five months bellow.

A fantastic and very typical late September morning, a light SE wind, low cloud and drizzle with the occasional clearing and dry spell- it took quite a lot to resist the birding temptations but the prospect of spending time with a mother and three young cubs won the day!
Really was so authentic and such a fitting autumn scene and sound, whilst searching for and watching this mum and her cubs there were several large flocks of Pink-footed geese going over, I even managed to shoot some video with the D4 of the cubs at play whilst the flocks of pinks called overhead.
Interestingly I had the other mum and three cubs at this same site on the way to find these guys, an older family but only by a couple of months.Worked on them for just half an hour or so but moved on as it was still fairly dark and they appeared to be on the move, then I moved on to these guys.
When I first found her I was scanning the bank of one of her main holts when her head popped up- typically anxious and checking the air for any unwanted scents- mine of course was blowing well inland and in opposite direction. I was also quite a distance from her holt so as not to be too close and give her the distance needed so to be out of sight. I was thrilled to watch her drag each cub one by one down the grassy bank and across the boulder beach to the waters edge.
Eventually they she began to forage and I followed her for several hours with the cubs before heading away whenthey returned to another holt to lay up later in the morning.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Young otter cubs in Shetland

Its a really exciting time in Shetland for otters as many females that have had cubs mid to late summer are gaining confidence with their cubs and are beginning to be out a little more with them, taking them out into the salt water and getting them used to an environment that they are so dependent on.
Over the past few weeks I have been seeing several 'new' families at many of the sites I use. Some of the cubs, (including a couple of families with three) are just three to four months old. This week I am delighted to actually have some time off to work on them. I am very much looking forward to working at my own photography as I tend not to take my camera when working with photographers on otters for too many reasons to go into in this post.
Mind you it really is of course a privilege and always a pleasure to do the work I do but there is often a day when I do of course wish I had my own gear- like earlier this week watching a mum with three young cubs, so young that they can not even dive under water yet and she carrying them by the scruff of their necks!
So any way, here is a selection of young cubs from previous years, taken between autumn and early winter, I hope to add some more recent images of young cubs over the coming days.... 


Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Otters in Shetland- mum and dog cub against black backdrop

A selection of images from an encounter last week. A mum and her dog cub who is now coming up on a year old now. Last weeks 1-2-1 otter photography itinerary went really well with some really fantastic behaviour and plenty of otters each day, up to six on one in particular. Currently leading another 1-2-1 this week which is also going well. More on that soon....

Some might think this sequence dark, which it is a tad but I liked the black rocks as a backdrop actually, a slightly different look to the composition and went for the underexposed look.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Otters in Shetland; ayoung family in early autumn

Here is a sequence of images from my most recent and one of my nicest sessions with an otter family this year. This was the first time Id spent with this particular family and I was really thrilled to see this mother, (Identifiable by scar on her nose and damage to left eye) who I thought must have a family by the sprainting activity Id noted on the couple of brief times Id passed through her range over the last couple of months. Going by her dates and when her last family separated and when I saw her with a dog otter (with notable amorous intentions!), I expected her to have cubs early this summer and sure enough, she does indeed. These two fabulous little fellows must be up around at least five months old now.

Its often difficult to keep track of all the many sites I work as my diary tends to be so booked up- (which is obviously fantastic of course). I need to use the sites that are most active in order to deliver for the guests I lead for. What tends to be the general pattern around otter sites or coastlines they inhabit is that while there is a family in the mothers range, they are active within it for the year or so they are together, (although patterns may vary throughout the seasons) then that site can and usually will be quiet for a time until the cycle repeats again. It is over such period I tend to avoid such a site as they can be so unpredictable (perhaps a daft thing to say as otters are rarely 'predictable'!)There is often little time to monitor the sites that have been quiet for a few months and now there are a few such sites I am starting to get around again. This is of course where the use of Bushnell cameras come in.... more on that later...

The light really was wonderful for this session. I was leading Italian photographer Mauritzio and partner Silvana. I refrain from setting out with my own gear when leading otter photography itineraries (and have done ever since I started) as my focus needs to be on the client however when someone insists and you've already had a few good days of the itinerary, you cant really say no! It would be plain rude! We were with them for over six hours, finding them just after mid day and not leaving them until approaching seven in the evening. One of the many fantastic aspects of working with otters on a Shetland shoreline is often the time that you can spend with an individual or a family. Watching them as they go about their routine without ever knowing you are there. Such a strange concept to think how utterly exhilarating and emotive such an experience can be to the observer, within a few metres of such a shy and fascinating animal and yet they are blissfully unaware of us or the joy they bring.

