Otter Heaven in Argyll

24th November 2013
For those of you who have tried to photograph otters in the wild, I am sure you will agree it's not the easiest thing to do- especially if you haven't a clue how to spot one, or get close enough to one for a decent image. they are elusive and quick, and also utterly entertaining!

With this is mind, I went up to Argyll, in Scotland, for three days recently, to try and photograph this mega. I enlisted the help of a local guy, who runs various workshops specialising in Scottish wildlife- Philip Price of Loch Visions Photography.

We met Philip early one morning, after a very misty and dark drive from Glasgow, and I could tell immediately he was my kind of guide- fun, passionate and extremely keen for the 3 days ahead. Those of you who may have watched the 'Hebrides series' recently, I was to spend the next few days photographing in one of the areas they filmed the otter sequences from the series. It was cold and blustery, the wind whipping around us like ice, but we were well 'packaged' up- gloves, caps and full waterproofs including knee length boots, an essential for otter photography.

We set out, and spent our time scanning the coast, looking for the tell tale 'v' shape of a swimming otter in amongst the choppy water. There were 3 good points to spot from, and as we arrived at the 3rd, Philip spotted a dog otter fishing away. As they fish, they dive- which gives you a good 20 seconds to move without being seen. The otter would plunge under the water, and we would run/slide down the bank, until eventually we were secreted away in between some rocks, feet in the water. They are magic creatures to watch, almost dancing as they move. They are also very efficient hunters, coming up with a fish about 95% of all dives. It was a great experience, but he never caught any fish large enough to haul onto the shore near to our hiding spot...

That night we slept like the dead, after some hearty Scottish salmon, ready for another day of wind, rain and beautiful wild areas! The Saturday dawned cold and stayed that way- in tees of sightings as well. We gave it our best, but with the choppy water and difficult conditions we couldn't find a thing despite nearly 8 hours spend out. Not disheartened, we were up early the next day and ready to go!

Overnight the wind had shifted position, and the water was relatively calm as we drove to the otter site. On the way, we spotted one swimming in the loch along the road, a good start to the day, and we arrived on the point rearing and ready for some otters!

Philip spotted one almost immediately, and we watched for an hour or so as she fished far off, trying to get an idea of where she may go. All of a sudden she was on the move, and we were running again, keeping low to get into a position where she would hopefully be visible, and we would remain hidden! Before I knew it she was swimming not far off from my lens, a large fish in her mouth and completely oblivious to our presence. After she disappeared we could hear some excitable squeaking, her cub and her obviously sharing a joyful reunion and a fish!

Next up was a pair of otter, a mother and her sub adult who we watched playing and fighting( in a sort of friendly way) for hours (far off) while huddling in the seaweed for camouflage. Next we knew, the tide was lapping around our feet, and we needed to move back a bit. I will point out that our hands were almost frozen solid through the gloves at this point... it was a chilly Arctic wind! we lay down behind another rock, just in time as the female had started hunting again. We watched and watched until all of a sudden she was swimming towards us, a large fish in her jaws. We hunkered down as low as possible in the seaweed and waited.

She popped out the water, lost the fish, dived in again and then she was tearing into it, 10 metres from our position which was rapidly filling up with icy water! Her cub then approached, unable to find the mother, and swam through the seaweed looking for her. It was exhilarating, being so close to completely wild otters, having stalked into a position close enough for photography, and everything just falling into place!

I cannot wait to return, I think the otter will be my version of a leopard while I'm in the UK. Although a lot of hard work, they are certainly a delight to photograph, and a very addictive subject!

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