Sunday, 26 December 2010

Looking Festive

  Like many parts of the UK, Unst looked very festive with a few inches of snow and also several snow showers during Christmas Day. After a very slow start to the morning (kids/Christmas stockings etc etc) we headed out for a walk up the old RAF access road at Watlee Loch. The air was as still as could be, sunshine and blue sky and the only sounds were that of several displaying Ravens over head and the very occasional distant car. After a couple of hours out, headed back home for lunch just as a big snow shower hit north Unst.

Looking north above Watlee

  After lunch, I headed off to a favourite place not far from the house to look for an otter. It was just something I wanted to do - see an otter on Christmas Day. By now it was fast approaching 2pm and the light was starting to go as I reached the point. 

  As I rounded the next headland I spotted an otter out on the edge of one of the salmon cages using it for a fishing platform. After each dive it would climb back up on to the rim and rest for a minute before diving back in................

  The last throws of sun were just catching the base of the salmon cage before the sun sank behind a low hill and it was still only 2.20pm ! I watched the otter fishing for a while when it then started making a bee-line for the rocks I was sitting amongst. It had caught a large Lumpsucker and had obviously thought it would be easier to eat on the rocks rather than the slippery plastic salmon cage frame. The wind was perfect and the animal came out of the water not far in front of me, unfortunately it was for most of the time, obscured by rocks; but I was unable to move to get a better position. Even though by now the light level was very low, I pushed up the ISO on the camera to 6400 to enable me to get a record shot - and not just because it was Christmas Day. As I've said before I like to get headshots of all the otters I see as the markings on the underside of their jaw are quite individual, so with time you can build up a record of indiviuals in any given area..........just for the record .........
6400 ISO, 1/200 sec @ F5.6. 500mm

  The otter spent at least 15 minutes devouring the fish before slipping back in to the water and wasn't seen again.

Looking north over Balta Sound to Hamar

  Boxing Day.

  As it was another nice morning, I took a visit to the same place as yesterday as if the forecast is right, a thaw is going to set in sometime in the next few days and I wanted to have one more go at getting an otter in the snow again. Leaving the car, I walked down to the beach and started to walk east. Almost immediately I spotted an otter fishing 100yds offshore. Between each dive, I made my way down to the shoreline and looked for some cover in the form of a large boulder or two. Suddenly the otter surfaced quite close and I wasn't in a very good position. As it came to the shore, it disappeared from view behind part of an old concrete jetty, this gave me the opportunity  to move slightly for more cover and also hopefully get some shots. Unfortunately, the wind had risen and shifted slightly and this was my downfall. Despite the otter not seeing me, it had obviously picked up my scent and was warily swimming off.........

  Giving it 5 minutes or so, I then carried on around the shoreline, but on reaching the corner where I'd head south for a short while, the wind hit me and was now quite strong rather than the gentle breeze which it was earlier. For this location and for looking for otters, this was not good. The shore ran roughly south, east and then south again which was ok for the wind direction but I was now walking directly in to the sun, not god for picture taking. Reaching the 3rd beach, I sat for a while and then headed back. Several Golden Plovers foraged amongst the seaweed and a Woodcock took off from amongst some rocks. Reaching the 'turning point' again, I heard the call of an otter. It was the mature cub which I'd seen with its mum in the snow the other day. Unfortunately, I was in the same situation as earlier and the wind carried my scent over to it and so I didn't see it again.


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