When it comes to UK mammals, few species are more challenging and yet at the same time rewarding than otters. Not only is it a question of knowing where to go and look for them but the fieldcraft involved is right up there too: time of year (there’s more family activity during the winter months), wind direction, tide time, spotting skills, stalking skills and all round wildlife knowledge are simply must haves. It’s why whenever running a small group trip up to Shetland, where I consider the best experiences as well as photographic opportunities can be had thanks to their successful densities there, I always make sure we work with acknowledged local experts who can supplement my own experience. Brydon, Richard and James have always delivered and my trip as winter came to an end this year was no exception.
This image is very typical of the first category of sighting and photographic opportunity a trip like this can bring – good and solid enough with clear views but, as in this instance, a setting where getting closer wasn’t practical or possible: she was already ashore, settled where she was and there was no ground or cover to get anywhere else.
Then there are times when the otter is foraging and you can try and anticipate where they are coming ashore if they catch something big enough. It can lead to some great low down views as well as an appreciation of their camouflage.
In this instance it was with an octopus but she settled in a hidden spot to chew the legs off before heading up the beach to some nearby freshwater before bursting the ink sack that the remaining body contains: otters don’t like that sort of mess!
Sometimes this second category can really hit the jackpot and you find yourself in a great spot in terms of distance and visibility as well as it all happening when the light is at its sweetest too – another benefit of the winter months when the sun actually shines that is!
In this particular instance this female then settled down for a bit of a rest and clean up operation which is when all sorts of wonderful poses can and did happen.
It’s a question of quietly watching and picking the moment to press a single shot, silent shutter when you see a pose you like!
And then the final category, and in some ways the cutest of them all to see and photograph, is when you either come across them sleeping or they simply settle down to do so for a decent enough amount of time to let their coats well and truly dry, something that to me at least, makes them even more endearing. It’s even better too when it’s a family also keeping each other warm and cosy!
It was lovely to watch this Mum and her two cubs constantly trying to reposition themselves in the collective bundle to find a smidgen more comfort or warmth!
So, just a small taster of what a week with Shetland’s otters can offer – it’s one of the best and most real wildlife photography experiences to be had in the UK and I can’t wait to take a small group back again next year (details here) and be in the same space as an animal so at peace in it’s sleep as this final image shows once more!