Tuesday 2 July 2024

Mull is Otterly Brilliant.

 Last year Lisa had a week on the Isle of Mull with one of her friends, and this year she was really keen for me to join her for a couple of weeks so she could show me why the island is so special to her.

I had never been there before, but knew, of course, that the island was well known for both Otters and Eagles.

Last year Lisa and her friend had 2 days with Brian Boyes, an Otter guide on the island, and once again she was keen to have a couple of days again with Brian showing us where the best spots for the animals are, as well as being able to drop us off when an otter was spotted and the direction of travel were clear. It was then a case of the two of us getting behind a large rock as quickly as possible near the water so we could photograph it when it surfaced. Also, if we were extremely lucky, and the otter caught something large, it could bring the meal ashore near us, to eat it!!

Brian was totally passionate about the animals and he made us aware of how we should be very careful and quiet to get the very best results without disturbing the animals. Something which is very close to my heart. It is always so rewarding getting good photos and knowing the animal wasn't even aware you were there!!

Our first day out with Brian, was to be fair, quite slow. Although we saw quite a few other interesting things, the otters had other ideas. The early morning went to mid morning without any sightings, and to be honest, I was beginning to think we were going to be out of luck. Fortunately, both Lisa and I are aware that wildlife doesn't often do what you want it to do.

However, it was almost lunchtime and then a dog otter was spotted. Suddenly everything changed, as Lisa and I quickly found a large rock to get behind as the otter had dived. We had to move only when the animal was underwater. Each time it surfaced, it seemed to have caught something to eat. However, these smaller morsels could be eaten in the water. A couple of times it caught something bigger and it brought the food ashore. I was really hoping that it would catch something larger when it swam past me, and allow me to get a shot of it reasonably nearby on the shore.

Eventually, it was getting near to where I was, when suddenly it caught a larger fish, a reasonably sized flatfish. The otter then came out of the water and started to come up the beach right to where I was. Well, this was suddenly ridiculous, as I had the 500mm lens on, and the large dog otter was only about 12 feet away!! All I could manage was a shot of the otter's head, feet and the fish. The picture below is exactly how it was, no cropping at all!!

Close-up of the dog Otter!!

I really wished I had taken the other camera down with me, as that one had a zoom lens on it, so I could have zoomed out to get the whole animal in the shot. However, it was a totally incredible moment. The fish took a few minutes to eat, before the otter went back into the water, oblivious of me being just a few feet away from it. Lisa was away to my left, and unfortunately she had a rock between herself and the otter.

For the rest of the day we were both on a high after such a wonderful encounter.

A week later we had an even earlier start, so as to get the tide at its best for Otter watching. Lisa and I had now moved to a different cottage on the south of the island. This cottage overlooked a different loch to where we had been last week. As Brian drove very slowly around the loch, the sun was still quite low, and we appeared to be the only people about. We were only a few minutes into the day, when I spotted two Otters not far from us. Once again, Lisa and I quickly got out of the van, quietly closing the doors. We headed to the boulders again, but this time the two Otters stayed out in the water. They were both hunting together, once again, catching small prey nearly every time they dived. Brian had a feeling that they would continue around the bay, so he drove a few hundred metres and dropped us off again, well ahead of the animals. We had to wade across some bits of water to get to a really big boulder we could both hide behind. It was then a case of waiting and hoping that they would continue to come our way. 

Eventually, they did come round the bay to where we were, but what happened next was just incredible, as both animals came ashore on a boulder that was covered with weeds, only around 25 feet away. 

Another Otter Encounter.

Brian had already told us, when I first spotted the Otters, that it was probably a mother and near fully grown cub. Both of us were then treated to some lovely interaction with the animals. A bit of grooming went on, and then, they fell asleep!! Lisa and I just had to hold on, as we couldn't move away as that may have disturbed them. 

After around 45 minutes I mentioned to Lisa that they will have to wake up soon, as the tide is coming in and the island that they are on will soon be covered with water. We also had a problem, as we could also be cut off from the shore in the position we were in. Indeed, as the tide came in the Otters both started to wake up. Even more grooming and play now took place. It was such a delight seeing these beautiful creatures behaving in such a way.

