I am sitting on a bank of the river Tamar beginning my waiting game of wildlife photography. When I say I am sitting I'm actually wedged in between two trees. One behind me for me to rest against and to break up my human shape and I am sat astride the other one. It's not a very comfortable position as my “wedding tackle” is being squashed and if I had to speak it would be in a rather high tone. The trouble is that I have to adopt this position because the bank is very steep, and I am unable to sit on it without slipping into the water, also the water level is very high covering all the flat areas. The scary thing is that there is debris about a metre above me where the water level has been and I am sitting about a metre above the water already! I've tried to make it as comfortable as possible with a cushion underneath me but it has not worked as the “area” is going numb. The cushion is a blow-up type and it has flattened under me and blown up at the sides. (Note to self I must lose weight). Never mind I will put up with it as usual to get any good wildlife photos. I said I am waiting and I will pinch a phrase from that great landscape and travel photographer, David Noton www.davidnoton.com., I am waiting for the light. This is great for landscape photography but there is more to wait for in wildlife photography. So I am not only waiting for the light but I am also waiting for the subject or subjects to appear.
For weeks now, sometime during most weekends, I have been walking along the banks of the river Tamar carrying out recognisance for signs of otters. I have sourced information from the Internet and spoken to quite a few people who live in the area and most have a story to tell me about the time they saw a couple of otters playing in the river but all appeared to relate to a viewing that happened months or years ago. I then got a report of a sighting of two otters seen a couple of weeks ago which got me really excited. I examined the area they were seen in and a lot of it was on private land. There is a footpath where you can view the area but if I wanted more than a photo of dot, I would have to get closer which would mean that I would have to get the relevant permission from the land owner. After visiting a few farms I located the owner and got the permission I wanted. In return for this permission I will give the owner some photos if and when I get any. If this is the price to pay to keep the land owner happy then so be it as it saves a lot of problems with the farmers, gamekeepers and police.
I was going to wait until mid-February and better weather, hopefully, before I started this vigil of waiting but due to the stresses and strains of my job this week, I needed a chill day and after looking at the weather forecast I decided to grab my camera and go. I can really chill out and relax when I am out in the field with my camera and waiting for wildlife to appear. As long as I see wildlife then I am happy, if I get photos of the wildlife then that's the icing on the cake. I arrived at the river at 7am, it was pitch black and thick with fog! I always arrive early and in the dark so I can get set up and try not to disturb the wildlife and to give the wildlife, I do disturb, time to settle down before the good light appears. The fog was not expected, don't you just love weather forecasts, but I was hoping, keeping my fingers crossed, it would lift as the sun rose. I made my way along the edge of the river and located a spot that I had noted by looking at Google Earth. It was supposed to have a bit of a sandy bank to my left but due to the recent amount of rain the river had risen and was flowing over this bank. Therefore I had to change my plans but I am used to this. So instead of sitting on a nice sandy bank I am sat astride a tree trunk going numb!
Whilst waiting I noticed that the river was flowing very fast and on several occasions, due to the low light level, I thought I saw an otter but it turned out to be an otter shaped object. It's funny but in the low light, and due to my excitement of the situation, everything I saw was otter shaped including tree roots and rocks on either side of the river and branches, bags and other rubbish floating in the river. Then about 8am I saw something going against the flow of the river. Even though the fog had only risen slightly I kept my eye on it. It crept out of the water onto a fallen tree trunk, ran along the trunk and stood on its roots surveying the area. It then jumped back into the water and swam down river passing by within 7 metres of me. I wanted a photo to prove to my wife that I'd seen one so I set my camera ISO to 6400 but still could only achieve 100th second at f4 as it was still reasonably dark. I still took 5 images as it swam past, not brilliant but you can tell it's an otter. After it passed I waited for the otter to come back until midday but it never returned whilst I was there. One of the reasons I only stayed till midday was because the already dull day started deteriorating and rain began to fall. Whilst waiting I saw 7 dippers and 2 kingfishers fly past within a few metres of me. Two dippers stopped on my side of the river, picked up a couple of things to eat and then flew off. I also had a Jay land in the tree I was sitting on but as I slowly raised my lens, to take a photo, it flew off. Jays are beautiful birds but they really are nervous. Having said that, if humans kept trying to shoot me, then I would be nervous of them as well.
As stated one reason for leaving at midday was the level of light and the other was the numbness that started just below my waist was, by midday, reaching my toes so I climbed off the trunk and after packing up my camera equipment I waddled off, in true John Wayne, missing his horse fashion, in the direction of my car. I was really chuffed with seeing the otter as it proved 100% that otters were in the area and I will be back hopefully finding a more comfortable place to sit next time.