Friday, 11 December 2015

A Shetland otter and her three cubs

 An encounter from last week when I was leading a one-to-one photo assignment working on otters. We had a fantastic four days of encounters including this mother and her three cubs. Again like last year there seems to be a few three cub families which is really good to see, indicating a good breeding season. These cubs are little more than five months old now and interestingly they are along a stretch of shore where there hasn't been a family for two years. This is actually one of two families here at this site so I am particularly pleased to see the site doing well again.
As unusual as it is for me to shoot when leading assignments, on the second day I was encouraged to do so, so shoot I did! Thank you Amelia!

She led the cubs up the bank to spraint and groom on a grassy ledge on the cliff face before heading down and off to forage, leaving the cubs to play on the shore.

It wasn't long before she reappeared powering back to the cubs through the waves with a leur/saithe in her jaws.

 A brief squabble but this little fellow claimed the prize. Once firmly secured in the mouth, it scampered away from the other two cubs to eat the catch.

Throughout the few hours we spent with these guys, two of the three cubs continued to be fantastically playful. They play with such energy, mischief and competitive streak. Few better sights to see.

How could we not...

Backdated from November;
On our way to a grey seal pupping colony today and quite unusually, compared to conventional every day otter work, came across this family on route there. The otter work I do is always preempted outings for particular individuals or families I know but these guys were a family Id not seen before along a stretch of Shetland shore I rarely visit, although its provided me a few encounters over the years. Me and my good friend and colleague Micky Maher thought we could hardly not stop and spend some time with them.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Book launch: Otters in Shetland The tale of the draatsi

At last- after years of planning through  35,931 words, 276 pages and just over 220 photographs and the inevitable blood sweat and tears endured with such a huge project, it is finally here and the story of Shetlands otters is communicated through our book Otters in Shetland- The tale of the draatsi.  

As it is for anyone who puts their heart and soul into writing a book, especially one on a subject so special and emotive to them, we are immensely pleased and equally proud of this project.
With a gap of over 20 years since anything was published on Shetlands otters it was really important to us to tell their full story and bridge a gap between a science-based reference book and a photographic story-telling book.

From beginning to end the story flows with each and every page and chapter leading into the next; from the Islands and geography; the foundations of the food chain; how they live on the coast through to family life and so on. We also bring in fascinating interviews with Shetlanders who many years ago once hunted them for the fur trade which offers a unique insight into mans relationship in the isles both past and present.  
Through our time photographing otters we have captured and documented many, in fact most aspects of their lives and in doing so have created a unique portfolio of images. Incorporated into the informative captions, which accompany these images we bring in the fascinating scientific research from Dr Hans Kruuk, a world leading authority on otters, who we were truly privileged to have write the foreword and to receive such praise from him is a hugely gratifying commendation to us.

Our publisher, The Shetland Times said in their recent press release: "The book has been gaining plaudits from experts in the field of wildlife and photography weeks even before its release date" and then went on to quote Hans Kruuk and wildlife cameraman Doug Allan.

Here's a couple of extracts from the foreword by DR Hans Kruuk:

"...With all this, the authors make a large contribution to conservation, not just of otters but of the entire coastal ecosystem. Conservation is served by the simple statement of the beauty of the animals in the context of science and natural history, as well as by the detailed explanation of exactly what otters need to survive.

"The reader is made aware of the otters’ hardships in terms of exposure to cold waters, of the need to catch prey quickly as well as keeping their fur clean to keep out the cold – for which they need the many small sources of fresh water along the Shetland coast (which, incidentally, are almost absent in places where otters are few, such as Orkney or the Scottish east coast).

"The book is a thoughtful object of beauty, of otters, and of the Shetland coasts. The authors should be immensely proud of this great effort".

Wildlife cameraman Doug Allan:

 “This is a lovely book that deserves to be on the shelf of any Shetland visitor, or anyone who loves the wild outdoors. Sensitively but informatively written, illustrated by images that could only have been taken by photographers who clearly love, respect and understand their subject and the location. "Shetland should be grateful that there are people with the passion, tenacity and skills of Brydon and Richard, who’ve truly captured the wonder of Shetland’s best loved mammal”.

TV wildlife presenter Iolo Williams:

“Brydon Thomason and Richard Shucksmith have produced a gem of a book which brings the story of otters on Shetland right up to date. Visually, it is stunning, but it is also packed full of information on the ecology and history of this most charismatic of British mammals. Whether you are a fan of otters, a follower of British wildlife or a lover of beautiful books, this is a must for your reading list”.

