Raising Pups August 2002, continued
This certainly was an easy family to watch. On the afternoon of August 23, 2002, I watched them for about four hours, though they spent most of the time sleeping. I saw them in a large beaver pond I call Otter Hole Pond
(more on that name when we get to otter behavior in the winter,) and this was the first time I saw them there, though it is right below the East Trail Pond where I saw them back in July. The opening moments of the video clip below were quite different from what I was accustomed to seeing when two pups were together. They didn't begin swirling; no apparently carefree play. A staring contest appeared to turn into a quick one fall wrestling match, with one pup emerging in the otter power pose, with its tail cocked up just above the water level and its head cocked up, too.
Meanwhile the mother was out in the pond fishing. I must admit that it crossed my mind that I was seeing a different family. In Audubon Pond, on August 17, one pup seemed to adhere to the mother until, I supposed, exhaustion prompted it to nap. In this clip the pups, initially, seemed oblivious to what their mother was doing. But one pup did swim off to look for her, and the other pup climbed up on the lodge, by itself. On August 17 and August 12, the pups seemed to get up on the lodge in Audubon Pond on their own as much as they followed the mother up. The pup that went off swimming didn't find its mother, and when it went back to and climbed up on the lodge, it found the other pup already there, and there's no more contention. One pup looked out at the pond, perhaps looking for their mother. It was almost three in the afternoon, and I soon got the impression that the pups were ready for a nap, probably after a long mid-day adventure fishing. One pup got back into the pond and swam toward where its mother was fishing. Otter Hole Pond is relatively shallow. The old creek runs past the lodge and then branches with the north fork going up to the East Trail Pond and the south fork going up to what I call the Second Swamp Pond. But the pond's depth is not tailored like Audubon Pond's, so an otter doesn't find much consistent depth, hence the energetic efforts of the mother to find fish in the many canals and wallows the beavers had made over the years, and perhaps that explains the exhaustion of the pups. At about the 3:50 mark we see the pup trailing the mother, not foraging at all. When it got back to the lodge, the mother, already there, leaped into the water with a fish in her mouth and tried to energize her pups. She even rolled on her back as she chewed the fish. The pups, one of them more persistently, swam around, perhaps after crumbs, so to speak. Then the mother swam off, fish still in her mouth, and one pup followed but without the usual enthusiasm.
Though they seemed tired, the pups toured the pond with their their mother. The video clip below is episodic because I was lying low on the north bank of the pond and often couldn't see the otters when they foraged in the shallows and when they went up to scat on the south bank. At the 1:10 mark of the video clip below we see both pups do a nice rolling dive. Their swimming had matured, and they dived more or less together. But could they catch fish themselves?
At 2:05 mark the mother swam up to them and they gravitated to her, and just like in Audubon Pond, one pup swam right at her side. But in the main, the impression I get from the video is that the pups fished together, staying side by side, and not chasing after their mother nor after each other. The mother got back to the lodge first, one pup right behind her, and the other right after. Then when they got on the lodge, they seemed to go their separate ways, on the safe confines of the lodge. I almost get the impression that the pups appreciated separation after the demanding coordinated swimming after fish. As the mother scratched herself on logs, one pup went up to the top of the lodge to try to scat, and we lose track of the other pup.
At the beginning of the video clip below, the mother climbed up on the lodge and had a tail waving scat. Then she seemed to be settling down with one pup and she noticed that the other pups was missing. It had gone off to do a little fishing by itself. Is that a testimony to the demands of the mother's lessons? First the pup had to learn to swim, now it had to learn to swim and forage in coordination with other otters. It went off to swim by itself, perhaps, to relax.
The pup soon returned to the lodge and paid its respects to the top of the lodge. Then the family napped together which more or less lasted for three hours. There were two interesting moments. The family swam off together, briefly fished and swam back together. Then I thought something had to happen when the shade reached the lodge. No. Eventually, one pup slipped off the lodge and did a bit of fishing, and came back to the lodge. Clearly the pups were learning about different ponds, and the safe place for them in each pond, usually a beaver lodge. Meanwhile, when it got past 7 pm, I had to go home for dinner.
