I could not resist the continuing fine weather for kayaking in the west of Scotland so set off armed with tent and provisions for several days of wild camping, but first I had to do battle with the roadworks on the M6.
My number one wildlife aim was to get a decent photograph of an otter. Most in southwest England are active in poor light at either end of the day and so difficult to photograph , whereas in Scotland I have seen them along the coast in full sunshine.
After two days of paddling I had glimpsed a single otter surface once and then disappear, and had a marginally longer view of a couple of Mink.
Back amongst the islands of Arisaig I had given up hope of meeting up with an Otter because it was midday, sunny and hot, and there were loads of seals around. Then I saw this: (this is a video)
Otters can look like a small seal at a distance but the tail whipping up when it dives can mean it’s nothing else!
When it came up I could hardly believe my luck…it had caught an enormous crab and I knew it would be heading to the nearest rock to consume it.
I sneaked after it as quietly as I could and sure enough it hopped out on a rock, had a good shake, and prepared the crab for demolition, but the crab had other plans and kept trying to scuttle off:
It then stared hard at me because I was at the absolute limit of frightening it, about twenty yards. Otters have pretty poor eyesight and fortunately the light wind was in my face. If it was blowing the other way the otter would still be on the way to the Isle of Skye as fast as it could swim (I hadn’t showered for a day or two). It had winkled off the carapace of the crab in one piece and still had it in its mouth as it stared.
Luckily I was blown back out out of its worry range and it got stuck in to crunching the crab’s legs. It made more noise than Rick Stein tucking in to a lobster.
It really wolfed its way through its seafood lunch and made sure there was nothing left before exiting the scene with a perfect splashless racing dive.
Absolutely excellent. This was exactly what I had hoped to witness on my paddle trip to Scotland but hadn’t expected quite such a perfect show.
Incidentally, this is the same species of otter that is found all over the UK. It is often thought, quite understandably, that these are Sea Otters because around Scotland they do most of their hunting in the sea. Sea Otters are a quite distinct species that live in the Pacific off North America.
Compared to rivers and lakes the sea is absolutely bursting with all the otter’s favourite foods. It’s chock full of crabs, anenomes and butterfish, so it’s no wonder that’s where these European River Otters like to hunt. Looking for food in the sea must be like walking into a well-stocked delicatessen, whereas trying to find food in a river or lake is very more challenging and like trying to locate the buffet car on a train.
Unlike Sea Otters, European Otters need a source of fresh water nearby in which to clean up, and always take larger prey items on to solid ground to devour them.