Sometimes you can try too hard. My lovely boss let me have the day off (thanks!) and to make the most of every minute, and hoping to avoid other photographers, I was out at first light – first car in the car park. Nothing doing. Retracing my steps up and down the rivers, still nothing. I did find some other wildlife though.
At 8.30am a trio of photographers arrived, and then a few more followed. I could read their minds before they opened their mouths to speak – are they here, have you seen them? I set off in the opposite direction but a photographer hurried past – ‘if you’re interested the otters have been seen further down’. I hesitated, do I join the crowd, or stay here with nothing to photograph. I followed along, after all, there weren’t as many people as last time. Arriving on scene I see a tail slide into the river, and a head pops up. The two youngsters are hunting, one catches a large fish and takes it into the undergrowth to eat. The other photographers follow their progress up and down the river, but I hang back. I dislike this chasing them up and down, it doesn’t feel right photographing like this, so I turn away. This is incredibly frustrating.
Despite the chill in the air and frost on the ground, in the sun it actually feels quite spring-like. Siskins are feeding in the alders by the river, Marsh tit’s are singing, somewhere close by a Green Woodpecker laughs. I sit for a while next to the fast flowing river, it’s so peaceful here, you wouldn’t believe you were so close to a town.
I head home, and return later in the afternoon. Walking slowly along to where I last saw them, but there’s nothing around. I retrace my steps for the umpteenth time. Again I meet another photographer who informs me there’s an otter heading this way. Again I hesitate, but I follow anyway walking back the way I came, this might be my last day off for some time, I have to make the most of it. They set up, and I move away and find my own spot. There’s a Kingfisher on the far side of the bank, a shining blue jewel of a bird. I watch him for a while, but suddenly the water swirls in front of me, could it be? A few bubbles pop up, then a broad whiskered head appears by the bank before disappearing again, rolling away. This time there’s no splashing, this is one of the adults, she moves from land to water with fluid ease, silently hunting. She bobs up again and glances at me, and there it is, that amazing moment, just the otter and me.
She moves off back the way she came, and some friendly locals encourage me over and point her out. Everyone I spoke to today were so enthusiastic about these creatures, they are so proud to have them here, and lots of people were keen to share what they knew, where they’d seen them before and describe their amazing encounters. The other photographers invited me closer, and I gratefully accepted. This is much more civilised than at the weekend, everyone keeping their distance, waiting for the otter to come to them. I set up hoping she would come up the bank for some photos with a reasonably clean background. Instead she headed straight for me, too fast for me to track her, and too close to focus. She peered curiously at me, ‘hunfff’ she snuffled. My research suggests this means ‘I smell you’ – I know you’re there. I imitate and she looks at me, we repeat and she’s now just a couple of feet away. I just can’t believe it, an absolutely incredible experience. I haven’t got any decent photos, but right now it doesn’t matter. I’m sure I’ll be back to try again.
A big thank you to the lovely friendly photographers I met today, thank you for not only your help, but for restoring my faith in human-kind!
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