I wanted to visit Scotland to photograph Puffins and Otters. A friend suggested we visit the Isle of Mull, which is off the western coast of mainland Scotland. Sounded like a good idea. I booked a train from London to Glasgow, about a 4.5 hour trip. Picked up a car and drove to Oban, Scotland (a 2.5 hour drive on narrow roads) and then drove onto a car ferry to land 45 minutes later on the island. The trip was so worth it! The island is breathtaking with rugged shorelines, steep mountains and vast pastures with grazing sheep.
My guide Ewan of Nature Scotland proved to be a master at finding wildlife around the island. Young white tail eagles, red deer grazing on the highlands, otters swimming along the lochs and Puffins on shore raising their young.
My Puffin shoot required a boat trip out to an uninhabited island about an hour away. Once on shore, we navigated the rocky shore and seaweed then hiked up to the cliff top. Hundreds of Puffins walking about guarding their under ground nests. The recent hatchlings, called Pufflings, do not surface until the parents leave the nest to return to sea.
I laid on the ground and pointed my 500mm lens at several birds near by. Too close! The tiny birds were unafraid and I felt they would totter over to me and peck at the lens. I switched to a smaller lens to capture the scene. I was intrigued by how Puffins fly back to their young. They Fly out to sea in search of small fish to feed the young. As they near land, the Puffin tilts upright and lands just short of the burrow hole. I spent several hours trying to capture this. Finally, got the hang of it and captured a returning parent.
My otter excursion was the exact opposite of Puffins. Otters are extremely skittish and any sound or motion will send them swimming away. To make it even more difficult, they tend to feed for fish alone or in very small family groups.
We traveled to a remote loch where Ewan had seen several otters the day before. Traveling along a single lane track we scanned the water for otters. In the early morning, you are just looking for the head moving through the water. Ewan brought along a colleague, Jack, to help scout. We got lucky early as Jack, I dubbed the Otter Spotter, saw a lone Otter swimming near the shore.
Jack and I hopped out of the van and ran down the road. Before we started down to the shore line Jack explained how to get close enough to photograph otters. Step one - wait for the otter to drive underwater. Step two - Run as fast as you can over slippery stones and greasy seaweed. Step three - after about 25 seconds, drive to the ground getting as flat as you can to the ground. Step four - don’t move until the otter dives again. Step five - repeat 4 more times to get close enough to take a shot. I did this with about six pounds of camera gear hanging around my neck. The footing was so slippery that Jack and I were holding hands trying to prevent falling. Mission accomplished! I have several nice shots. At one point, the otter headed toward shore. Jack said he could smell us. He was afraid the otter would move away. Instead he climbed up on shore and I got to see how large these Eurasian otters are.
There is much more to photograph on the island: waterfalls, beautiful sandy beaches, lush green pastures, castles, and abandon boats. I spent several days trying to capture the beauty of this fabulous place. Sadly after seven days it was time to leave.
Enjoy the photos.