Spend enough time on Eilean Sionnach and you’ll stand a good chance of catching a glimpse of some of our abundant sea-life, including the somewhat elusive otter!

If you see an otter on land, you might at first be excused for thinking it’s a large cat or even a fox. We do wonder if that’s where the name Eilean Sionnach (Island of the Fox) actually comes from? As 2022 is Visit Scotland’s Year of Stories, we’d really love to hear your thoughts and stories about how the two might intertwine…

Talking of storytelling, it’s not very well known that the acclaimed naturalist and author Gavin Maxwell owned and spent time on Eilean Sionnach during the 1960s, as well as his homes at Eilean Ban (Kyle) and Sandaig Bay (Camusfearna in the book and film Ring of Bright Water).  Sandaig Bay is across the water from Eilean Sionnach and so it does leave us wondering whether today’s resident population could in some way be related to Maxwell’s beloved Mijibil?

Living on and around Eilean Sionnach and our larger neighbour Ornsay at the moment, we have a mother who reared a litter of three kits last year. They’re now around one year old, which is when otters begin to venture out on their own. So there are likely to be several young otters living close to the island – increasing your chances of a sighting!  

There’s also a large male or dog otter who has been resident here for years and is most likely the father of last year’s kits. He’s a handsome chap and he spends a lot of his time to the south of the island on the shores of Camuscross but sometimes he comes into the bay to the north (right in front of the cottage) to fish.

 

Our resident seals have a little colony just to the north a little of Ornsay island (the bigger one) across the water on the Duisdale shore. You may be lucky enough to see them in the water as you travel over to Eilean Sionnach, particularly if you make the journey at low tide, meaning that Skipper Gus will bring you around the point of Ornsay, rather than the shorter trip through the tidal flats of The Dornies.

The best times to look for otters are when the tide is half-way and also at dawn or dusk.  It can be hard to tell whether you’re looking at an otter or a seal in the water.  Seals have larger, flatter heads. Often you will just see the head of the seal as he bobs up for air and has a look around.  If the sun is shining, the first thing that catches your eye is the sunlight glinting off the top of his head, shiny and wet.

The otter on the other hand, leaps out of the water slightly when it dives down. The last thing you catch sight of is his distinctive long thin tail, that looks like a spike sticking up out of the water. If he catches a fish or brings up a sea urchin he will return to the surface to eat it, often lying on his back in the water during or after feeding.

Keep your cameras and binoculars handy at all times and don’t be shy in shouting out to Gus if you spot a head in the water! Gus is a huge fan of our local sea-life and will try his best to help you experience it in a close but unintrusive way, if the opportunity arises.

You can also keep up-to-date with sightings and news of all our local wildlife by following us on Facebook or Instagram and if you spot wildlife whilst staying on the island, please do tag us @eilean_sionnach in your social posts. Visit out Facebook page for recent footage of the dog otter eating his breakfast right in front of the cottage! 

Adventure awaits…