Watching wild Otters (Lutra Lutra) is a highlight of any wildlife holiday in Scotland. These beautiful mammals can be found anywhere along the coast of West Scotland and the Western Isles. Here on the Outer Hebridean Island of North Uist you have a good chance of seeing them. Below are our top 10 tips for increasing your chances of finding and watching Otters behaving naturally in the wild. Please take care not to disturb them.
1. Two pairs of eyes are always better than one.
Binoculars will also help to spot them swimming in the sea or moving amongst the rocks.
2. Wear dull clothes (brown, green and grey are a good alternative to camouflage clothes).
You need to blend in with landscape rather than standing out like a "sweet wrapper". Otters have incredibly good hearing so make sure the clothes you wear do not make a noise when you move.
3. Whilst out walking look for spraints
They are 2-7 cm long, tarry black when fresh and more grey when older. They have a distinctive smell and contain fish bones. Other signs of Otter activity include partially eaten fish and crabs.
4. Look for Otter tracks.
They have five toes although sometimes only 4 will show in a footprint.
5. Look for areas where there is a freshwater loch close to the shoreline.
Otters also need freshwater to drink and wash and they will leave the sea and shoreline to find freshwater.
6. Check the tide times.
When you have found areas where there are signs of Otter activity try looking for them two hours either side of a high tide as you may be more likely to see them.
7. Stay below the skyline.
If they see you and recognise a human shape they are likely to leave.
8. Stay downwind.
They have an acute sense of smell so it is best to avoid using perfumes and aftershave before going out.
9. Once you see them stay still.
Do not move towards them, let them come closer to you. If you do need to move then wait until they dive - you may only have up to 30 seconds while they are underwater.
10. Using the car as a hide can work very well.
In many places the road passes near to the coast and your passengers might spot them at any time. If you can park safely without obstructing the road, you can watch them from the car without disturbing them. The picture below was taken from the car after we spotted this Otter coming ashore with a spider crab.
By using these tips you have a great chance of seeing wild Otters here in North Uist and can observe them behaving naturally in the wild. The aim is for them to be unaware of your presence, so that you can enjoy your encounter for longer and the Otters won't be disturbed.
Happy Otter watching!