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Archive for the ‘Otters’ Category:

Book launch: Otters in Shetland – The tale of the draatsi

Posted by Brydon Thomason on Tuesday 1st December 2015 | News, Otters

At last – after years of planning and the inevitable blood sweat and tears endured with such a huge project, it is finally here and the story of Shetlands otters is communicated through our book Otters in Shetland – The tale of the draatsi.

As it is for anyone who puts their heart and soul into writing a book, especially one on a subject so special and emotive to them, we are immensely pleased and equally proud of this project.

With a gap of over 20 years since anything was published on Shetlands otters it was really important to us to tell their full story and bridge a gap between a science-based reference book and a photographic story-telling book.

From beginning to end the story flows with each and every page and chapter leading into the next; from the Islands and geography; the foundations of the food chain; how they live on the coast through to family life and so on. We also bring in fascinating interviews with Shetlanders who many years ago once hunted them for the fur trade which offers a unique insight into mans relationship in the isles both past and present.

Through our time photographing otters we have captured and documented many, in fact most aspects of their lives and in doing so have created a unique portfolio of images. Incorporated into the informative captions, which accompany these images we bring in the fascinating scientific research from Dr Hans Kruuk, a world leading authority on otters, who we were truly privileged to have write the foreword and to receive such praise from him is a hugely gratifying commendation to us.

Our publisher, The Shetland Times said in their recent press release: “The book has been gaining plaudits from experts in the field of wildlife and photography weeks even before its release date” and then went on to quote Hans Kruuk and wildlife cameraman Doug Allan.

meet the fishHere’s a couple of extracts from the foreword by DR Hans Kruuk:

“…With all this, the authors make a large contribution to conservation, not just of otters but of the entire coastal ecosystem. Conservation is served by the simple statement of the beauty of the animals in the context of science and natural history, as well as by the detailed explanation of exactly what otters need to survive.

“The reader is made aware of the otters’ hardships in terms of exposure to cold waters, of the need to catch prey quickly as well as keeping their fur clean to keep out the cold – for which they need the many small sources of fresh water along the Shetland coast (which, incidentally, are almost absent in places where otters are few, such as Orkney or the Scottish east coast).

 “The book is a thoughtful object of beauty, of otters, and of the Shetland coasts. The authors should be immensely proud of this great effort”.

Wildlife cameraman Doug Allan:

 “This is a lovely book that deserves to be on the shelf of any Shetland visitor, or anyone who loves the wild outdoors. Sensitively but informatively written, illustrated by images that could only have been taken by photographers who clearly love, respect and understand their subject and the location. “Shetland should be grateful that there are people with the passion, tenacity and skills of Brydon and Richard, who’ve truly captured the wonder of Shetland’s best loved mammal”.

TV wildlife presenter Iolo Williams:

“Brydon Thomason and Richard Shucksmith have produced a gem of a book which brings the story of otters on Shetland right up to date. Visually, it is stunning, but it is also packed full of information on the ecology and history of this most charismatic of British mammals. Whether you are a fan of otters, a follower of British wildlife or a lover of beautiful books, this is a must for your reading list”.

Details of the book

The book, in hardback only costs £28.00 and is available to pre-order through our publisher here or through us following the official launch date of 12th December.

In total we tell the story of Otters in Shetland through 35,931 words, 276 pages and just over 220 photographs.

We hope you like it!

Brydon Thomason and Richard Shucksmith

Shetlands otters featuring on ‘Grand Tour of The Scottish Islands’

Posted by Brydon Thomason on Tuesday 13th October 2015 | News, Otters, TV Appearances

There is literally not a year that passes that The Shetland Islands are not featured on television networks throughout the United Kingdom and beyond. Regularly featuring on many of these and helping to promote how special Shetland is is something we are always very proud of indeed.

