With a day of sunshine and showers forecast, Pete and I headed out in the car in search of otters..... well Pete actually did the searching as this is his speciality! Living on Mull and having guided here for many years, Pete knows the lochs and inlets where these mammals like to hunt and raise their families. Pete guides many photographers here on Mull, who would like to photograph otters. You can find out more on Pete's website page
His website describes the otter photography day as:
'With over 300 miles of coastline, Mull is one of the places in the UK to see otters, and Pete knows some of the very best locations on the island to see these often elusive mammals.
As well as knowing where the otters' territories are, he also knows the signs to look for when determining if otters are around, how to spot them (in all weathers), and most importantly, how to approach and observe them, without scaring them away.
When tracking otters, you may be climbing over slippery rocks and through seaweed, so be sure you are confident in doing this before booking such a workshop. You may also have to crouch for periods of time, in all weather conditions, so bear this in mind too! It is worth it though, to see these creatures close up.'
With over 300 miles of coastline, there is a lot of coastline which can support otters, hence the island has one of the highest densities of otters in the country. You may be lucky and get an unexpected view of one whilst driving along the coastline roads, but to get closer takes time and patience. Your car can be an excellent hide, but if you want to be outside watching them, then you need to be quiet and still and make sure that the wind is blowing towards you, so your scent is not carried to them. Otters have a good sense of smell, good eyesight and noises will also disturb them. The best experiences will be when the otters don't even know you are there. Move only when they dive and ensure you are low to the ground, using rocks to creep alongside.
Pete and I started in the car, scanning the lochs. It was calm, so easy to spot them diving.... a little hump in the water and then a tail. There were three; a female and her 2 grown-up cubs. They were pretty distant, so we watched them in the car for a while before heading down to the shore, tucking ourselves into the rocks.
Then it's just a matter of waiting. If they catch something large, they find it difficult to eat this in the water, so they bring it to shore. This is what you hope will happen as, if you are hidden, they may come to shore pretty close to you!
After several hours of arriving, we had our first encounter. Obscured somewhat by the rocks, this otter brought its fish to the shore near us.
In a short space of time, this otter was back out in the loch, joining the family and heading further out to a small rocky outcrop, further away..
The family rested up here for a while, before heading back out into the water. As they moved out further, we headed along the coastline, moving ahead of them, to ensure we were downwind of where we hoped they might return to the shore. In fact, they headed to a small rocky outcrop, covered in seaweed. Settling down, it was clear they were going to rest here for a while. We settled on a rocky outcrop, tucking ourselves against the rocks so we could not be seen.
They were still fairly far away. I had my 100-400mm lens, with a 1.4x converter. I could watch this lovely family both through my binoculars and my lens. Although they still looked pretty distant in my lens at full stretch, I knew I would be able to crop my images, and it was just important to ensure I got the focus and the exposure correct. They all went to sleep, somewhat obscured by the weed....
Now, we knew it was a waiting game! The tide was coming in and the little rocky outcrop would eventually disappear, meaning they would wake up and move on again. Pete and I watched the waters rise around them..... and us! We waited....... and waited.....
As the waters finally crept up to their sleeping spot, this beautiful family started to wake up. To watch them interacting, with them unaware of our presence, was a true privilege. Grooming, playing and sprainting and moving around, I just hoped my images were going to be as good as I hoped! My heart was racing and I tried to take in the sight in front of me. I have never had an experience like this... it was pretty special!
After all the hours of patience, we knew we would just have a few minutes before they, once again, disappeared into the water. We both fired off lots of shots, our mirrorless DSLRs are completely silent, so we knew we were not disturbing them at all.....
A final stretch, sniff of the air, and they slid silently back into the loch, swimming and hunting....
I turned to Pete , who was behind me on a slightly higher rock, and we beamed! I could not have been happier. All that waiting and watching had paid off with a couple of minutes of exquisite otter watching. and, boy, was it worth it! Thank you Pete, for getting me in the right place to capture these images.
As the family disappeared into the distance, we headed back. We were both keen to see what our cameras had captured.
We took the scenic route back and it is just about impossible not to stop regularly to soak in the beauty of this island!
(Pete loves selfies!)
A final treat was a buzzard perched by the side of the road that Pete spotted. I shot a couple of images through the car window! What a day!