Wow, where does the time go?! It is now nearly two months since we initiated and organised a ‘Sponsored Otter Search’ to raise money to support the International Otter Awareness day, on the 29th May, organised by the International Otter Survival Fund.
A combination of our busiest season to date and collecting and transferring sponsorship money has meant that we are only now posting news on this fun and exciting event back in May. We were amazed and genuinely delighted at the response and support we had with our Sponsored Otter search when between the three of us; myself, Gary Bell and Richard Shucksmith we saw 25 otters.
In total we raised £800 and would like to thank each and for their generosity in supporting us through donation/sponsorship.
This money we raised for ‘Otter Awareness Day’ is being used to repair and replace some of the facility on Skye where rehabilitated otter cubs are looked after and the larger moorland pens they are moved to when older and more independent as part of their journey to eventual release. They are in them for several months and can be very destructive! They have experienced the added problem recently of a wild otter trying to dig his way into the pens!
As well as this our annual ‘corporate sponsorship’ funds are channelled into the great education work the IOSF do (Paul and Grace go to schools, clubs, societies etc to give talks about otters to raise awareness).
They are also working at the moment on setting up a UK wide alliance to bring all the otter groups together under one umbrella so that we have a degree of national coordination with standardised surveying methods etc. Money raised from our standard adoptions (rather than corporate) tends to go straight towards the care of the otters at the sanctuary.
The family a few months ago snuggling down for a nap, just a few hundred yards from our artificial holt.
Over the past 18 months or so I have been extremely fortunate to study wild otters in Shetland from a perspective (to our knowledge), never successfully seen here before. By building an artificial holt, kitted out with a live video stream and working under my schedule 2 license, authorised by Scottish Natural Heritage (which I have worked under for several years), together with a fellow otter enthusiast, we have enjoyed many months of privileged insight into a previously unseen world of wild otters here in Shetland.
This truly has been the most exciting ‘otter project’ I have ever had the privilege to work on. My fascination for otters began as a child and has grown into my life’s passion; I am extremely fortunate to have built a career around them and work with them throughout the seasons. This unique project has offered us an insight into a world that we could only before imagine.
Much of what we know of otters and their daily routines can be learned with experience and on-going study and observations. It is known that otters’ holts can be used by more than one otter over any particular period and that they may have several holts within their ‘range’ which may be used intermittently. Through this innovative project we have seen this first hand.
Over the first year or so the holt was used occasionally by a dog otter when he would come in for a sleep or just a general ‘sniff around’ and less so by one of the nearby females. The real success and celebration for us however was when one of the resident females moved her two cubs in and has continued to use it as their ‘core holt’ since. Throughout this time we have not only enjoyed intimate insights into their family life but also we have watched first-hand the relationships between animals within a particular range and their use of, and occupancy of, holts.
It is very important to state that otters are protected by law under the wildlife and countryside act and such a project should not be considered without intimate knowledge of otters and contacting the appropriate authorities is paramount. Our understanding of otters and their shy and sensitive nature ensured that this project was done with stringent sympathy towards the otters at all times. For more details on otter protection click here.
Due to the sensitive nature of otters, their protection and the avoidance of disturbance to this project and ultimately otters in general, we do not name the location. The fact that it was used at all in the first year is testament to this necessary approach, especially over the past six months when being used by a mother and her cubs, allowing us to share this totally unique and privileged insight of Shetland’s Otters Underground…
Another fantastic season of Otter encounters and images. Again 2012 was an extremely busy season and is far from over at the time of writing! Even in the ‘shoulder seasons’ of late winter into early spring my 1-to-1 Otter photography itineraries continue to be popular. Of course the core season between May and August each year is in growing demand and has sold out over recent seasons but also now the off peak seasons are becoming more and more popular for photographers seeking to study, learn about and photograph these wonderful animals. This is of course little wonder, as I study Otters all year round and the winter is a fantastic time to study Otters behaviour as it is well known for them to condense their feeding activity into the available hours of day light.
Each year it is inspiring how many photographers come to photograph Otters but also how far they come. This year as well as from the UK I enjoyed the company of guests from all over including the USA, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium and France to name but a few. Adding to the growing number of top professionals seeking Otters in the isles this year I had Neil McIntyre out with me, who enjoyed some wonderful encounters and left with great images;
Otters have long since been a species have I wanted to photograph and although I have had a few brief encounters have never managed anything great. A couple of colleagues mentioned Brydon’s name to me and to get in touch with him about my forthcoming trip to Shetland. Once there I meet up for 2 of the days with Brydon. The first day we did not have a lot of luck, however we thoroughly enjoyed the day and learnt so much by listening and watching Brydon. On the second day I think we saw in the region of 8-10 otters, with one particularly fantastic encounter with a mother and 2 cubs. I have to say Brydon’s local knowledge and enthusiasm is wonderful and anyone going to Shetland would be wise to get in touch with him, not only for otters but for all of Shetlands wildlife. Since my trip to Shetland I have since had a few of my own otter encounters on other locations and the experience of being out with Brydon helped enormously. Neil McIntyre
Here is a further selection of some of this years guest images (and a couple of my own), accompanied with a few words of their time with Otters. If you are interested in joining me in 2013 it is strongly advised to get in touch soon, there are few dates left available, as usual June and July are long full with March, April and May similarly so, the diary is fast filling in, availability is limited but i will do what I can…
Hi Brydon – here are a few from that magical day when you took us to this otter family. I’ll never forget the experience and also the hard work you put in to give us the photo opportunity – many thanks. I hope to return some day for another visit to Shetland and more otters. Once again, thanks for all your hard work. Neil MacGregor
Thank you for a great day that has left an indelible mark on my wildlife memories. I found your experience and knowledge of otters exeptionally helpful. Your passion and energy for the day offset and motivated what was an energetic walk, until the magical moment we sat down and watched an otter family appearing out of the surf, photographing them until they once again returned to the sea. I wish you every success that you rightly deserve in all your adventures and that many more photographers/guests will enjoy such memorable moments. Steve McLaren