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.


  1. Saw your otter family down our end of Ard Dorch this afternoon (15/3/2013).

    1. Picked them up on the 15th also - in the morning at 10.15. Fished above the kelp for around 25 minutes then swam over to the holt near #1. This looks like the breeding holt. 2 half-eaten rock salmon (lesser spotted dogfish) nearby. If that is the central point then the territory is around 2km which is about right.