Details of the book
The book, in hardback only, costs £28.00 and is available to pre-order through our publisher here  or through us 
The official launch date is 12th December in Lerwick at The Shetland Times Bookshop from 14:00 to 16:00hrs
In total we tell the story of Otters in Shetland through  35,931 words, 276 pages and just over 220 photographs.

We hope you like it! 

Thursday, 19 November 2015

A holt in a barn

Here in Shetland an otter 'holting up' in a man made structure is actually not all that uncommon. Anywhere with an old boat shed, barn or outhouse close to the shore can be an option to an otter seeking the comfort that such buildings offer. It seems to be that these provide what an otter seeks from any holt which in short is somewhere sheltered and dry and usually quiet and undisturbed that they can feel safe and a derelict old barn with the roof caved in was exactly the home this mother chose for her two cubs.

I'm leading an otter itinerary this week for a cameraman which is going really well. In a quest to shoot otters from a more unusual perspective I went to check out an old barn otters often use, which they still are. Anyway, I was sharing the experience of this little assignment from a a couple of winters back and so I had the thought to post about it.

It was actually a tip off that led me to this family. A good friend of ours Julie Thomson told me of an otter she'd seen crossing the road in exactly the same place on her way to work twice in one week, as she drove along a shoreside road carrying a peerie fish. I knew this only meant one thing- she must have young cubs close by and I knew there was an old barn she'd used before. Investigating the following day, it was clear it was being used and so I set up Bushnell camera's to see what was happening and if I could photograph them in daylight. Sure enough, after a week of the trail camera being in place, I could see from video sequences triggered by the motion sensor that she had two young cubs and that on days that she was using it, she left between 8 and 9 each morning- I had a chance...!

It took me three mornings, sneaking in to an adjacent barn- also dilapidated but this gave me the ideal place to hide. However in order to get a clear view of the door without them knowing I was hiding, I had to shoot through a hole in the roof, over the wall head and to see through it, had to stack a pile of old fish boxes to get high enough. Precarious but it worked.

Monday, 16 November 2015

Foraging in gale force winds and waves

A female otter foraging in gale force winds. Encounters like these offer a fascinating insight into just how challenging life can be for an otter on the Shetland coasts. The wind was at least up to force 8 at times, probably gusting more with the occasional shower that swept in from th south east. I was actually out with returning otter photography guest Dave Curley.
I took Dave to this particular site to try to capture some slightly more unusual images, knowing that there was a good chance she'd be out and that the sea conditions would be excellent to try to capture some different and unusual otter images.

Landing a codling

More catching up...
Another sequence from mid August.

A mother catching a beautiful and bright red codling, takes it in to the shore where she releases it for her cub.

A fantastic flatfish

Backdating a couple of blog posts from as long ago as August! Where does the time go...

This was a session with a mother and cubs. The image of her landing the lovely flatfish was her sneaking ashore, obviously needing the meal herself as when she was powering in for the shore- from as far out as 40 metres or more with cubs chasing after her- she shrugged off the two cubs chase and changed direction. She landed just in front of me whilst the cubs ended up together on the shore further along, seemingly bewildered by loosing her- but the meal too. She ended up just out of view only 20 metres away where she scoffed the lot.

This image was slightly later when they were reunited.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Late summer and still together

Each year working on otters here in Shetland I get to know many families, their routines and the ranges they use. Its crucial to the trips we run that I keep up to date with each of the sites I use and each family in those ranges around the isles.
This particular mum and two cubs, one of three families along one particular stretch of shore I work, have stayed together well over a year now. One of these families the cubs are now actually coming up on 16 months old and not surprisingly spending long periods away from mum but these guys are slightly younger, still under a year old.
Spent a few hours with them throughout which enjoyed an insight to their daily routine; foraging, , grooming, resting and for the cubs, some play. Unfortunately they were always quite a distance away so the images I managed needed quite a crop- that's often just how it is with photographing otters, the terrain can sometimes offer opportunity to stalk or crawl closer but this open shore constrains that. Beautiful to watch.
 Mum lands a sea scorpian with one of cubs in hot pursuit. Interestingly this family in particular seem to specialize in this particular prey with mum catching several good sized every time Iv'e been with them this summer.
A good old rough and tumble after foraging and feeding, minutes after this, they were fast asleep, which was my time to retreat.

I then continued along the shore to the far end of the range where I suspected one of the other families would be and found them just starting to snuggle down to sleep off a foraging session.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

A long awaited 'fix'....

