I SPENT two weeks this summer watching and photographing otters, including a mother and cub on the Ardnamurchen peninsula in Scotland. I spotted the mother first, hunting off-shore in Loch Sunart. Otters normally catch butter fish and small crabs out at sea and only come to shore if they get something bigger.

I kept pace with her from the shore, re-setting my camera and tripod every 10 or 20 metres in hope that she would land a bigger catch on the rocks to eat it. But she kept on hunting out at sea.

Then she swam around a headland and I couldn’t follow her. Steep rocks and thick rhododendron bushes blocked my path. I pushed my way through head-high bracken, clambered over fallen trees and eventually came out at the sea. I waited and waited, but there was no sign of her, not even a ripple in the water.

Disappointed, I started heading back the way I came. Then I heard a high-pitched bird like whistle: this is the sound an otter cub makes. I headed back round to the headland where I had last seen the female otter and found her again. This time she was with her cub.

As they both slipped into the water, the cub was still calling. The female turned and they touched noses. Then they swam in a direct line to Canna Island, almost a kilometre away. I watched them until they were nearly ashore, but then lost sight of them in the ripples of water.

A few days later I was up at 5am when I heard the sound of an otter diving into the water, followed shortly by another one. I was all fingers and thumbs as I pulled my boots on and grabbed my camera, tripod, binoculars and camouflage clothing.

At the beach I scanned the lake through my binoculars and saw one of the otters disappearing round the headland.

Trying not to slip on the seaweed, I ran after the otters to a small tidal island where they were now curled up on a rock grooming one another.

Stealthily, I opened my tripod and mounted the camera on to it. But the female woke up and looked my way. I froze. Thankfully the wind was in my favour, blowing my scent away, and she closed her eyes again and dozed off.

I finished setting up and made myself comfortable on a nearby rock to wait for some movement. The otters were curled up together, the shapes of their bodies echoing one another as they lay intertwined.

Then the cub woke and began to suckle from the female. I was surprised at this because this cub was almost a year old and nearly the same size as its mother.

After 10 minutes of suckling, the female yawned and stretched, then slowly walked to the highest point of the rock, sniffed the seaweed and then propped up her tail to mark out her territory with a spraint.

She looked back at her cub and it promptly rose to follow her, mimicking her actions right down to the yawn and the spraint. One after the other they slipped effortlessly into the water and began fishing.

Cubs normally stay with their parents for more than a year as they learn how to survive in this harsh environment. I watched as the female caught a large fish, a blenny, and brought it ashore to eat on the rocks.

The cub tried to snatch it from her grasp. There was squawking and whistling followed by a scuffle in which the female dropped the blenny.

She angrily snapped at the cub, pushing it out of the way and then recaptured her meal from the seaweed, landed it and ate it before re-joining her cub at sea.

The wind changed and began blowing in their direction. Suddenly the female surfaced and swung her body round to face me.

I didn’t move, but she swam directly towards me, raising

her body half out of the water to stretch herself high and scent the air.

Soundlessly she turned away, her sinuous body slipping back into the water with barely a ripple. Her cub followed her. I wondered how the cub seemed to know it should follow her, since the mother had not called out to it.

The last I saw of the otters was a chain of bubbles as they melted away in true, elusive otter style.