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Autumnwatch: Ask Charlie Hamilton James a question

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Jeremy Torrance web producer Jeremy Torrance web producer | 14:10 UK time, Monday, 4 October 2010

Everyone who watched Charlie Hamilton James in the recent BBC One series Halcyon River Diaries will be well aware of his passion for kingfishers. But another animal who captivates him in equal measure is the otter. Which is why for this year's Autumnwatch, we've challenged Charlie to track down otter cubs in the Shetland Islands.

And here's your chance to ask him a question. Is there anything you've always wanted to know about otters? Have you had a wonderful otter experience you'd like to share? Or are you fascinated by Charlie's other favourites - kingfishers - and dying to know something about these beautiful birds?

Whatever you'd like to know, here's the place to say. Charlie will be answering the best of your questions on Thursday night's Unpsrung.



Charlie spends a lot of his time in hides like this

Born in the late summer, the otter cubs Charlie is tracking down venture from their holt for the very first time at this time of year. Under close supervision by mum of course. Charlie will have to use his years of experience filming these elusive creatures to reveal these intimate moments in their lives.

He's been captivated by otters and obsessed with kingfishers for many, many years. As any good photographer knows, the key to great shots is knowing your subject. And few know their subjects as well as Charlie.

Showing his wild subjects in their natural environments, he believes, conveys their true characters. He has spent recent years working closely with his wildlife neighbours to produce fantastic nature documentaries about his obsession, most notably Halcyon River Diaries.

As a wildlife cameraman he has worked on many of the BBC's best loved nature series: Planet Earth, Big Cat Diary, Life Of Mammals and Springwatch.

Was Charlie successful in his challenge? Watch Autumnwatch this Thursday to find out, and if you're interested in how he films otters read his blog post.

Check out the behind the scenes photostory for a sneak peak at Charlie's search, or for more on how the remote team have coped on their small island this past week check out production coordinator Ellie Williams' recent update.


  • Comment number 1.

    On Halcyon River Diaries there was footage of a 'scientific break-through' - Charlie got footage of an Otter sniffing/smelling a fish under water in total darkness.

    So my question is what became of the footage? Did it go on to help researchers etc in then? :-)

  • Comment number 2.

    *in the end?

  • Comment number 3.

    I'd like to ask Charlie how on earth he stays sane stuck in his hide for hours on end when the wildlife fails to put in an appearance? Does he play Nintendo or listen to his iPod?

  • Comment number 4.

    P.S. If Charlie bumps into Simon King up in the Shetlands whilst tracking down those otters will there be someone around to film the resulting encounter? It'll be like those rutting stags: will the experienced male retain his dominant position or will the young buck usurp his place? How exciting...

  • Comment number 5.

    in the feild kingfishers and otters sound similar and i know that it will probably be an otter at night, so is there any main signs of otter like droppings or somthing because i would love to investigae my local river patch

  • Comment number 6.

    last winter our kingfishers here in the ouse valley in cambs and beds had a torrid time resulting in very few pairs subsequently setting up nesting teritories,my question charlie is please can you tell me how they have fared in other localities and if i might be so bold as to ask you one more question do you think cormorant predation on our rivers is having a knock on effect on our kingfishers ?

  • Comment number 7.

    I'm a pretty calm, difficult to impress, kind of person but became giddy with excitement when I spotted an otter hunting on the River Evenlode in Oxfordshire at 11:30 this morning. From the limited research I've done online since, it sounds like it was probably of average adult size, but I couldn't say if it was male or female. I'm still buzzing 11 hours later and could ask loads of questions but will try and keep them to a minimum. Am I likely to be able to spot this otter on the same stretch of river again? Is is possible that it's part of a family group? How unusual is it to spot an otter in this area? I'd better stop but any answers you can give would be great. Thank you!

  • Comment number 8.

    PS - not gloating but have also spotted kingfishers on the same stretch of river

  • Comment number 9.