Its a strange concept to get used to for any photographer; making photographs happen but not actually taking any! This is of course a small price to pay of course, being out in the field on a weekly basis, very often daily even, in an environment you love and with a species you adore. But that's just how it is when you lead photographers and make a living around leading tours.
Its a feeling anyone in a similar position will know well- the desperation that builds and builds to get out with your own camera again and man what a buzz when you do. This is how I felt to get out on my own  recently after several weeks leading and enjoying some superlative otter photo opportunities for guests- what its all about of course and I'm luck to be so busy doing so.
Here's a sequence from one of several families I have been working on this summer. It was so good to spend a couple of hours with them.

Friday, 29 May 2015

A Marigold moment...

Not something I manage to do very often- in fact Iv'e never actually nailed a shot of an otter amongst, alongside or even near Marsh-marigolds. I say 'nailed', I haven't really done so at all here but never the less, was pleased to capture a frame or two of an otter alongside a blaze of beautiful marsh-marigolds in a freshwater stream. It makes such a difference to the usual 'conventional' seaweed shoreline habitat they are usually captured in here.
So many times when out working with otters in spring I see spots where my camera trap would work so well or imagine setting up one of my hides to wait out the opportunity of a shot- its not a shot you see anywhere really which illustrates how hard a shot it is to get.
Not quite what Iv'e dreamed of but hay ho....

Thursday, 30 April 2015

A close encounter

Photographing, or at least, had been photographing a mother and her two cubs until they returned to their holt. Whilst waiting to reappear this dog turned up on the scene. A brief sniff at the holt entrance  was met with an abrupt send off by mother.
He continued on, following the shore some 40 yards to in front of where I was hiding amongst the cover of some boulders. Without knowing I was there, he landed right infront of me on the shore, took a few steps up the beach where he sprainted then continued along his circuit of his range, seemingly unaware I was ever there. It was typical of such a close encounter, when your out of site and scent, when their eyes feel like they are right on you but yet they don't actually see you. He ended up too close to focus with my 500mm. I just sat tight and stayed silent.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Catching up on recent otter encounters, a sequence from recent trip where we spent a couple of hours with this family. Although it was a howling gale, up to force nine at times, these two cubs, guided by their mother, carried on with their day none the less. It was a strange day to be out with otters with the battering wind and yet it was a beautiful blue sky day.

Much of the time we were with them the mother was away foraging but before she had left the cubs on the shore, we had taken our time to move into a good position before they returned to shore. We were in this particular encounter for an hour, the two cubs, playing, grooming and of course sleeping, unaware of us hiding in the shadows of the bank.  

With an onshore wind and early morning sunrise from over your shoulder, the light was beautiful on the cubs, almost at times too golden on their drying gingery brown fur. This time of morning and wind direction is perfect not only as the low angle shines wonderfully on them but also offers a great deal of cover in the shadows of the bank, making it even less likely for an otter to see you.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Otters in early morning Shetland spring light

A couple of images of an early morning encounter we had a couple of weeks back guiding for Tony Davison. I'm out leading an itinerary again this week too so not much time at desk in evening to catch up.
This was one of three families we spent time with that day. A mum and three cubs along a stretch of shore I don't tend to visit very often, the shoreline is not conducive to good angles for photography and there is very little in the way of a bank to hide against/under.

On there way back to a lie up among boulders, mum and two of her three cubs 

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

A very busy and otter filled winter- catching up

I hardly know where to start- its probably been my most frustrating but yet busiest and exciting winters to date. Iv'e been 100% committed to a very big project so my time out with my own camera, or anything else,  has been, well lets say zilcho! Its been good and steady with otter trips too, I've been leading in each month of the winter so have been out with otters most weeks and we have enjoyed fantastic encounters on all of them. Some have been photography and some for the full Shetland otter experience. Its been awesome for all guests on these as its one of the most successful breeding seasons for otters for several years at the sites I use at least.

But any way, its been a very busy winter, which is brilliant but man how I have missed getting out with my own camera.

One of my recent Shetland otter photography itineraries was for Tony Davison, who Iv'e known for many years from his birding trips to the isles in autumn, who has been planning to book me for years. We had a great week and because we know each other so well, Tony insisted I brought my own gear- something I don't do when guiding as I have a job to do and its not to take my own images- unless of course asked to- it would be rude to refuse! Here are a few images from that week.

We use the shore for cover to get into position where I know this mother and her dog cub will land on the shore for a grooming session, we are bang on time and in perfect position, low down in the shade of the bank. 

They move up the beach and as anticipated enjoy a grooming session together. 

A cutesie one, while the dog cub rolls on his back their paws meet as they reach out.

So this was one of the encounters, I will try to follow up soon with another from the same week. As usual you can find out about the otter tours at