Having already worked with the BBC Springwatch crew earlier this year we were delighted to be approached by BBC Scotland to work with the Grand Tour of The Scottish Islands film crew to feature otters on their program. Overall the show was really good and showed an interesting diversity of life on the isles, made more so especially by Cheryl Jamieson of Glansing Glass, Andrew Magnie Thomson, Rhoda Hughson and Les and Joanne on Fetlar.

To watch the program on BBC  iPlayer you can view here or you can see the short piece posted by BBC Scotland of us with the otters here.

Grand Tour of Scotish Islands crew

The crew were really fantastic to work with; presenter Paul Murton, producer Kathryn Ross, cameraman Richard Cook and sound man Richard Paterson. As well as being really on the ball they were also great fun which helped phase the on-camera tension I always get when being filmed! On the day I was joined by Josh Jaggard which was a real bonus, having his sharp eyes helped to keep track of the family whilst we were filming, which relieved at least some of the pressure and help us get the footage we did.

We were thrilled to spend the several hours with a mother and her two cubs, throughout which enjoyed some really lovely behaviour from affectionate family group huddles to action packed foraging and feeding sessions.

With the weather in our favour, the otters performing and a thoroughly successful shoot, we couldn’t have asked for more.  Read more about the otter tours we do here.

More from the BBC’s popular ‘Grand Tour of The Scottish Islands’ here.

Paul and Brydon

2014 Otter Photography Guest Gallery

Posted by Brydon Thomason on Monday 8th June 2015 | Otters

A selection of some of my favourite images from guests on Otter Photography assignment with me in 2014. As per previous years, I lead itineraries for photographers from all over the world including America, Canada, Italy, Switzerland, Spain, Norway to name but a few.

More details about Otter Photography with Brydon Thomason  – already taking bookings for 2016.

Otter Heaven in Shetland – A visit from Arizona

Posted by Brydon Thomason on Wednesday 5th November 2014 | Otters, Reviews

A lovely account from guests Fiona Clark and Jim Boggs visiting all the way from America on one of our tailored Shetland Otter Experience holidays in February 2014 along with a couple of images from their trip. Their account communicates perfectly the insight and experience that these itineraries offer for guests wanting to really learn about otters, their behavior, ecology and where, when and how to study them. We run itineraries like these all year round but they are particularly recommended during the ‘night and day’ seasons from late autumn through to early spring. Contact us for details on these packages info@shetlandnature.net

I have something of a magnificent obsession when it comes to otters. When I lived in Seattle, I spent almost all of my free time (plus a lot of time when I was supposedly working on my graduate studies) on a beach in a nearby park, tracking and then eventually watching the North American river otters (Lontra canadensis) that lived there.

In my quest to learn more about these “river” otters that lived on the coast and did their fishing in the sea, I came across the work of Prof. Hans Kruuk, who had done extensive studies on coastal or marine foraging Eurasian otters in Shetland and on the Scottish mainland. While there are some significant differences, the North American river otter and the Eurasian otter share many similarities, and Prof. Kruuk’s work helped me tremendously in understanding my local otters. A seed was also planted: my husband Jim and I clearly needed a trip to Shetland at some point.

Being typically broke students back then, the trip had to wait for a good few years. But in February 2014, Jim and I joined Brydon Thomason in Unst for four days of otter watching. From searching online and reading about Brydon, his knowledge on otters and work he does it was clear he was our man. I liked Brydon from our very first email exchange: he too was a fan of Prof. Kruuk’s work and was clearly an otter enthusiast of the first order. We soon agreed that February would be a fine time for a trip. As with the otters in the Seattle area, Shetland’s otters are usually active in the daytime. In winter, the otters seem to concentrate their activities into a shorter time period since the days are so short. This can make them easier to find and more fun to watch. An added bonus is that you can stay in bed till a civilized time since it would be too dark to see anything if you got up too early.

Brydon picked us up in Lerwick and we talked otters nonstop all the way to the superb lodge at Barrafirth in Unst. Next morning we found a mother and two cubs at the very first place that we stopped to check for otters. We went on to see a staggering 29 different otters over the course of our four days at various sites around the islands along shorelines Brydon studies. And these were not fleeting glimpses of far distant otters. We spent hours watching some of them.

