Guided photography trip: Otters on the Isle of Mull
As a wildlife photographer one of the most engaging and exciting of the subjects you can hope to photograph are the wonderful wild European otters (Lutra lutra).
Otters are still a rare animal in the Uk, pushed to the edge of extinction by hunting, water pollution and loss of habitat they are finally making a good recovery and can be found in many of the countries water ways though even where they are in high numbers they remain shy and elusive, making spotting let alone photographing them somewhat a challenge.
I have visited the Isle of Mull many times and its thanks to my good friend Ruth at Mull Magic who first introduced me to my first wild otter that I am able to visit regularly and stay in touch with these beautiful wild creatures.
This year I began running wildlife photography trips to the Island and this is a summary of the first fabulous two weeks!
Arriving a day early I had a quick scout around my usual haunts looking for the flick of a tail or the ripple on the water, the slight sign of movement against the kelp and the sniff of fresh spraint at the well marked spots around Mulls coast,
Pretty soon I spotted my first otter, fishing out to sea and with an eye on wind direction and finding cover behind the rocks I watched as (she) bobbed to the surface with small crabs and every now and again swam in closer to feed on a larger fish.
Occasionally she would pull out onto a small rock and pose beautifully for me, I held my breath and clicked away with the shutter on silent: imagine how pleased my clients would be if I could get them this close whilst leaving the otter relaxed and undisturbed.
The light wasn't great for this encounter but I managed to be in the right place at the right time and spent all afternoon watching her fish .
After a few hours she came out of the water fully and did what otters often do: had a good look round then curled up in the kelp and went to sleep. Quietly backing off with the rocks still between me and the sleeping otter I backed off to leave her in peace.
Otters rarely return to the same place at the same time every day but I hoped just maybe, I might see her again tomorrow!
The next few days were a bit of a revelation for me, I really didn't expect to be able to show my clients otters every day but that was exactly what happened!
Some days the weather was choppy and spotting wildlife difficult but even so we came up trumps. One morning we had four different otters along the same stretch of shoreline and pretty soon it emerged that the mother otter I photographed on that first day was easily identifiable. She has a pink flash on her nose from an old scar and a missing lower canine.
It also soon became clear she was nearly always joined by an almost fully grown cub, Judging by the shape of the muzzle and his size he is probably a male. some times we found it easier to locate the otters by the cubs plaintive piping call when he lost sight of his mother in the choppy surf. This was when I also began to see his playful nature as he took advantage of the larger waves and literally went surfing, clearly using the surf to his advantage and I am sure he really did enjoy catching the waves.
It was great to watch this behaviour, showing how amazingly well adapted this land mammal has become to life on the ocean wave!
From a photography point of view the most successful shots show both behaviour and character and the bond between the mother and cub helped me and the clients to achieve some fabulous shots, at times coming in close proximity and showing continual contact and affection between the mother and cub.
Note that most of these shots are taken with a big 500mm lens and on a high resolution camera with some cropping!
Even so I couldnt have hoped or imagined a better experience for myself and the clients who came with me.
I cant wait to get back to Mull and see how this mother otter is and whether she has finally got fed up of her grown cub and chased him out to start a new family!
If you want to come with me and find out for yourself, contact me here for availability and prices: Gowild@freeuk.com