While many species have declined over recent years, the otter seems to have been seen more frequently and been noted moving more and more into many of the river systems and lakes in the UK’s built up areas.
Locally, we have had otters in the River Ouse around the Bedford area in places such as Bromham, Harrold and Felmersham for a long while and just last year a pair of otters moved into Bedford Boating Lake. They kept photographers and wildlife watchers alike intrigued by their antics for many weeks.
Generally, otters can be quite elusive and will disappear from view at the slightest bankside disturbance or noise. They are playful animals and appear to engage in various behaviours for sheer enjoyment such as making slides into the water, chasing each other and play fighting. They may also find and play with small stones. To witness a mother and cub playing together is something really special.
Otters have brown fur, often pale on the underside, and a long slender body with small ears on a broad head. They have a long thick tail, short limbs and webbed feet and they swim very low in the water, quite often with their heads and back barely showing. This makes them very hard to spot.
December 2019 saw me head up to the West Coast of Scotland, to Oban, and catch the ferry over to the Isle of Mull. This area is renowned for the number of otters that frequent and breed along the shorelines of the many sea lochs. The shoreline on Mull is a lot easier to access than other Scottish islands, such as Arran. So with a bit of fieldcraft and guile it’s quite easy to get very close to these otters without disturbing them at all - and that is always the priority of a wildlife photographer.
The weather can be very changeable on Scottish islands and Mull is no exception. This trip saw torrential rain, flooding, high winds and waves and then an hour later the sun would come out and the sea would be like a mill pond. The otters don’t mind at all if the weather is bad. If they have a pup they have to fish and feed the youngster. The pup will stay with its mother for up to a year.
One particular day, we had been driving up and down the roadside along the shoreline of a loch for an hour or more but it was so windy and the waves choppy that it made it almost impossible to spot an otter out fishing. We knew there was a mother and pup in the area so all we could do was persevere, scanning the seas, hoping to see a bobbing brown head swimming and diving for fish. We were eventually rewarded and spent over an hour watching the mother out at sea fishing and bringing back large scorpion fish, squid and lobsters to her pup waiting on the shoreline in front of us. When you are able to spend that amount of time in their company, the otters knowing you are there but not feeling threatened or concerned, it’s a real privilege.
Mull is such a beautiful island, easy to get around outside of the summer months when the tourists take over. There is so much to see in terms of landscapes and seascapes and such a variety of wildlife. In fact, if you are lucky you may spot both golden and sea eagles on the island.
If you would like to see more images of this spectacle go to my Facebook page which isGreg Coyne Photography. Please check out my page, like it, and then keep up to date with my travels on a regular basis. You can also visit my website gregcoynephotography.co.uk
All images are copyright of Greg Coyne.