We also saw some otter behaviour that I had only read about, or inferred from seeing otter tracks on my beach. This included watching (and hearing – they were loud!) a courting couple, and also watching two family groups come together. Jim particularly loved to see the cubs play wrestling, and trying to eat fish that were almost as big as they were. He still talks about being so close that we could hear one of the cubs chomping on a fish. Seeing all of the loving interactions between otter mums and their little ones has also stayed with us: I had seen some of this on my beach, of course, but due to the terrain there I had never had such prolonged views of these mother-cub interactions. Knowing my interest in all aspects of otter behavior, Brydon also took us to see otter holts, lay up areas, and bathing pools so that I could get a much better understanding of how otters in Shetland use the landscape. And what a landscape it was, with miles and miles of deserted beaches, spectacular cliffs, and moorland glowing in the winter sun.

Having spent around seven years trying to learn the habits of the American otters, I knew that finding all of these otters in Shetland, and being able to watch them for extended periods, was no accident. It was the result of Brydon’s deep knowledge of otter distribution and behavior, which comes from his years of fieldwork and his high level of field craft. As one of my wildlife tracking teachers used to say, “animals are not randomly distributed on the landscape.” Knowing when and where to look for otters dramatically increases your chances of finding them. Knowing how to use the wind and the landscape to your advantage allows you to remain undetected by the otters. This allows you to watch them as they go about their daily lives, without disturbing them in the slightest, and to me this is one of the greatest privileges imaginable. Even so, seeing 29 otters in four days was rather extreme, even with all of Brydon’s skills, and is not something that we will be expecting the next time we visit Shetland. We are, of course, going back. Four days was too short, however, so we are going for a week next time.

Fiona Clark

2013 Otter Photography Client Gallery

Posted by Brydon Thomason on Friday 22nd November 2013 | Otters

2013 season has been our busiest so far and my unrivalled Otter Photography opportunities were no exception. It was yet another fantastic year of Otter photography encounters.

What was also really quite remarkable was just how far photographers are travelling for the opportunity to work on Otters here in Shetland and this shone through with the many nationalities of photographers I helped capture images of these marvellous mammals. I was thrilled and proud to host guests from as far and wide as Canada, Slovakia, Switzerland, Australia, Italy, France, Germany and of course UK.

It was particular exciting to see demand continue to grow and not surprisingly the months of May, June, July and August were all fully booked well in advance whilst the shoulder seasons were also busier than usual with itineraries in February and March and also September, October, November and even looking ahead to December.

Amongst these photographers I was delighted to host well known British Pro Photographer, columnist in Birdwatch and Outdoor Photography magazines Steve Young. You can read Steve’s testimonial along with my portfolio of leading professionals who I have hosted over the past few years.

For more information on my Otter Photography one-to-one itineraries visit these pages. For anyone interested in working on otters as part of a small group we are also launching an actual Otter Photography photo assignment/workshop ‘Focus on Otters – photography, ecology & field craft‘ in 2014, which is for just four photographers, which I am co-leading with Richard Shucksmith. We will split off to work with two guests and rotate over the workshop.

Steve Young’s April in Shetland itinerary

Posted by Brydon Thomason on Friday 1st November 2013 | News, Otters

Steve is one of the UK’s best known bird photographers and is a monthly columnist in both Birdwatch and Outdoor Photography magazines. Returning to photograph Shetland for the first time since the days of Snowy Owl on Fetlar and Black-browed Albatross on Hermaness, he reviews his one to one itinerary with me back in April…

19th April

Aye, it’s only a peerie breeze Stevie; we’ll stroll to Hermaness and see some Maalie and Soalan Gus“. It was dawn at the Shetland Nature Lodge, a howling gale raged outside with rain showers driving against the windows, and Brydon Thomason had just arrived for breakfast…speaking a foreign language…I staggered up Hermaness a couple of paces behind as the wind billowed around my face; the rain had relented, but had been replaced by snow and sleet showers…but then we reached the cliffs…and everything was forgotten at the scene that unfolded before me. Crashing waves, calling birds and Gannets (Soalan Gus) and Fulmars (Maalie) hung in the wind at point blank range for my camera. It was a fantastic morning’s photography and the weather actually made it even better than it would have been on a sunny day. (Peerie means small or tiny and the breeze wasn’t!)