    I have a question about otters for Charlie. I read recently that researchers on Shetland have been able to distinguish individual otters from their coloured throat patches. Do you have any examples/pictures that demonstrate this? Also the article (in 'British Wildlife' April 2010) said that British mainland otters don't share this characteristic, what is the reason for this? Hope you can help, I thought it was really interesting but I can't seem to find any further information.

  • Comment number 10.

    Hi Charlie and Team.
    Have loved every minute of Halcyon River Diaries. What a lovely family. So looking forward to seeing and hearing about your Shetland experience.
    Siodell - so very envious. Have lived near the River Evenlode for many years and have never been lucky enough to see a kingfisher, yet alone an otter. Can you give me any tips?

  • Comment number 11.

    Hi littlejojo61,
    I'm a gardener and spend all my time outdoors. So, my tip is just spend as much time as you can out and about! Not too helpful I know, but any spotting I've done has been by chance rather than design. The stretch of river is between Eynsham and Bladon and is not disturbed by roads, paths or developments; this might have something to do with my sightings.

  • Comment number 12.

    A very warm welcome Charlie. Did you or others ever notice how close the Kingfisher (that got away) was to drowning on that Mink attack (Halcyon River Diaries)?

    Partially submerged it floated nearly out of shot, before emerging to escape, briefly out of shot before we saw it fly & settle very near the scene, obviously shaken. Truly spectacular, I had to watch frame by frame a couple of times myself to really see it. Always worth watching again.

    Fantastic camera work, an exciting & superb addition to AW.

  • Comment number 13.

    My question would be concerning kingfisher numbers & have they declined following the severe Winter of 09/10 - is there any information on this please? Welcome to Autumnwatch by the way!

  • Comment number 14.

    Hi Charlie
    I'm keen to understand your view regarding the 'nocturnal' nature of Otters. I live on the water in the Norfolk Broads and am extremely fortunate to have otters in the garden on a daily basis (along with Kingfishers etc). They swim along the myriad of dykes which dissect the watery environment, channeling into the main river; they often climb the shallow banks to feed on fish - there are preferred areas highlighted by piles of spraint! I see them most days and are very tolerant of my presence. The garden is relatively secluded. Therefore I'd like to challenge the view that this beautiful mammal is 'shy' and soley active at night, which are the common preconceptions. My guess is they have simply adapted to their 'unique' environment.
    PS Thanks again for the advice you gave me on Facebook regarding night-time filming. I'm still looking to buy a old Sony PD150/170 Camcorder with Ikegami lens (purchase imminent)...but have just bought a Bushnell Trophy Cam (similar used by Gordon Buchanan in 'Lost Land of the Tigers') - I recommend this to anyone, but search price-comparison web sites for a good price - so I can start recording remote, nightime images, which should reveal so much more! Look forward to the otter filming and AW in general.

  • Comment number 15.

    This is probably a really really silly and trivial question - but if you - Charlie - had a choice, would you prefer filming kingfishers or otters, and why?

  • Comment number 16.

    Where's the weirdest place that you've found Otters and the maddest thing that you've done to get a good shot?

  • Comment number 17.

    Hello Charlie, In the summer holidays we went to corfe castle model village, they said that they have Kingfishers visit their stream. We did not see any through the day. Our question is What is the best time to see them? Will they only come if the place is quiet or do they get used to noise.
    Also will you ask Chris packham if he still has his Kingfisher pellet as when we spoke to him one year he said that was his special thing in his colletion.

  • Comment number 18.

    Why are there no painted lady butterflies this year? I live in Brixham in Devon. Last year there were loads, but this year I haven't seen any. I wouldn't have thought it was the cold winter because they migrate in the autumn. Any explanations?

  • Comment number 19.

