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  • Writer's pictureKaren-Jane Dudley

An otters tale

After an unexpected and challenging start to the year , it has felt like an eternity since I had been able to concentrate on finally getting the cameras back in my hands again.

After such a lengthy time away from the field , it is always a worry…have you lost the edge ? Slower reflexes reducing those split second timings that are all so important , also tracking subjects to get you within reach of the lens in order to pick up a clear well focused image.

A return to the stunning beauty of the Isle of Mull was certainly going to set out a test.

Why theThe Isle of Mull ?

Simply the Isle of Mull, with its miles of unspoilt coastline , the beauty of the lochs, waterfalls and its abundance of wildlife make this the perfect destination to seek out the incredible photographic opportunities that await .

Known for its population of majestic Golden Eagles , White tailed sea eagles and amazing smaller birdlife, and the one subject that of Mull that really drew attention…the adorable sight of the charismatic Eurasian Otter ( Lutra Lutra )

This elusive and iconic little character was certainly going to prove to be a challenge after such lengthy period away from working with the camera.

A barren visit in 2023, with only a single fleeting otter sighting was certainly not evoking a feeling of confidence, but within 24hrs of arrival, that familiar flick of the tail on the loch surface certainly gave the incentive that things were going to be very different this time around.

Each days sightings getting better and better, but still not quite close enough for that precious close up portrait.

But everything was going to change on day 6 …An early morning drive to the location of the fleeting sighting in 2023 in hope of possibly spotting the same otter again.

Arriving about an hour before low tide and perfect clear weather after a few days of very heavy showers, a tad on the cold side, but a clear day giving excellent lighting was certainly a bonus.

Settling down in the car ( the perfect hide for otter spotting ) binoculars in hand, the surface of the loch was certainly flatter than on previous days so spotting a swimming otter would hopefully be a lot easier.

Scanning the loch for that telltale “ V “ line in the water, interrupted a few times with excitement on spotting what could possibly be a diving otter, only to find as had been so often during the previous days... probably a Northern diver or Cormorant on the dive in search of a feast.

On seeing a splash on the loch surface to the left... first thought…“ probably a diving bird” but something about the colour of this "diving bird "caused hesitation, this time following the possible direction the subject underwater waiting for it to resurface.

It was only a matter of seconds before the subject did resurface. Without the aid of binoculars, it was very quickly concluded by the shape , this was certainly no diving bird specie, but was most certainly exactly what I had hoped it would be … an otter.

As with other encounters during the week, it was fully expected for the otter to swim away into the distance ,even a 600mm lens mounted on the camera was going to struggle to gain those elusive portraits, but this time, the otter continued to dive, obviously hunting, each dive bringing the otter closer.

Keeping to strict photography ethics ,not wanting to create any movement that would cause the otter to turn and swim away, disturbing its search for food , it was time for patience in waiting for the dive, giving sufficient time to quietly open the car door and brace the camera between the car door and the car body, offering a perfectly stable support for the camera and a way of keeping low and out of the direct eyeline of the otter.

Firing off a number of images, the otter continued to swim in the direction of the seaweed carpet in front of the car , only to surface after another brief dive, this time emerging with a mouthful of a rather large crab !!

Still fully expecting the otter to swim away with a rather large crustacean breakfast, the camera recorded image after image, only for the otter to carefully climb out of the water, quietly settle down on a seaweed covered rock directly ahead to enjoy a well earned breakfast crab , but not before giving full eye contact no more than 50ft from my position.

Thankfully the otter decided I was no threat and began to happily tuck into breakfast, giving the perfect opportunity to continue to collect numerous images of this precious little individual.

During the period of devouring the crab at close quarters ... the reward… two more full eye contacts before the otter quickly scampered across the seaweed, slipping under the water of the loch and out of sight …

Wow, what an encounter ...oh so brief but oh so precious ... an encounter that will live in the heart and memory for a lifetime… and that precious portrait finally completed.

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