Needless to say I often came to Beaver Point Pond in 1999 after seeing so much activity in April. (Seeing otters once is a good April for me.) I kept seeing otter scats now and then but didn't see an otter again until June 5. And this otter, after doing a little fishing behind the dam, crossed over the dam and showed me where her den was, in a jumble of rocks I call the Porcupine Hotel, because I usually see porcupines there.
But thanks to a new dam the beavers made, a good bit of water backed up flooding the basement of the hotel, if you will, making it a comfortable place for a mother otter to raise her pups. Just to give you a better idea of the proximity of things, here is a February 12, 2003, photo of the Porcupine Hotel on the right with the ridge of Beaver Point Pond where I saw the otters in April 1999 in the back ground left side of the photo. Note the nice otter slides in the snow.
Anyway, back to June 5, 1999, I saw an otter mother go back to her den in the Porcupine Hotel, or so I think.
Of course I kept nosing around the Porcupine Hotel and finally on June 30, I got a reaction. An otter snorted from down under the rocks. I could see her nose.
Now, I can't prove all this. I am not a scientist, and don't believe in many of the methods scientists use to track animals. Attaching or implanting a radio in otters risks traumatizing the otters, and I see no reason why trauma in animals shouldn't have long term affects on their behavior just as it can in humans. Indeed, after I see otters in a pond, especially if I know that they noticed me, I don't go back there the next day. I really don't think doing so would scare the otters, as the video clips on page one show, otters don't scare easily. But I think seeing me again and again might bore them and, I assume, bored otters move on, just like bored humans. I do have a video record of otters covering ten years. While I don't know the life history of any of the otters I've watched, because I went out looking for them about every other day, I have a good grasp of how the otters used the ponds, used this portion of their territory.
But couldn't I have been seeing and hearing some lonely old bachelor otter? Maybe. I can't analyze the DNA of scat, which is rather difficult to do even if you have the equipment. I once helped a group of Rochester Institute Technology students collect nice heaps of otter scats, and their analysis only showed the DNA of... fish. So I have to rely on what I see next to explain what I saw before: seeing the lone otter go into an excellent den for raising pups proved to me that the otter on the bank screeching at another otter was a female protecting pups. Hearing the snorting from that excellent den helped confirm that. What I saw on July 21 proved it again, for I saw what looked very much like a mother otter swimming from Beaver Point Pond into the next pond up, Otter Hole Pond, looking for and finding her two pups.
One winter when the water level in this pond was slow, I had my wife take a photo of me standing in front of this jumble of granite along the shore of Otter Hole Pond that the otters use as a den.
And then I stuck a camera in a gap going back into the rocks and photographed a ledge that with a bit of grass spread about might make a comfortable spot for an otter.
Now back the otter mother looking for her pups. The first part of the video clip below shows her swimming up Otter Hole Pond and chirping, the way mother and pups often communicate, as she swims into a den in the rocks below where I am standing. Then I heard a rush of water below, and was sure she had come out, but didn't see her. Swimming under the water, otters can be very fast. I scanned the grasses and flooded bushes out in the pond, and in perhaps another minute, I saw two otters swim out. One was large, the mother, who I saw swim into the den and didn't see swim out. The other was her pup. They swam to the beaver lodge in the middle of the pond. Mom snorted and kept looking around and then another pup popped out of the duckweed around the beaver lodge. Then they swam back to Beaver Point Pond through a hole in the dam.
How gently the mother nuzzles her pups (we'll see a lot more of that) as she leads them back to Beaver Point Pond where they were raised and probably born, if I am right about my interpretation of that April encounter between the two otters on the bank. But that raises another question: if the pups were already born by April 21, why was she up on the bank of the pond and not with her pups in the safety of the rocky confines of the Porcupine Hotel? Especially since males of many species have a reputation of doing harm against newborns, or being too rough with them? Again, I think that's why the mother screeched, to keep the male away to protect the little pups then a few weeks old. However, they were not likely in the watery Porcupine Hotel where they might drown. In the first few weeks of their life, otter pups can't swim. So the first den the mother uses is often dry, perhaps in a tree trunk near the pond.
Not that I've ever found just born otter pups in a tree trunk. However, as I will explain later, I have noticed that mothers like to bring pups back to their old dens. What better way to begin to show young otters the story of who and where they are. I think that is how she begins to explain to them what their territory is -- with pups it does sound better if you call it a home range. On August 11, 2003, in the East Trail Pond, I saw pups leave the pond, where their mother was swimming, and go up and into a pine trunk. They came back out when she called them.
I admit this is describing the life story of otters somewhat indirectly. Seeing two otter pups go back to a pine log off another pond doesn't prove that two pups in 1999 were born in a hollow log on the shores of Beaver Point Pond!
So if the male otter was not needed nor wanted by his mate and wasn't hanging around Beaver Point Pond and the Porcupine Hotel in May, June and July, what was he doing?
On the next page, I'll explore what the male otters, pupless female otters and one year old juvenile otters who are not ready for sex might be doing during the spring: page4
Here is a rough guide to the video clips: contents page in the video book
By Bob Arnebeck mailto: firstname.lastname@example.org