    I'm lucky enough to see otters on a relatively regular basis, down on the Somerset Levels, as they are active during daylight hours and not just at night. Back in April, I was seeing fresh tracks (as well as a regular sprainting site, possibly by a dog otter) every few days in the mud of the tidal part of the river nearby. There appeared to be smaller tracks (possibly two sets) alongside the larger ones, so my assumption was that there may have been cubs, but couldn't be sure that they weren't older tracks that had faded with the wash of the tide. I looked again more recently and there were no signs of tracks at all. That leads me to two questions. Firstly, are otters as nocturnal as we all think they are (away from the Scottish coasts that is) or is itmore dependent on their preferred food source in each area? For example, on the levels, they seem to eat alot of fresh water mussels, so they wouldn't need to wait until they were inactive at night, like most fish prey items. Secondly, how long does a female with cubs stay in an area, before she decides to move on to protect the cubs?

  • Comment number 20.

    Rob Smith,
    I went to Devon in August and saw loads in Mortehoe at the Heritage centre,the man who runs the centre said there were always plenty there and he had a problem stopping people from trying to catch them with nets,even had to stop one bloke trying to catch one in a book.

  • Comment number 21.

    hello charlie
    never seen an otter in britian,though came close in the spring in rutland.
    used to see mink quite often,but only 1 this year.otters i'm told won't tollerate mink in thier territory.
    'Q'is this true?

    'Q' will the spread of otters eventually see the extinction of mink in britain?

    'Q'have you fimed/seen otter attacking mink?

  • Comment number 22.

    I love otters and kingfishers myself........I see lots kingfishers when out and about by various rivers.....Only place I have seen Otters in the wild is in India.....plus other types of Kingfishers..like the big black and white Pied....(See my message)

    My question to Charlie and the team is.....are they aware of the rumpus by anglers..about otters ?
    why not do a programme about the otters in our river systems...how the rivers are cleaner now.

    Great to have you back guys..!!!!

  • Comment number 23.

    My questions are will there be another show like the Halcyon River Diaries?
    And has the water vole population risen in the area close to your home?

  • Comment number 24.

    I love otters but we think we have been visited by them in the night and they have eaten most of our fish in our pond - some were 15 year old Koi!!
    Could you suggest the best way to keep them a bay!
    Many thanks

  • Comment number 25.

    my firend has a pair of kingfishers on his local river that have been fighting for territories, and displaying, my qestion is what is the best way to capture this behavior in a picture ? as i have always wanted to get it on camera but walways had difficulty.
    many thanks

  • Comment number 26.

    hello we live next to our local canal and i was lucky enough to see a kingfisher glide across the water at speed i have seen it on 2 different stretches of the canal is there any obvious signs of nesting i can look for to pinpoint where to catch another glimpse so far in the past 2 months we have been out with the children and failed any tips pleaseeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee the children cant wait to see it

  • Comment number 27.

    I have been told that Kingfishers are a creature of habit, If you spot one, It will usually be there in future at the same time, I have tried this out but no luck, Any ideas about this

  • Comment number 28.

    How come you never see otters or kingfishers in Ayrshire? The rivers have lots of other wildlife and fish or all sizes, but never Otters or Kingfishers.

  • Comment number 29.

    We live near a small stream in norfolk. This stream connects to a larger river but that is out of our view. I know there are otters further down river,around a mile or so away, but is there anything we can do to try and tempt otters to move in nearer us?

  • Comment number 30.

    What is the best encounter with any wildlife you have ever had ?
    mine was with a water vole at cromford canal in derbyshire, i layed down on the grass and had it climb up onto my leg !
    then five minutes later saw a kingfisher fishing.
    Thanks Tom RED KITE

  • Comment number 31.

    What has happened to Simon King, why is'nt he on Autumnwatch

  • Comment number 32.

    Hi Charlie -Great pair of plaits.

  • Comment number 33.

    Is Simon King OK?

    Would love to see insects on the programmme and not animals we can see with the naked eye.

  • Comment number 34.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 35.

    question from queen reema. I've always wondered whether river otters and sea otters could be a different species? could that be so? and if not how can some otters survive in fresh water and others in saline water?

