Having the privilege of working at such a beautiful setting as RSPB Mull of Galloway, surrounded by a diverse mix of wildlife set amongst wonderful seascapes, rugged cliffs and the rolling fields of the south Rhinns of Dumfries and Galloway I often count myself very lucky indeed. Frequently I arrive at work early, before the footfall of the general public begins its pitter-patter around the reserve. On many of these early mornings I have been treated to unexpected delights that make you stop in your tracks, jaw open, eyes wide and your mind going WOW! To list a few highlights I have stumbled upon a roe deer suckling two fawns, a fox slowly sniffing its way through the heather, common lizards no more than two inches long sunning themselves on the boardwalk and a field vole, totally oblivious to my presence, lazily munching on grass right in the middle of a footpath only a foot from where I stood.

In the five years I have worked at RSPB Mull of Galloway I have only twice seen the briefest of glimpses of an otter, so imagine my delight when one morning earlier this week I walked down to the foghorn to begin a survey of the seabirds nesting on our cliffs and as I peered over the edge saw an otter swimming towards me with a meal in its jaws! WOW indeed, but only for the briefest of seconds.

For it was then I realised the meal it had in its jaw was a guillemot and I instantly went from an emotional high to a low and back to somewhere in between, not fully knowing how to feel. Here I was, torn between the joys of seeing a wild otter swimming in the sea and catching a meal and the sadness for the guillemot and the thought that if it was one of a breeding pair then it had a partner somewhere waiting in vain for it to return.

It is hard to work at a seabird colony and not feel emotionally connected to the seabirds and I have to ask myself if I would have felt the same emotional wringer at seeing the guillemot catch a fish, or one of our wheatear carry off a caterpillar to feed its young knowing that is possibly one less butterfly I could see this year? I admit not. Nature can be deeply rewarding and immensely cruel all at the same time. Otters predating seabirds is rarely recorded but they are very opportunistic creatures. Speaking to local fisherman the mackerel have not been around in the numbers yet they would normally be in. If this is the case for other fish the otter may normally feed on then this may have driven the otter to look at alternative prey or it may just have seen an opportunity and grabbed it. Otters are still recovering in their numbers from years of persecution and I do consider myself lucky to have witnessed this beautiful creature but left with an emptiness for the fate of the guillemot, a mix of feelings I’m sure many other wildlife watchers will have experience at one time or another.

Rob Conn _The highs and lows of a nature enthusiast.

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