The Exhilaration of Discovering Otters

I’m writing on my way to St Kilda to undertake sea cave surveys, but so far the expedition has been fraught with difficulty. Low pressure weather systems, one after another, have been making conditions too windy and the seas too rough.

Eventually after a week of surveying in Loch Laxford, on the north-west of mainland Scotland, a weather window opens and we make a dash for Kilda, only for the boat to suffer engine problems.

We turned round and headed to Uigg, on the north end of Skye to await an engineer. It is looking like St Kilda will elude us on this three week expedition.

Sitting in Uigg gives me time to collect my thoughts from the busy, sometimes punishing work schedule that these expeditions seem to create. My thoughts are always back in Shetland, with my wife Rachy and our new born child, Jack, and I miss them both dearly. By the time I will get back to Shetland, the busy seabird cliffs will have almost emptied, and otter cubs will start to appear along the shore.

I find autumn an exciting time of year, walking the shores and hearing the high pitched squeak of an otter cub, the finding of a “new” family, is always an exhilarating experience. In those first weeks of life the cubs are just a fluffy mass of brown fur, extremely buoyant, struggling to dive underwater.

Cuckoo wrasse, Shetland Isles.

The seas are at their warmest and large shoals of fish can be seen swimming over the kelp beds. Many of the fish species the otters like to feed on are at their highest abundance – a perfect time for the otters to have their cubs.

Autumn signals the start of the bird migration, the chance for a rarity or a first for Britain. Although I am no birder, it is always fascinating to see what turns up.

Sights such as large influxes of waxings, incredibly colourful, confiding birds, are a pleasure to see and fun to photograph.

Photos: Richard Shucksmith

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