    Hope you can answer my question


  • Comment number 36.

    Hi Charlie. Have you ever seen a Green Heron? Best Wishes Archie

  • Comment number 37.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 38.

    My question is, do otters favour a type of fish or is it random? Do some types of otters favour some types of fish?


  • Comment number 39.

    Have you filmed the kingfishers again on your halcyon river? Last years programme was brilliant....many thanks Blobb

  • Comment number 40.

    My question for Charlie is:

    I am a massive fan of Halcyon River Diaries and it has furtherr developed my love of Kingfishers. My fiance and I reguarly go fishing and see an abundance of them, but I can never seem to get a great photo of them. How do you manage it? as your photos on your own site are phenomenal. Is there a particular lens or setting you use?


  • Comment number 41.

    Hi Charlie,
    Otters are by far my favourite wild animal and I've been
    lucky enough to see them many times usually on Mull. My questions, have
    you filmed otters on Mull before and secondly can you find Kingfishers
    in Scotland as I've never seen or heard of any sightings ?


  • Comment number 42.

    Being as otter expert Simon King is up in the Shetlands too, did you have any help from him to find the otters?!

  • Comment number 43.

    My question is simple but interesting - what is the fastest kingfisher species in the world?

  • Comment number 44.

    Love it that Charlie is on the show he is great...
    I see a otter crossing a very busy A road he seemed to be very traffic aware and he was huge...is this common otters crossing the road..

  • Comment number 45.

    My daughter made an otter holt with her school couple of weeks back and she was wandering how long it would take for the otters to find it?

    Helen Edis

  • Comment number 46.

    Hi Charlie, just wanted to tell you I have seen 2 kingfishers in the River Crane (by St Margaret's Middx)in August. Do they live as close in to London as this?

  • Comment number 47.

    What is the best encounter with any wildlife you have ever had ?
    Charlie i would just like to ask you, what made you became interested in in Autumnwatch.

  • Comment number 48.

    Last Month, I was riding my bike along the Leeds Liverpool Canal when I looked across to see a kingfisher flying along the trees at the same speed as me! It followed me for 30 seconds and then disappeared. I live only a 1 minute walk from the canal and so I was wondering if there are any ways for me to encourage them back so I can view them along the canal again. Please answer on Unsprung. Thanks alot! P.S. Loved The River Diaries!

  • Comment number 49.

    Charlie i would like to ask you,what is it about Kingfishers that makes you like them so much? Your book by the way is superb

  • Comment number 50.

    Hi i am a wildlife enthusiaste and i was wondering recently were are the best places to spot a kingfisher as i find them facinating and have never seen one before, i was hoping you could tell me, thanks Shaun :)

  • Comment number 51.

    If the adult otters are called dog and bitch why are the young called cubs and not pups?

  • Comment number 52.

    Question for Charlie from my son Jake, Can baby otters swim as soon as they are born or do they have to learn?

  • Comment number 53.

    I want to ask how Charlie how got into wildlife video/photography, I'm 17 and taking a media course and an aspiring video editor, but my hobby is wildlife video and photography and advice should I want to turn it into a career?

  • Comment number 54.

    can you explain why the otter on our jetty stayed and hissed at our dogs instead of diving straight into the sea as usual

  • Comment number 55.

    hi charlie can you tell me how you can tell wheather a otter is a male or female i would be really grateful as it is really bugging me
    love the show and i would really be grateful if you could do a topic on hares as i love them and really whant to know more about them
    thanks love you all
    nicola maddox

  • Comment number 56.

    What's the most unusual Otter location you have ever found?

    Rev Dave

  • Comment number 57.

    Second Comment: I need the best advice for attracting Badgers and Barn Owls, because I am going to buy a barn owl box but was wondering if it is possible to find out whether they are in my area at the moment? I know there is badgers because I have found hairs under the barbed wire fences! Please answers my questions. Thank you for your help!

