Thursday, 31 January 2013


Forget Springwatch and Winterwatch, this is Otterwatch from the Isle of Skye.

The past two days we have had strong winds from the south west whipping up the sea into a ferment.   I measured a gust of 63mph on the more exposed, westerly side of the croft.   I imagine most animals and birds would find a spot to hide.

Today was calmer and I therefore expected there would be wildlife about.   To my surprise and delight I saw a family of otters, a mother and two cubs, then watched them feeding for over 3 hours.   Only hunger and cold, wet clothing, brought me back indoors.

I guessed there was a family nearby from the heavy sprainting, and I first saw them in Loch Ainort at around 10am, around 1 hour after high tide.   They went east (see the helpful map, though maybe a little confusing if I am honest).   The cubs were about two thirds the length of the adult.  All the while they fished, the mother taking dives lasting between 25 and 45 seconds, the cubs were more interested in play and dives, if at all were shorter, lasting 10 to 25 seconds.   I could occasionally hear the sounds of the otters; the mother making a strangulated cough "huff" and the cubs, a doleful, thin "peep" The mother was extremely wary and alert.  Catches were eaten in the water, until a large fish was caught and the otters moved a little more purposely to rocks just beyond #1 croft to devour the catch.  .

After 10 minutes the mother and one cub re-emerged going back west again, past me, the slipway and the cliff, fishing all the time.  Then out on the rocks, back in the water back to the slipway, fishing in the deeper water above the kelp.   Several fish were caught.   Then back into Ainort and to the bay further west where the cub was left on the shore and the mother brought food to it. The catches here seemed to be squid because the water is quite shallow there.  Back in the water again and east to just beyond the eastern boundary of our croft.   Same again, the cub was left on the shore and the mother supplied it with fish.  Sometimes the cub swam amongst the seaweed close in.

This lasted for about 15 minutes and there was one memorable moment when I correctly predicted where they would both come out on the rocks, no more than 20 yards from me. I think the fish might be a gurnard, but I am in new territory to make an ID.

I left them to it.

I suppose I should also give a brief mention to the three great northern divers and the four mergansers.   But this was definitely an otter day, in fact one of the very best I have ever had.  I have never seen otters fishing for such a sustained period; building up their reserves after two difficult days.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

An Otter Day

I thought that these blogs might be occasional but this is the second in two days.

That's because today was an otter day.   About 11.15 we went to inspect the trail camera, walking about 60 yards along the shore and back to the gate to the shore.   There was quite a lot of otter spraint and some deposited overnight near the stream which enters the sea by a what we call a slipway but really is just a passage from which the bigger rocks have been cleared.   It was low tide.

It was then that we saw an otter emerging out of the sea with what was probably a fish which it ate within a few minutes then returned to fishing in amongst the kelp spending at least 30 to 40 seconds under water at each dive.   It then gave up, swimming purposely, nose upwards, head back, close to the rocks heading west round the cliff into Loch Ainort.   I followed its progress though the shore is quite tricky in places.  The otter resumed fishing, close in, caught one and then again came out on the rocks to eat,  with that look of complete satisfaction that otters have when they munch away.   It took off again but I lost sight of it in the 10 to 15 seconds that I focussed on a path along the rocks despite being no more than 50 yards away.   This is not the first time that I have seen an otter completely disappear.

Looking back over our notes we saw an otter almost on the same date 2 years ago.   I think this was a female based on its size and rather narrow face, and given the heavy sprainting  it might be breeding nearby.   Hope so!

Friday, 25 January 2013

By Way of Introduction

By Way of Introduction

We have a 4-acre shoreline croft in the small village of Ard Dorch, north of Broadford on the Isle of Skye.  The croft follows the coastline for around 300 metres or so,  at the point where two sea lochs, Loch Ainort and Loch na Cairidh meet,  We have spectacular views over over the islands of Scalpay and Raasay to the east and north respectively whilst the Red Cuillins are to the west.

We grow our own vegetables but most of the croft is either too small for sensible animal rearing or too low quality for any crops.   We therefore maintain it in a way that enhances its value to wildlife.   In the spring there are beautiful displays of bluebells in the open fields and in early summer 7 species of orchid and several hybrids bloom in their hundreds.   We have made a systematic study of these over the last 5 years focussing particularly on lesser and greater butterfly orchids.   

The real excitement though comes from occasional otter sightings.   There are at least 3 holts above the shore and we make regular finds of otter spraints even if no animals are seen.    We keep notes on what we have seen - I thought I would share these through a blog.   This is the first.

Anyway, at Christmas I got a new trail camera.   And it works!    I placed it near one of the otter holts over successive nights, and got pictures ..... of a fox.   (Sorry about the camera ad - too lazy to crop).   We now need to encourage it to face the camera.   The fox was there on 3 separate nights, and there was a brief view of an otter.   There are also recent otter spraints nearby.