Otter Pups in September 2003
The "video book" is probably giving the impression that in my quest to keep track of otters, I went out everyday with my camcorder and usually came back with nothing to show for it. Actually I could get a feel for what the otters were doing almost every day I went out because I knew where their latrines were around the many beaver ponds I watch and along the shores of South Bay. On September 16, 2003, some friends were going to visit and I promised them that we would see otters. When I made that promise I thought we were sure to see the mother with three pups, who in early August seemed so easy to see. Then after August 11 I didn't see them again but even when my friends arrived I was confident of seeing them because I had been following their progress by finding their scats. On August 14 and 18 an otter periscoped near me as I kayaked into South Bay at dawn, but that was a lone otter and not part of the family, I thought. Then I stopped seeing otter scats at the latrines around the beaver ponds. On August 24 I confessed in my journal that the otters were perplexing me. Then on the 26th I saw a few scats at three different ponds, a large pile at the East Trail Pond,
a small scat at the Big Pond,
and a strange orange colored scat at the the knoll above the little New Pond, the first pond up from South Bay.
But then I didn't see any fresh scat until September 2 at the East Trail Pond; on the 4th I saw even more scats there. Then on the 5th I saw a large scat perhaps a day or two old at the Lost Swamp Pond.
Then on the 7th I saw a generous spread of almost fresh scats at the East Trail Pond
and an array of older scats at the Lost Swamp Pond. I was sure I would see otters in the next few days, but I only saw scats at the end of South Bay. Then on the 10th I saw otter scats on the rocks on the south shore of the north cove of South Bay, and I also saw scats up on the long causeway that forms the east shore of Audubon Pond, that is just up from South Bay to the north. I even saw otter prints in the mud revealed by the drought we were in.
Then on the 11th I saw fresh scats around the Second Swamp Pond, and some older scats at Otter Hole Pond. I saw more scats on the 13th at Otter Hole Pond and the Lost Swamp Pond; on the 15th I saw scats at Otter Hole Pond and the East Trail Pond;
and I didn't see scats at the New Pond knoll so the otters, I hoped, hadn't moved out into South Bay. So, you can see how otters lure me on. You can also see why I thought I had a good shot of showing my friends otters.
My friends came in the late morning and we headed out to the ponds that afternoon. As we came down to Otter Hole Pond, we saw a wake and then an otter, an adult otter swimming up toward the East Trail Pond. So we followed, slowly. We had to walk around the pond and then up over the ridge between Otter Hole Pond and the East Trail Pond. When we came down we saw three otters. Here's the clip:
I only got seven seconds of video of the lone otter in Otter Hole Pond, and then we got to enjoy a brief, but characteristic, performance by an adult and two pups in the East Trail Pond. I was a bit too far away to tell if the pups were catching fish. Often when an otter swims a short distance with its head up, it is eating a small fish. Two otters, the pups, I think, went to the lodge, one to scat. Then the mother led them off to the northeast where there was another possible den, a bank beaver lodge, and a series of small ponds heading up to another watershed with a series of larger ponds. Where was the other pup? Did the adult evidently being separated from the pups have anything to do with the missing pup?
The next morning we went in my boat over to South Bay and docked just below Audubon Pond. We went up to check that pond and at first glance it looked like nothing was happening. But I saw the vervain on the lodge moving contrary to the direction of the wind. In a few moments, we saw a black hump in the greenery on the lodge. Here's the clip:
I think we first see a pup scatting. Then I edited out some inaction. The otters were on the other side of the lodge. Then we see the mother scat and go down into the pond. The otter that follows looks almost as big as the mother, but judging from it awkwardness getting into the pond I think it is a pup. Then the other pup scats on top of the lodge. Here we see a contrast in pup behavior. In July and August a pup would hustle to follow mother, when it noticed she had gone. According to Kruuk who has watched otter under water in the North Sea off the coast of Scotland, otters do scat under water. Of course in shallower water otters might be loath to add their feces. On the other hand, since I seldom see pups scat in July and early August, perhaps they are scatting while they are in the water then. All to say, a pup's scatting before hurrying off to join mother might be taken as a sign of its maturity, though it's hard to think of otters, so profligate in spreading their smelly scats, as going through toilet training. At the 1:55 mark it looks like the mother catches a fish or frog and then takes that over to what looks like an opening in the tall grass. Feeding the other pup? I asked myself. But I had never noticed that area being a den for otters, beavers or muskrats. And when the otters swam away from the area there was still only the mother and two pups. I am mindful that one can't let the season's narrative overrule one's perceptions. These otters aren't that much different in size. Of course the pups grow at the expense of the mother who feeds and cares for them. She may well be losing weight. But there is a point in the video, around the 2:25 mark, when all three pups dive and I think we see the first otter showing the adult's characteristic control of the tail, and the two pups showing their characteristic wild flip of the tail.
I must say the family's fishing looked a bit desultory to me and they soon went back to the lodge for scatting and lounging. Evidently we had caught them just before major nap time. Indeed, we were able to walk around the pond and get closer to the lodge. The most curious action, at the 3:46 mark, was an otter rocking on its back or was it trying to get its belly warm in the hot sun? Then it seems to groom its belly, which I have rarely seen. I think this is a pup, and then we see another pup raise its head. If so, this suggests that what we saw in July might still hold. Mother gets to sleep first. Then they finally noticed us and went into the lodge.
My friends were pleased. I saw the otters again on September 22 at Otter Hole Pond. This session began inauspiciously because judging from how an otter came off the lodge and swam in front of me sniffing the air, I was sure she knew I was there. This is much like the way beavers sniff out your presence. Here's the the first of four clips:
sept 22 a
sept 22 b
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By Bob Arnebeck mailto: firstname.lastname@example.org