  • Comment number 58.

    HI Charlie,
    I have recently moved to the Isle of Lewis. Can I see otters from the island? I cannot afford expensive equipment.


  • Comment number 59.

    Hi Charlie, what inspired you to come up with the idea of the wonderful blurred Kingfisher diving into the water and how long did it take to get the result you wanted?

  • Comment number 60.

    When will be able to buy a DVD of the wonderful "My Halcyon River"?

  • Comment number 61.

    Dear Autumnwatch crew,
    A few days ago a small lizard crawled into our house. It was about 7 centimetres long and had a rather long tail. The lizard was a sandy, brown colour and quite slow. I'm telling you this because, even after all our research, We still have NO idea what kind of lizard it was.
    please help!!!
    The Worters

  • Comment number 62.

    hi charlie,
    loved river diaries is there another one this year?

    and my proper question how did you get in to wildlife photography??

  • Comment number 63.


    I have seen otters in the West of Scotland diving for shellfish/fish and after a time suddenly appear at the surface showing the top half of their body. Is that due to running short of air or some different reason

    Ed Stanley

  • Comment number 64.

    Hi charlie,
    My question is: Do otters use rocks to break open sea shells to get at the food whilst floating on the water?
    And is sea shells a main food for their diet or is it mainly fish?

  • Comment number 65.

    hi Charlie,
    does it matter to otters if they are going from fresh water to sea water as i am sure it must affect there coats. And what will the introduction of beaver in the wild do to the food supply getting to otters if the beaver are damming the rivers.

  • Comment number 66.

    What has been your best otter and kingfisher moments?

  • Comment number 67.

    Contacting you from Shetland Isles. Super footage of the otters but why, oh why is Shetland not on the map used by Chris? Please get us on the map!!!!

  • Comment number 68.

    Fantastic Otter Footage Charlie! I recently stalked and shot an Otter on Mull (in the photographic sense of course!) and managed to get quite close by crawling very quietly closer. I did get the sense however that he knew I was there, do you think that some accept human company on land? I can see how they feel safer in the water though from your phenominal underwater footage! Glad they treated you to such priveledged views!


  • Comment number 69.

    I saw you on the news this morning and I noticed you mentioned that you had seen some otters in Bath, I would love to see them. please can you tell me where in Bath you found them? :)

  • Comment number 70.

    Hi Charlie. I would like more explaination on the difference between otters and minks. I know otters are bigger, but are there any more differences

  • Comment number 71.

    Hi charlie,

    Do otters hunt in packs or do the cubs leave when they're a few months old and fend for themselves?


  • Comment number 72.

    When do ospreys normally migrate? I watched one for about half an hour on Sunday while I was fishing, at one point it had caught more fish than me! Never seen one before, and it was amazing as it was diving only about 30 yards in front of me, wish I had filmed it on my phone, I had no idea what it was but was told it was an osprey and it was late migrating

  • Comment number 73.

    Hi, this year our Barn owl has raised two broods, but the second brood three chicks fledged several weeks ago and two are still in our barn, the third one I found in the field several days ago in heavy rain very week and unable to fly, unfortunately it died. My question is because its late in the year and they have hung around the nest box could they be hungry and should they be supplementary fed for a few weeks and if so what food is best? the perents are still feeding them.

  • Comment number 74.

    really enjoyed seeing the fox and the badger being fed by maureen,wonderfull!however i would be interested in your views about the forthcoming badger cull,i just feel that the farmers want to kill anything and everything that lives in the countryside.it just seems to me that foxes and badgers are persicuted,what are your feelings on this please

  • Comment number 75.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 76.

