A magical morning spent with the Otters on Mull.

A magical morning spent with the Otters on Mull

Sallachy Otter with tongue.jpg

For all wildlife photographers, whether the keen amateur or full time professional, a visit to the Isle of Mull should be high on the agenda. Situated off the west coast of Scotland, its isolation and raw beauty, makes it a perfect wildlife haven for a multitude of iconic species. I visited Mull back in 2015 as part of a combined photography and family holiday and ever since then, my love of Mull and the wider Scotland has become an obsession that I need to visit every year.

One of these species which draws many photographers to Mull is the Otter. The Otter population on Mull is fairly high given its land mass, so the chances of seeing an Otter on the shore line or swimming in one of the many lochs are very good.

Mull Otter Pair Print File FB.jpg

Although there is a high chance of seeing an Otter and photographing it at distance, photographing them in close proximity in order to obtain the intimate shots that I target is both a challenge and unpredictable. Despite the relatively good numbers, they remain an elusive animal.

I have been a life long fan of Otters since my childhood, so photographing them in the wild was high on my list of things to do.

Otters, Isle of Mull Otter, Simon Wantling Photography

With this in mind, I'd like to share one of the most memorable wildlife experiences I've ever had. It happened very early one morning on the banks of Loch Na Keal. When I say early, it was around 5am on a very windy and rainy day. For most the week, I'd been on the look out for Otters with several sightings in a number of locations. In particular, were a pair of otters, an adult and cub which had been seen in the vicinity of Loch Na Keal. Otters can be spotted at any time during the day, but once people are out and about, they tend to move out away from the shoreline and become more elusive, hence the decision for an early start.

Otters from Mull.jpg

I decided to attempt to photograph the otters on the left side of the loch which has less traffic. Driving slowly down the edge, looking out for signs of otters, when suddenly I spotted some thing out in the water. Could it be the otters I was looking for? I grabbed the camera and keeping low, moved slowly down to the shoreline. There in front of me although some way out was the pair of otters fishing. The waves were very large due to the high winds and rain, making it difficult to obtain images of the otters in the water. 

This was a chance too good to miss, so deciding to hide behind a large rock out in the water, I waded out waist high into the loch, assumed position, resting the camera and bean bag on the rock, all under a throw over hide so not to scare the otters away.

Isle of Mull - Otter.jpg

To my delight, not realising I was there, the otters decided to venture out of the water onto a set of rocks no more than 10 meters away from me. I just couldn't believe what was happening and despite photographing lots of wildlife, the old heart started to race as I realised the experience playing out in front of me.

They continued to play and eat for more than 10 minutes or so before passers by saw me photographing them, walked down to the waters edge and scared them off - very annoying !! 

Despite this, I had managed to capture some wonderful moments and memories that have stayed with me.

Learning experience - take a spare set of car keys..

Spotted by the Otter website.jpg

Its funny that you can go from extreme happiness after capturing the wildlife moments just witnessed to absolute horror. On getting back to my car I realised I couldn't find my cars keys.. In my rush to get out of the car, I'd mistakenly put my keys in my trouser pocket which had a hole in it. A hole which I'd known about for over a year I hasten to add ! So there I am, out in the middle of no where with no phone signal and 5 miles from my cottage. Much to far to walk given all the gear I was carrying and I didn't know what to do. Looking around, there was no chance I was going to find my keys and as far as I was concerned, they were at the bottom of the loch. I just stood there laughing to myself at what a situation I'd landed myself in when suddenly I could feel something around the top of my boot. Hidden within the two linings of my trousers were my keys. You can imagine my relief. Any other trousers and the keys would have been lost, but luckily my photography trousers are double lined. I still consider myself extremely lucky as I was imaging having to employ Bear Grylls survival techniques but all ended well. !!

Otter, Otters, Mull, Otters on Mull

Consequently, whenever I'm in a very remote location, for safety reasons I always take a spare set of car keys. Getting stranded in the middle of somewhere remote is not a nice thought and although I can laugh about it now, was a bit worrying at the time. Saying that - I'm sure a passer by at some point would have stopped and helped !

To close this blog, I came away with some memorable moments and images, a couple of which were published and indeed made the BBC Wildlife Magazine and 2017 Calendar.

As always, please like and leave me a comment on the blog. Its great to have your support and I always look forward to your feedback.

Thanks !!