#30DaysWild – Day 17 Finding an Otter

Shetland is one of the best place in the UK to photograph otter. The population of Eurasian otters here in Shetland is approximately 12% of the UK total and is one of the most dense populations in Europe. This has been recognised by the Scottish Executive, which has designated areas of Shetland as SAC’s (Special Area of Conservation) specific for otters. The Shetland’s otters numbers are due Shetland’s pristine marine and terrestrial habitat which provides abundant prey species and undisturbed coastal areas. Their holts can be along coastlines, deep within the rocks or along the edge of the coast in the peaty soil.

The untouched and complex coastline provides perfect habitat for these elusive mammals, but makes them difficult to locate. It may well be the a wonderful place to see and photograph otter, but don’t expect it to be easy… as with photographing any wild mammal, a combination of fieldcraft, local knowledge and a good smattering of luck is needed.

Today, I spent some time with Richard Shucksmith, surveying a new stretch of coastline to him. If you are to photograph otters on a certain stretch of coastline, you need to familiarise yourself with the landscape, where the otters may have a holt and where they may visit regularly. A sprainting point can help determine the movements of otters. The otters mark certain points with spraint and these are markers to other otters in the area.

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It was a windy day and Richard and I moved methodically along the coastline, looking for evidence. Ensuring the wind was always blowing into our faces, we knew that if we did see at otter, our scent would not be carried to it.

Otters also need a good source of fresh water, both for drinking, but also to bathe in. It is essential that their coats are kept in tip top condition and the salt needs to be regularly cleaned from their fur. Over the last 3 weeks or so, there has been hardly any rain. This had impacted on the otter movements as many have had to move from normal haunts in order to find fresh water.

This would have been a pool regularly used by otters, but it was completely dried out …

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It is fantastic to spend time with such an experienced ecologist and otter enthusiast! You can learn more in a couple of days with someone like Richard than you can ever from reading books about the subject… although if you are an otter fan, I thoroughly recommend his book about the Shetland Otters…Front-and-back-cover

I am hoping to return and spend a week with Richard in October….

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