    I have something that appears to be in a nest fairly high up in a sycamore tree at the end of the garden but I do not think it is a bird because it, or it's young are making sounds very similar to beby rats or mice although I do not think it is either of those either... have any of you have any ideas please? i can see no evidence to help me make up my mind, the noise usually occurs early morning/late evevning. glad the show is finally back

  • Comment number 77.

    hi charlie, can you tell us which video camera you used in 'Halcyon River Diaries' i think it was a panasonic ? also can anyone tell us what the frequencies are for the different bats, thanks jamie and pauline

  • Comment number 78.

    Hi Charlie great programe,why do you think Kingfishers are brown and not blue.

  • Comment number 79.

    hi what parts of England do you mostly see kingfishers

  • Comment number 80.

    Why is Shetland not on the map of the UK you use for your migratory birds? Quite insulting when we are sharing some of our wonderful nature ... the otters tonight with the rest of the UK ... if not the world... Please sort it out! Thanks!

  • Comment number 81.


    What is the difference between a female and a male kingfisher?

    It's really bugging me!!

    From Becky xx

  • Comment number 82.

    hi Charley when the weather is wet and windy do starlings take cover in bird houses and feeding tables

  • Comment number 83.

    hi do starlings hide in birdhouses and feeding table in this weather

  • Comment number 84.

    Hi ,my husband and I have also spotted a big black cat in [Personal details removed by Moderator], Shropshire ,both were separate sightings with in 6 months .It was in a wooded area of farm land , i was walking the dog , she caught sight of it and chased it and started to bark at the base of a tree. I waited for a while but it seemed to disappear . Great show.

  • Comment number 85.

    I would like to ask Charlie if it would be either mink or otter that are eating swan mussels along the banks of a river near me in Sussex.

    Over the months we have seen the shells either opened and completely cleaned out or they have a hole straight through the shell (which could be heron?)
    A lot of the time the shells are littered along the half mile of riverbank both sides, some of the opened shells resting on branches that have fallen in the river. Occasionally there are 'bite marks' on one end, sometimes I can't find any damage?

    The local otter group have been over but nothing has really come of it. A friend and I have tried watching from a hide, late night and early morning. Can you help? Thankyou for your time, Regards, Sonya

  • Comment number 86.

    Hi Charlie,My Cat Brought me home a Dragon fly i would like to know what breed it is i live in Norwich Norfolk and it was very large with green and black daimond shapes, thanks and keep warm :-)
    Ps I would have sent a picture but im not sure how to upload them onto your site

  • Comment number 87.

    Dear Charlie,
    loved the otters, can you tell me what camera and what fantastic lens you were using and the zoom power - thanks.
    Loved all your footage
    kind regards [amateur cameraman]

    Derek Mills

  • Comment number 88.

    On the school field next to my work place I often see a large flock of crows and a couple of magpies. I am convinced that one bird is a cross between a magpie and a crow. We have nicknamed this a 'crow-pie'. We have also seen a couple of crows at atime chasing magpies into near by trees and are convinced these are breeding.

    Is this common to see a 'Crow-Pie'?

  • Comment number 89.

    Having lived in Brisbane for some years I saw and heard the strangest of all of the kingfisher family namely the Kookaburra (laughing jackass). I have seen european kingfishers on many occasions but never heard any calls. Does the kingfisher as we know it emit any call

  • Comment number 90.

    I've just come back from Croatia and saw lots of Kingfishers around the coast. I thought kingfishers only lived around fresh water. Do they really fish in sea water and eat sea fish? How do they get the salt out of their feathers?

  • Comment number 91.

    Hello charlie
    Ive been into photography from being a young lad with a point and click camera and progressed into building my own website and getting into the wildlife digital photography and filming game,and want to know what camera should i buy, the money is there and the knowledge now all i need is a bit of kit to upgrade my old film video camera, what do you reccomend ?

  • Comment number 92.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 93.

    The Bubbles on the Beach - Iolo said that it was trapped air - However I can confirm that it is a fresh-water spring. There are loads at Pink Bay on the South Wales coast. As young life-guards we used to fill our bottles from them.
    Sure as eggs is eggs....


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