Overnight the bright weather had given way to cloudy overcast conditions, which looked set to stay for the day. Andy had been in contact with a local wildlife enthusiast who I have admired for years (mainly with a hint of envy at the subject material he photographs on Shetland) John Moncrieff, or "Crieffy" as he prefers.
Last time I was on Shetland, I was with Ian Cook who went the extra mile, most days, to find otters on any lochs that looked suitable and with his hawk-like eyesight, we were very successful. This time though, it would be Crieffy showing us some locations for these elusive creatures, and after meeting and greeting, we followed him to an area where he had seen several otters the day before.
Scanning the water and the rocky shores of the lochs revealed nothing initially, so we took a stroll along the water's edge. And just before lunchtime we were all crouched down hiding our forms, watching a pair of otters fishing nearby. Much like on Mull, they only seemed to need to dive down once to catch something to eat. The waters must be rich with life here.
As we headed back towards where we had parked, we spotted another otter, and again, Crieffy was on hand to suggest the best place to wait for it near the shore. The otter soon caught something a bit too slippery to deal with on the water, and brought it ashore.
With no need to hurry back, we drove slowly around the area and Andy clocked another otter fishing out in the middle of one of the lochs. Gear grabbed, we headed down to the shore to watch, with Andy and Kate choosing to nestle amongst the shoreline boulders to wait, leaving me crouched on the headland, watching from above.
After a good while, the otter finally started to head in, but not with a catch. It was making a beeline to a small harbour, and as it dived each time, I scampered along the headland to follow it, playing statues just before I guessed it would surface. It's always a bit of a guessing game, but it worked here, and I was rewarded with fabulous views as the otter hauled itself out of the water, just within the confines of the harbour wall, and on to a large seaweed-covered rock.
My problem was getting a clear view though, as the wall was a smidge too high to see over, and way too loose to attempt to climb upon. Tip-toes and careful balancing of the lens, with a rather uncomfortable resting position on the end of the wall allowed me to just get the view I needed.
It was midsummer's day, or "Simmer Dim" as it is known in Shetland, and we were booked (thanks to Paula) on the trip to Mousa that evening, to witness the storm petrels at the broch on the island. This is an ancient Iron Age round stone tower, that the petrels have turned into a multi-storey nesting block, and becomes a hive of activity as soon as darkness falls. Problem was, given the location and the day, darkness would be in short supply that evening!
Even so, we set sail, with Paula eventually agreeing to come along too - she hates sailing, especially when the water is a bit choppy. Mousa was as I remembered, awash with calls of the seabirds, but somewhat boggier than last time, given the recent rains. As before, we weren't allowed to take flashguns along, so the trip would for the majority of us, be for viewing only. Kate, however, was armed with a night-vision scope from Bushnell, and as the night eventually drew in, made great use of it by videoing one of the petrels within the wall!
Despite it being midsummer, it was pretty chilly as we stood around watching the shadowy birds flutter in and out, somewhat resembling bats, and while the others remained at the broch for the last boat back, Paula and I strolled back to the quay. Wanting to get the crossing back to the mainland over and done with, she took the earlier boat, while I chose to stay on the quay alone, to wait for the last boat. To be honest, I wanted to savour the sights, sounds and scent of being on Mousa, and it was so tranquil being sat there in the dark, listening to the waves, the distant calls of restless birds and the splashes of a nearby seal doing a bit of night fishing.
The boat returned, and promptly took us all back to join Paula again, before we zipped back the house for a few hours sleep.
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