Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Shopping for Otters 9th September 2019

This morning it was raining so it seemed appropriate to spend the time going into Brodick, the main town on Arran to do some shopping at the only large store on the island - the Co-op. Brodick is hardly large, consisting of a main street that runs right by a small bay with a variety of shops on one side of the street and a small promenade on the other.

I dropped Mrs U at the Co-op and with her permission drove to a nearby car park to scan some Pied Wagtails running around on the grass, in the hope of finding a White Wagtail amongst them. We agreed to rendezvous on the promenade in thirty minutes.

On making my way to the promenade I found Mrs U standing on the grass and looking at the sea just a few metres beyond. 

Brodick Bay and Goat Fell in the background
She informed me there were three Otters out there and in a minute, sure enough three brown heads surfaced.They were a mother and two fully grown cubs and were pleasingly close to the shore. Excellent - our first Otters on this visit and hopefully a foretaste of more to come although with Otters nothing can be taken for granted.

They were fishing constantly, diving and swimming about and seemed perfectly content where they were in one area of the shallow sea. Regularly they would surface with a small butterfish and crunch it up on the surface with some gusto, their body and tail floating in the water and their head held at an angle proud of the sea as they consumed the unfortunate fish.Then it was back to more diving in a search for yet another fish and from what I could see they were successful more often than not. Each fish they caught was consumed in the sea but a large crab caught by the mother Otter proved harder to cope with at sea and was brought to the shore to be dealt with. Unfortunately we could not see the Otter once she came in under the shelving rock. It would have been so very nice to see an Otter out of the water.

The three Otters always remained close to each other, diving in unison and often surfacing together and the two young Otters would swim each side of the mother, their heads so close they rubbed against hers.

I had, by a stroke of misfortune neglected to bring my camera, hardly expecting to see one, let alone three Otters fishing just the other side of Brodick's main thoroughfare. It was frustrating and I vowed to not make such a mistake again, but I know I will. Instead I concentrated on watching the Otters diving and fishing and enjoyed the simple pleasure of this privileged view of an animal that can be quite elusive and unpredictable in its appearances.

Inevitably our presence aroused the curiosity of others and soon about twenty people were looking at the Otters, most pointing a camera or phone towards them to record the moment. Just as inevitably some had to get closer and this resulted in the Otters retreating further out from the shore but still remaining very visible.

In half an hour the three Otters disappeared, possibly they had their holt in the rocks or nearby at the ferry terminal breakwater but we did not see them again and headed for our home for the week, a cottage at Catacol on the west side of the island.

I was developing a head cold and by early afternoon was sorely in need of tissues so drove from our cottage back to Brodick and the aforesaid Co-op. Having got the tissues I returned to the car, parked by the side of the promenade and gave the sea a casual glance. To my delight I saw an Otter swimming close in to the rocks on the shore. True to my word from this morning I had indeed put the camera in the car but never believed I would need it so soon. I grabbed the camera from the back of the car in seconds.

I walked down from the promenade and dropped a few feet over the wall onto the rocky shore below reasoning my profile would be less obvious to the Otter from there. 

The Otter was swimming just off the rocks
The Otter continued diving and surfacing, a couple of times bringing up a butterfish  which it crunched to death in its jaws, holding its head clear of the water and displaying a formidable set of teeth in the process of munching the fish.

I could see its adaptations to an  aquatic life; the tiny ears and nostrils which it can close underwater, small  eyes set high in a broad squat head and a moustache of plentiful white, bristly whiskers used to sense prey underwater. I followed as it slowly moved along, diving and surfacing close to the shore. It had by now caught a number of butterfish but the latest capture was no less than a small lobster which, like the crab this morning. needed to be dealt with  on land. Otters often bring larger prey to land possibly because it is easier to deal with it there due to the size and  awkwardness of their victim and giving less chance of escape.

The Otter swam straight towards me showing a distinctive pink nose. I crouched down not wishing to alarm it, knowing this might be my chance to get a photo of an Otter on land. It continued its course towards me but then, right at the water's edge, I lost sight of it underneath the shallow lip of the overhanging rock. I waited a minute knowing the Otter was there but with no further sign of it I moved right to the edge, ever so slowly, and peered along the line of the rock assuming it was concealed under the overhang but there was no sign of it. Where could it be? I walked one hesitant step after another, slowly creeping along the edge of the rocks until I came to the tiniest indentation in the rocky ledge, forming a seaweed covered inlet. I looked down into the inlet and an electric thrill ran through me as there was the Otter, no more  than a few feet away from me, its back to me, the thick brown fur of its body glistening in the sun, fully concentrating on eating the lobster it had caught.

The Otter having its lobster lunch
I stopped in my tracks, not daring to move but the Otter had not heard me and for maybe a minute we were feet apart, the closest I have ever been to a wild Otter, amazed and delighted in equal measure at this  memorable encounter right by a promenade along which people were passing. No one else stopped or even bothered to look.

It could not last of course. Otters have acute sight and hearing and the Otter soon sensed my presence and turned its head slightly in my direction. Still not absolutely sure it turned its head further and saw me.

It instantly slipped back into the water and was gone, resurfacing further out. I looked down to where it had been and all that was left of the lobster were some fragments of blue black shell and one long red feeler.

Truly another memorable encounter on this enchanting island.