Otter and Kingfisher Workshop

I've been following the otters and kingfishers on the River Stour in Dorset for nearly ten years now. I've seen the otters fighting, playing, catching fish and trying to survive floods. It's been a roller-coaster relationship with many highs and a few lows. I've decided it's now time I use my experience to offer a workshop that gives participants a high chance of seeing one of our most elusive mammals in daylight and relatively close up. The bonus of being on this part of the Stour is there are a number of kingfishers and other bird species including water rail, goldcrest, treecreeper, egrets and the occasional overhead red kite just to mix it up a bit. I've included some images of the otters I've photographed over the last couple of years below to give you a better idea of the photographic opportunities available:

Itinerary and location

This is a one day workshop designed around the needs of participants of all skill levels who want to see and photograph wild otters and the other species of wildlife in and around this stretch of the River Stour near Blandford in Dorset. I've purposefully made this a very flexible workshop in that it allows for someone at the early stages of their photographic journey to gain lots of experience through the use of personalised tuition right through to guiding the more seasoned photographer to the areas most frequently used by the wildlife. Group numbers on this workshop are kept to six maximum. This allows for plenty of individual 1:1 and and group time with me and gives us a chance discuss the exposure triangle, fieldcraft and looking at your camera settings to ensure they are maximised for your day.

Starting times are flexible depending on the time of year. The light tends to fall on the river about half an hour after sunrise so we tend to meet around sunrise as the morning can often be a better time to see the otters. The day is a mix of theory and practical with an emphasis on getting those of you not used to manual mode to become more adept at using it. The river has a well defined path running along the length of the area we will be using with a good portion of it mobility scooter accessible. There are plenty of benches to sit on should you have mobility problems. It's more or less flat but can become muddy in places, I therefore recommend you wear wellies or hiking boots. The car park is known as the Stour Meadows car park. It's less than five minutes from the river and is free to use for the day. I've added a link to give you better directions. Please be aware access is over some fairly significant speed humps and a height restriction barrier. If you are intending using anything higher than say a Range Rover (think Transit van) or have roof bars you may need to park the other side of the barrier and walk through. There's plenty of road parking which is still free and only adds another minute or two to your walk to the river:

 

 https://www.dorsetforyou.gov.uk/article/421279/Stour-Meadows-free-car-park-Blandford-Dorset

The day will be flexible as there is very little shelter if we have prolonged rain or high temperatures (as if). Blandford town is only a short distance away and has a range of shops, cafes and restaurants - many of them with takeaway facilities. If you need a break please let me know and I'll make sure we stay in telephone contact should we get sudden activity on the river. I personally pack a flask and bring something to eat as I stay on the riverbank during my visits. When we finish will be down to how the day has progressed regarding sightings, weather and of course how much light is available to us. It's entirely possible to stay from early morning to early evening in the summer months which I'm happy to do if the conditions are right. During the day I'll be focusing on your individual tuition needs and looking at how your camera is set up. We'll also discuss some techniques to give you the best chance of photographing otters, kingfishers and wildlife in general. 

What to bring

If you are travelling by car then why not pack as much as you think you might need plus a bit more? It can always sit in the boot if you don't need it. The car park is really close to the river so it's a matter of minutes to go back and grab something if it's required. My boot is basically stuffed with a variety of outdoor gear for most weather conditions including wellies and gaiters for my hiking boots. Early spring can be a chilly time still so a couple of extra layers would be useful. Spare bottles of water and something to eat might mean you don't have to go across to Blandford and get the dreaded call that the otters have just come out...

The river is less than 30 feet wide in places and considerably wider in others. Depending on how much rainfall we've had prior to the workshop the Stour can be running at very shallow levels or be near bank height - although this is rare. Otters with young will take them to the least exhausting part of river if it's running high and kingfishers won't be happy about fishing in a fast flowing, turbulent current. This may well have an overall effect on what we see and how far away it is during the day but like anything outdoors we have to work with what we are given. With this in mind I ask you to bring a range of lenses if you own more than one and a second camera or body if you have it. I tend to use my 100-400mm with a 1.4 extender on it but have captured perfectly good images with a 70-200mm. A medium range telephoto will always be more practical than a fixed zoom as the otters have a tendency to come over to our side of the river and end up only a few feet away (you actually can have such a thing as too long a lens on). DSLR, compact or bridge cameras are all viable but clearly a small compact with a short focal length is going to be a bigger ask getting bigger images than say a mid-range bridge with a good zoom. I have a Sony RX10 mkiii that I can rent to you but please ask for this early on in the booking process as it is popular. 

A tripod can be useful if we are static for some time as it allows you to rest the camera and have it set up on a certain part of the river. It also helps you shoot at lower shutter speeds - although too low and your subject is going to be just a big blur but we'll discuss this on the day. If you have a lens hood please bring it. They offer some lens protection from the elements and increase the chances of a more accurate exposure. I also have a lens coat I can throw over the lens and camera which lets me continue to shoot in all but torrential rain - I have used a plastic bag before now to great effect so you might want to throw one in your pocket. There is no need to dress up in full camo gear unless DPM clothing is all you own. The otters are relatively used to humans being along the riverbank as it's also used by cyclists, ramblers and dog walkers. Muted colours with some rain and wind proofing is more than adequate for this workshop. 

Please refer to my workshop terms and conditions on this site prior to booking as they form the basis of our contract together. 

Cost

This is a specialist workshop designed to give participants the maximum opportunity to see and photograph daylight otters and kingfishers. The cost for the day is £140 and there will be no more than six participants at each workshop. This gives everyone the chance for plenty of time with me and limits the impact on the riverbank that larger groups can bring with them.