The beaver colony that had developed Otter Hole had moved back to the pond just above which I called the Second Swamp Pond. These otters had shared the East Trail Pond with beavers. Although I had often seen otters and beavers in the same pond, sometimes at the same time, I couldn't help but wonder if these otters were tending to spend more time in beaverless ponds. So with that notion in mind I did not expect to see otters when I went out at dawn on August 26 to see the beavers in the Lost Swamp Pond. These beavers always returned to their lodge late every morning affording a couple hours of watching them wind down their activities, which in August is principally pulling up and eating vegetation from the shallow pond bottom. There were 8 beavers in this colony and I saw most of them make a slow retreat to the lodge, but as late as 8 am one large beaver lingered, but I had to move on. Then when I stood to go down and check the otter latrine to see if the otters had visited recently, I heard chirping and looked up and saw the mother otter and her two pups swimming toward the beaver lodge. I didn't get a good video of this encounter and in the video clip below edited out a minute or so of what was about a four minute standoff between the otters and beavers.
The otters showed the same type of confrontational periscoping and looking that they did when they saw me looking at them as they tried to nap on the Audubon Pond beaver lodge. Then as the beaver approached, they made an orderly and obvious retreat. Then evidently they swam underwater gaining the other side of the pond, east of the beaver lodge, because before I left the pond, I heard chirping. Two otter heads were looking for a third. They found each other, and swam away from the lodge, fishing. I have no doubt that they got their nap on the lodge once the beavers were settled inside the lodge.
As a rule beaver kits are born a month or so after otter pups. Yet I will see kits off on their own in August. They can't cut down trees yet, but they can gob the grasses in the pond, and gnaw the bark off the branches the big beavers bring to them. And they explore their pond. I don't want to minimize that challenge. Ponds look simple from above. Beavers have to learn about all below. So do otters. Plus otters have to learn the ins and outs of a series of ponds. Beaver kits do not necessarily sleep in the same lodge every day; beaver colonies have other lodges and burrows in the banks all around the pond. But those dens are easy to figure out. The otter pup has to learn the safe places in all the ponds the family moves through. So not surprisingly, in August, as these lessons are being learned, the top of a beaver lodge in every beaver pond simplifies and centers, if you will, the pups' learning curve, and the mother's burdens.
That said, back in 1999, I saw otter pups rather wear out the playful possibilities around a rotting stump well up in Otter Hole Pond. I took my then 12 year old son Ottoleo and his friend Justin to the pond with me to look for otters. Back in 1999 I was not so confident as I am now that in August only one family ranges in the ponds I watch, so the first task I assigned for the kids was to help me determine how many otters we were watching. As you'll hear, I thought there were three pups; Ottoleo's count varied beginning with five otters. The video clip is sun drenched and taken from a considerable distance but the spirit of the pups' play comes across. We lost sight of them until the mother appeared fishing in the shallows. And at the 3:09 mark we see the pups, not playing at all, but swimming side by side, ducking down looking for fish.
It would have been nice to see how the mother got the pups to end their playing and follow her. The video clip below shows them fishing apart. The mother seemingly intent in pursuing her own strategy, walking on top of the pond plants, while the pups duck down into water clear of vegetation. Then the mother puts an end to play period and while the pups don't keep up with her as she works the shallows of the pond, they do seem to be fishing. We've seen this mother and pups in other videos in which I tried to explain how otters use dens. You can see those videos on page 2 and 3. As best as I can tell at the end of the video clip below the otters make their way into a den in the jumbled granite wall along the north shore of the pond, not into the active beaver lodge.
This otter mother in 1999 seems to have looser control over her pups compared to the otter mother in 2002. Of course, it could have been the same mother each year, maybe she was getting better at it. Another strategy otter mothers use to simply this complex task of teaching pups how to become otters is to enlist the help of another otter. Beavers commonly master that. The colony of eight in the Lost Swamp Pond consisted of a matriarch, a patriarch, two beavers a year and a half old and four kits almost four months old. Once I saw six otters on that Lost Swamp Pond beaver lodge; once I saw seven otters fishing off the lodge in Otter Hole Pond. Otters too know the advantages of extending the family, but, I think, it has to be a very good year for fish to support such a gathering. However, when a mother otter has three or four pups, she often seems to enlist a helper. We have to go back to early August again, back to the East Trail Pond, and to another year, 2003, and I think we see that in one case at least, three pups tutored by two adults acquired skills quicker than two pups raised only by their mother.
Off to the next page for that Page 12
Contents and Guide to Video Clips
By Bob Arnebeck mailto: firstname.lastname@example.org