Its worth mentioning for anyone toying with the idea to get in touch for a visit to Shetland to do Otters with me that the diary for 2015 really is starting to fill in. Dates were booking up in any case but last weekends visit to the Birdfair in Rutland saw another few slots fill in.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Otters in Shetland July 2014, some pics from this season

 Its been a very summer for otter watching tours for me and an extremely busy season over all, hence the lack of time posting. Here is just a short selection of some images from through the last few months. Again this season I have been very thankful to also have Gary Bell and Richard Shucksmith lead tours as colleagues who have helped try to keep up with demand.  Having Molly Michelin, a photography student at Falmouth university working with us for a second season has been a huge help too and she too has led tours, and with a 100% success rate too! Nice work Moll ;)

Monday, 30 June 2014

Featured working on Otters on another TV documentary; Alsion Steadmans Shetland

I was delighted and proud to feature once again on a recent TV documentary to share our fantastic Otters here in Shetland. It was back in April I worked with the film crew working here on Shetland making the ITV documentary Alison Steadmans Shetland.

I worked with them for a few days and really enjoyed working with them for one of them on my heart felt favourites- Otters. On the day we were out tide times were hardly favourable; low water being at around 5:00am in the morning and then late afternoon. With this in mind I split the day into two sessions and had the crew and Alison of course (who was a delight to work with, as were the crew) out at first light.

We scored with one straight away at our first site although with a howling NW gale and squally sleety showers views were far from great and although myself and most crew saw it well, conditions were too rough for Alison to see it or the camera man to get footage.
In the afternoon we were a bit better with two encounters at two sights.

All in all it went very well and the program on the whole was great and every one featured, including my good friends and colleagues Richard Shucksmith and Helen Moncrief.

It was really cool working with another film crew on Otters in Shetland having worked on several over the years now, and this was the second film crew in less than a year after featuring on BBC's Countryfile last year too.

Read more on my Shetland Nature Blog

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Shetland otters in early March

Its been a busy few weeks since my previous post in February with plenty of activity and action both with my own projects on otters here in Shetland and also with guests seeking to enjoy our otters and learn more about them.
This week I had the pleasure of guiding a regular client of mine who has become a good friend over recent years, this was his fourth Otter itinerary with me and what a week it was! Over our five day itinerary we saw over twenty otters and enjoyed some wonderful encounters. As usual I tried to vary the sites we used and so we visited five different sites, each with families. It is also worth stating that like all these assignments I put together for my guests, I targeted a week where the tides were most favourable, we were also lucky with the weather. It was great being out with Richard again, really good company. Last year one of Richards otter image was the runner up in the Scottish RSPB photography awards so I wish him well with this years results! You can see his image here
here are a few of the images I took this week. The last one is an image I that was almost what I have been trying to get for some time now- long exposure waves with a sleeping otter on the shore. Another attempt or two needed before I'll get what I want....

Saturday, 15 February 2014

A passion for Otters: from Arizona to Shetland...

It never ceases to amaze me just how strong of a 'pulling power' Shetlands otters have and just how far people will travel to enjoy these magical mammals. This weeks guests Fiona and Jim are a classic example of this, having travelled from Arizona in the USA!  Fiona, like me is a self confessed otter addict and has been obsessed for many, many years. What was really exciting and fascinating about guiding them this week was learning of the similarities of Fiona's experience with watching 'her' North American River Otters, which she has studied so passionately.

It was a week that was about just watching and learning about otters behaviour and ecology, without the 'pressure' of photography, simply the Swarovski 10x42's round my neck and the scope over my shoulder, fantastic! It is always a pleasure and I am extremely fortunate to work with otters as I do but is is an even greater privilege when the company is so good!

What was also really exciting was that Fiona already knew so much about otters in Shetland, having read everything available on them by Hans Krukk and so had looked forward to and enjoying the whole Shetland experience of otters and was far from disappointed. We had an outstanding few days and in total saw 29 otters, each day visiting new sites around Shetland taking in as much as we could in four days of the diversity of habitats and locations they thrive in here. It has to be said however and as anyone with otter experience will know, this is a good number. Specifically targeting this week for the tides and Feb/March also helped make sure we had everything possible in our favour.

We enjoyed a fascinating variety of interesting behaviour and unique insights from watching a live monitor fed from camera in an artificial holt where a mother and cub slept, groomed and played; many hours of families foraging and at play; a courting couple and perhaps most exciting of all was on our last day- no fewer than ten otters! At the location we visited on that day we enjoyed not one but three families, two of which spent time together as the two mothers (each with two cubs) reassured themselves with the familiarity they clearly had with one and other. The above images were all taken on that day and the last image shows the two families settling down just a few feet apart, where we left them snuggling down to sleep. As it was their last day we decided it was a good idea for me to take my camera to hope for some photo's to take home with them and although it was raining when I took all these above, I'm so glad I took it, despite the weather!

For more information on watching otters in Shetland visit