After my attempts to photograph otters in August. I knew that I had to go back and try again.
Seeing otters in August wasn’t an issue. But photographing them proved to be challenging.
As soon as I got back I started to plan a trip for October.
It was after a chance encounter with Andrew Tomison (Wildlife on Mull Tours) by Loch Na Keale in August that started everything moving. I was photographing a heron and Andrew stopped with his clients to show them the white tailed eagle nest, he started talking to us and asked whether we had seen otters, I explained that was what I was looking for and Andrew pointed us in the direction of an otter that they had just left. We went to look for it but unfortunately didn’t see it.
I knew that probably my best bet for finding otters was to go on an organised wildlife watching tour, not because I didn’t know where to look for otters or what to look for, but local knowledge is invaluable. I really appreciated all of Andrew’s help and so when I got back from Mull in August I booked a day tour with him in October.
We exchanged emails back and forth, mainly discussing whether the trip would be able to go ahead due to Covid-Restrictions. Andrew dropped in to conversation that he was building his own holiday cottage next to his house and offered me the opportunity to be their first guest, this was a massive boost as hotels were expensive and most holiday cottages wanted a weeks booking not 4 nights. So I jumped at the chance to stay. The cottage is located right next to Ulva Ferry. Ideally situated for most of Mulls wildlife attractions and right in the heart of otter territory.
As the trip got closer I used facebook to find all of the mull wildlife pages to see what otter images were being posted. It is an unwritten rule and advised strongly that the location of otter images on mull are withheld. This is to protect otters from disruption of too many people crowding them and altering their natural behaviour or worse driving them away from their natural habitat. I came across the passionate about mull facebook page and it was full of otter images. Brian Boyes is an admin of the page and an amazing photographer. The images he posted were incredible. I sent a message to Brian commending him on his images and explaining my trip plans and my elusive search for otters. He gave me some tips of possible locations and we swapped vehicle registrations and agreed to meet if we could.
On Tuesday 20th October – I left home for the 2.5 hours drive to Oban. It was pouring with rain and I must admit I had low expectations for the 5 days. The weather was awful and I was probably the most unlucky person for otters that there was. The drive was uneventful and I arrived very early to get the 9:55am ferry. After a lovely breakfast in Oban at Café Shore I boarded the ferry.
I arrived in Craignure on time and immediately set off to check out some of the locations that both Brian and Andrew had given me.
I drove around a loch and scanned the water, nothing. I kept driving and eventually came to the end of the road. I had seen curlews and herons and made a promise that otters or no otters on this trip I would at least attempt to get some images of other wildlife. I stopped and decided to have a break and have some lunch and as I sat in the car by the loch I saw a v shape in the water. The V shape is the tell tale sign of an otter. I couldn’t quite believe it, I was sure it would disappear, but no here it was coming in to the shore with a fish in its mouth. I already had my camera and 600mm lens ready from photographing a heron.
The otter came ashore and for 30 minutes displayed every possible otter behaviour I could have wished for. Eating its fish, shaking itself, rolling around on the seaweed, laying down, walking along the shore – it was one of those moments that I will always remember. After that special display she went back in to the water and swam away.
So after less than 2 hours on Mull I had already achieved my objective and photographed my first otter.
Just after this sighting I met wildlife photographer Andy Howard. In my opinion one of the best British wildlife photographers. It was great to have a brief chat about otters and he was very helpful with advice on otter locations to try.
I then finished my lunch and drank my now cold coffee and made my way back around the loch.
As I made my way along the shore I saw a movement on the shoreline and there was another otter. This time a large male otter. He was sat in the seaweed and then sat up and scratched and walked along the shoreline. Again I was able to photograph him and get some different shots.
By now it was mid afternoon and I decided to make my way to my accommodation. Quite honestly at this point I was elated in a matter of hours I had pretty much ticked off my wish list of images I wanted and added some new ones to it.
As I drove along another loch. I saw a green Landrover discovery and pulled over – it was Brian the guy I had spoken to on facebook. He stopped and we chatted and he started to talk about otters, lots of otters. His passion for these amazing animals was infectious, then he mentioned that there was an otter and cub and an otter with 2 cubs. He gave me some more advice on locations and then I continued my drive. As I was driving through the mountains, I started to think of these otters with cubs…..could I be that lucky?