Lots of play and grooming from the Otters.

Looking at the photos in detail later, it became clear that the youngster had unfortunately lost an eye sometime. However, it didn't seem to affect it at all, and we had already seen, it was catching lots of prey as it swam around the bay.

Eventually, the tide covered the island the Otters were on, and they both went back to hunting. We had just had an amazing 2 hours plus of watching these lovely animals. Poor Brian was left sitting in his van, and as he had to park away from us he hadn't seen what was happening.

We thought that was probably the end of our Otter sightings for the trip. However, on our final full day, we drove to the other side of the loch to see if we could find some birds to photograph before the rain started. As we sat on the loch side we noticed quite a few people some distance away, looking through binoculars at something on the side of the loch. We assumed it must be an Otter, so we drove to one of the few car parking spots and walked back to where the people were, to be told that there had been an Otter, but it had just moved away. It was then a case of guessing which way it was going. A couple of times we saw the Otter surface briefly, so we rushed off on foot along the roadside to see if we could get ahead of it. Others were waiting back where it had been, so we were already away from most people. We kept getting further ahead of it and then got down a little on the bank where we would be hidden. Amazingly, once again we chose the right spot as the Otter came ashore to our left, and walked along the bank in front of us.

Otter walking along in front of us.

Someone at this point behind us closed their car door loudly!!

By this time the rain was falling quite heavily, and we were both getting very wet, but was it worth getting wet for!! After the animal had got comfortable amongst the rocks, it fell asleep. We were now realising that Otters seem to sleep an awful lot!! We waited and waited, all the time getting even wetter. Another good 45 minutes later, most of the other Otter watchers that were watching from their cars gave up and left, we were still hiding on the bank. Eventually the Otter started to wake up. We were thinking we may get some more shots if it walks back along in front of us, but no, the Otter went straight back down to the water and started to fish again. It very quickly came back to shore after catching a large crab, but it soon went back to hunting. Despite being very wet, we decided to carry on getting further ahead of it. 2 other people were also still keeping with the Otter. However, we took a bit of a punt on the Otter going further along, and as there was no access to the loch for about 70 metres, we headed there and were once again on our own. After 15 minutes or so, we saw the Otter surface with yet more food. Only a small morsel, so the diving continued. As it came nearer, we thought, could it really happen again. We then saw the Otter swim slightly past us before diving again, so we quickly moved along the beach to get slightly ahead again. Hiding quickly behind a large rock as the Otter surfaced. Then, we saw it had caught another large Crab, and the Otter was once again heading to shore, right where we were again. How could this keep happening. Did we have an Otter magnet or something!!

The next thing was, the Otter had brought the crab ashore, and was now munching away on it. At this time we didn't have a clear view of the Otter, but by very quietly moving just a little, as well as the Otter moving too a little, we started to get a pretty clear view. After finishing the crab, the Otter started to do some grooming, rubbing against the seaweeds and stones. I was wondering if we were going to be stuck there again for a long time if it fell asleep again, but fortunately, after grooming and showing off in front of us for 15 minutes it went back into the water. As we stood up, I looked behind us and was amazed to see 5 other people that had come onto the beach to watch the spectacle, obviously they had seen us on the beach and realised what we were watching.

We were now so wet, and starting to get chilled, so we decided we had had so much luck we should go back to the cottage in the warm!!

One Large Crab attached to an Otter.

Otter being watchful.

This is the life!!

Such a fabulous creature.

With so many photos taken, it was really hard knowing how many and which ones to post. Such memories from our fantastic trip to Mull. Our thanks to Brian for putting us in the right place and helping us get our Otter fix. We were also both pleased to have got the last one without help. This one is apparently a female, called 'Pink Nose', for obvious reason.

And, just when we thought our Otter experiences were over, the following morning, during our final breakfast, I spotted something on the water in the loch, which I suspected was an Otter. Quickly grabbing the binoculars, we enjoyed watching a hunting Otter from the comfort of the cottage. All the time we were packing up the car we enjoyed watching it. So much so, we very nearly missed our ferry back to the mainland!!

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