After lunch I was promised Otters…and an hour or so later I was indeed photographing three of them, a mum and two cubs eating a Lumpsucker, so can’t really complain about the guide not delivering, but his late afternoon tea making wasn’t up to scratch although I think it was just a cunning plan to make sure I made the rest.

20th April

Off to Yell today and it wasn’t too long before we had even better views than yesterdays of Otters. A prolonged photographic session followed, that took up most of the day, of three individuals that stayed around the same area for a couple of hours; Black Guillemots also showed well in one of the harbours and the day ended back on Unst with great views of flocks of Long-tailed Ducks flying along the sea.

21st April

Time for a prolonged tour of Unst with the morning spent at a Bonxie colony that was yet to start actual breeding, but up to thirty birds present with a bit of display action and lots of flight photography opportunities. We found the first Whimbrel of the spring and I also managed a few pics of Rock Dove, Oystercatcher and a few more on the Long-tailed Ducks.

22nd April

There are some days when you have to accept that you just cannot take photos and today was one of them with driving rain and gales for most of the day. We spent it sorting through photos and generally messing around with Photoshop and re-charging after a hectic few days.

Late afternoon brightness saw us looking for early migrants, but failing to find anything more interesting than a Chiffchaff….

23rd April

Much brighter for my last day and off to a bay to photograph Turnstone and Purple Sandpiper; good photos of both and of Common Gull over stormy seas, but then an Otter ran out of the waves, started feeding on crabs and everything else was forgotten!

Last afternoon and heading towards the airport, but still time to stop at various sites and photo Eider, Black Guillemot and Guillemot.

My short visit was at an end, but I took home with me some fantastic memories of a truly memorable trip and I also had over five thousand images to sort through… April in Shetland, a great time to visit.


Steve Young

The Baltimore Oriole – Baltasound, Unst, Shetland Islands – 19/09/13

Posted by Brydon Thomason on Friday 25th October 2013 | Birding in Shetland, Otters

Baltimore Oriole at Baltasound, Unst. Photo by Ian Cowgill.

As working days go it had already been good; an early start with photographer Simon Hawkins (who had booked a bespoke one-to-one itinerary with me) to work on the sun rising over Muness had not only rewarded us with beautiful light and clear blue skies but also a fine Arctic Warbler, (the second one I’d found in under two weeks!) which had found shelter along a coastal patch of nettles and iris.
As is often the case when leading such trips I split the day and do a dawn start, finish up and meet again to stay out into sunset, when making this decision for this day however, I could never have imagined what good fortune it would bring. Dropping Simon off at our accommodation, The Shetland Nature Lodge and inspired by the Arctic Warbler I was keen to check my local patch Halligarth (one of Shetland’s largest Sycamore stands), right next door to our house and so hurried home to do so after arranging to meet again at 14:00hrs.

A few minutes later my thoughts of scoring another BB rarity had given way to hunger for bacon butties and caffeine. Walking the over grown lane, (dominated by Rosa Rugosa, Fucia and Hawthorn) towards the main garden it felt almost as if I was on auto pilot and simply going through the motions of my daily circuit when ‘SHIZAM!!’ – a large passerine flew out from cover just a meter or two from in front of me. The bird was completely unfamiliar as it flew from me but did perhaps give the impression of large a shrike, quite rufous and long tailed. It landed about 40-50 feet from me on the outside lower edge of the Sycomore canopy and as it did, quick as a flash- my Swarovski 10 x 42’s revealed what has to be one of the most glaringly gorgeous and ‘trouser-tearingly tremendous’ rarities I have had the fortune to find and I heard myself saying the words “IT’S A ‘FLIPPING’ NORTHERN ORIOLE!!!” – (note that there is a word in that quote I may have swapped for publishing purposes!).

