Saturday 4 June 2016

An interview on Shetlands otters with NorthLink Ferries

I was delighted to be asked recently to do an interview for NorthLink Ferries on otters in Shetland. I found it a really cool and exciting thing to write, answering questions by Magnus Dixon. He asked some pretty interesting questions and needless to say, when writing anything to do with otters, I found it hard to stop writing!
You can read the interview and see the images on their website

Wednesday 25 May 2016

Review of the last few months- a quick catch up Shetland Otter image gallery

Iv'e said this so many times before but wow, I cant believe I have not posted on my otter blog since end of January! As ever, it is always about time- lack of it- certainly not a lack of otters! This year is even busier than last year for otter photo tours and otter watching tours which you can read about here
I'm delighted again this season to have Josh Jaggard, (a fellow otter enthusiast from Norfolk) working with me as well as new to the SN team of guides, John Moncrieff- a native Shetland otter addict! Also continuing leading otter tours, Gary Bell and occasionally co-author of our Otters in Shetland book, Richard Shucksmith
So, although I'm not getting out at all with my own camera at the moment, here are a few images from over last few months from the rare few times I've been out on my own to shoot....

    Early April; this mother and two cubs have now separated.
    Back in late February; a family of three cubs which had separated by late March/April
   One of the above three cubs.
    Above and bellow; early April. one of two cubs, this family are still together and doing well.

    Above and bellow; cubs crossing a sand beach. These guys are also still with their mum.

    Mum and cub play fight as they dry off after grooming following their early morning foraging.

Tuesday 12 January 2016

A good start to year for Shetland otter family

 Enjoyed my first good otter photography fix of 2016 at the weekend. Spent a fabulous three hours or so with this mother and her three cubs. When wind direction allows and I have time to be in the field Iv'e been trying to work on these guys when I'm out with my own camera. It really is so good this winter to be able to head out if the weathers good, not guiding and commitments at the desk allow. This was been a privilege I just couldn't allow myself last winter as we were so committed to getting our otter book finished.
As usual I am monitoring several families at various locations but I wanted to try to build a story of these guys throughout the winter since I started working on them. This is the same family as in my last post about a month ago.

The mother in front racing for the shore with a small sathe/pollock or sillock/piltock as we would call them here in Shetland. There is few more exhilarating a spectacle than a mother landing prey for her cubs. Such adrenaline and action as she powers towards the shore, each cub determined to claim the catch. Its a special sight to see a mum and one but when she has three cubs, each wanting the catch as if its the last meal they will see- its a sight you will never forget.

The mother had been away for some time, leaving the cubs to play, groom and sleep on the shore. The three cubs must all have heard her coming in from foraging as whilst playing all three lifted there  heads to look in the same direction in near perfect synchronization. I'm always amazed at this- so many times I can be watching or photographing cubs like this when somehow they are alerted to mum coming in, sometimes you see a mother coming in with prey whilst cubs sleep and all of a sudden they wake and bound towards the shore to meet her. The puzzling thing to me is that she is silent to my ears and often not upwind so its not like they can smell her.

Two of the cubs having a play fight. I love when I get the opportunity to capture a nice clean backdrop of sky or sea by getting a good low angle, not often all that easy to do.

Play fighting such as this can often appear aggressive and its little wonder with those teeth.

Whilst mum and one of the cubs are off foraging these two stayed ashore to groom, the one in the foreground having a good old yawn and stretch of the jaws.

Home time; the mother returned and after getting cubs all back together continued along the shore back in the direction of their main holt. By then it was coming up for 15:00 in the afternoon and light was fading fast- I was shooting at over 3000ISO by that time. I took that as my chance to slip away as cautiously as I had arrived.
If you're interested in seeing otters this season visit

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.