Perhaps over and above its stunning flame orange plumage, blazing white wing bars and blue-grey legs and bill it was its loud and explosive tirade of chattered alarm which was a sound I will never forget! The first two or three seconds viewing felt as if it wasn’t real but as the words I had just said registered into reality and I came out of that slow motion ‘this cannot be’ moment , I began to shake and yes- that’s right, adrenalin took over! Gazing at it perched for what was only around seven to ten seconds, I realised I was without camera or phone but managed to marginally compose myself enough to just watch it, my heart pounding like an Olympic sprinter though I daren’t move a muscle!

Without warning it hopped onto another branch and then worked its way into the cover of the canopy and that was it- totally thunderstruck, I said the words again but this time almost shouting them through adrenalin fuelled jaws- “It’s a BALTIMORE ORIOLE!!” As by now I was composed enough to think of which was which. I ran to the house to phone the news out with my heart pounding.
The distance from the scene to our drive way is a mere 50 yards or so, which needless to say I did in Usain Bolt style but by the time I reached the phone my composure had gone, it was almost a struggle to breathe! A few phone calls later and within ten minutes, Robbie Brookes and Mike Pennington had joined me, during which time I didn’t dare make a move. Bizarrely, we worked the gardens without even as much as a glimpse- two hours later the first of the Shetland birders started to arrive but the extended coverage yielded nothing- it seemed as if my ten second glimpse was it until Paul ‘Duracell’ Harvey relocated it about half a mile away where once again – it wasn’t letting up easily and only four other observers scored, one of which was Ian Cowgill, to whom I will be forever thankful for nailing theses shots – nice work Ian!

Surprisingly the Baltasound Baltimore story did not end there however as it reappeared four days later on the 23rd when at last, it was seen by most birders who could make it, it was however still extremely elusive.

This was the 24th record of this North American species for Britain and third for Shetland but first since 1974 (which also arrived on the same date) and one on 26th September 1890, which was the first record for Britain.

After collecting Simon to resume our Photography workshop one to one for the afternoon, we headed off to work on Otters and enjoyed a wonderful two hour encounter with a mother and her two cubs (photographed below). All in all a pretty fine day indeed!

Photo by Brydon Thomason.

A visit from Italy – early August bespoke photography itinerary…

Posted by Brydon Thomason on Monday 2nd September 2013 | News, Otters

Here’s a short piece accompanied with images from Italian photographer Mauro Mozzaerelli who had bespoke photo itinerary with me in early August. His images are a fine example of a one-to-one itinerary, which is becoming very popular for us. This year alone we have welcomed photographers from all over the world from as far as France, Switzerland, Germany, Canada, Italy, Slovakia and many others.

Mr. Brydon Thomason – the Otter whisperer

As a seasoned traveller and photographer, every time I start a new wildlife trip, I always try to keep my expectations low (as low as possible…). Well, no need to worry this time! The great knowledge and respect for the wildlife (very important for us) of Mr. Thomason made our trip to the Shetland Islands an unforgettable one.

We didn’t expect to be able to find so many Otters in daylight, and we had the privilege to spend many hours with them and enjoyed many encounters (it really is incredible!).

The windy early morning at the Hermaness Nature Reserve was something to remember with spectacular opportunities of Puffins, gannets and Great Skua.

Shetland is a very special place and, thanks to Mr.Thomason, we had a very special trip! Thanks again Mr. Thomason and thanks Shetland Nature!

Mauro Mozzarelli & Minnie Trenchi (Rivergaro – Italy)

• View more of Mauro’s images from his time with us at http://mmwildlife.zenfolio.com/

• Find out more about bespoke one-to-one photo assignments with Shetland Nature.