Raising Two Pups in August 2001
Well, not quite to August. On July 26, I had another chance to observe the otters on the slope of the East Trail Pond, and this time what I saw was not so clear cut as what I saw just a week before on July 19. This session was confusing from the start. I sat on the slope at the same spot as I did on the 19th, enjoyed a cool north wind in my face but saw no otters. Then I stood up to go, looked down and saw otters in the grass a bit to the right of where I saw them before. The first thing I do when I first see otters is try to determine how many there are. That day I was never sure how many otters I was seeing. I assumed there were three otters in the grass, the mother and two pups. Often I could see two heads
Sometimes the two heads were the same size, and those otters tussled with each other, like pups should. Other times, as the photo above shows, one head looked larger -- mother and pup I assumed. I saw three otters go down, one after another, to scat at a latrine in an area with little grass, lower on the slope. I saw a big otter scat there.
And then several minutes later the smaller otters went, one after another. I also saw one otter go down the slope and go out for a swim:
I've divided my fifteen minutes or so of video into three clips. I was nursing a dying camcorder battery so didn't take as much video as I would have liked. The first clip shows the otters in the grass below me, evidently grooming or playing more than they were rolling, and appearing rather restless. At 1:26 into the video clip, one of the otters starts reaching up trying to catch insects, first time I saw that and haven't seen it since. Otters do eat insect larva in the ponds but aren't known for fly catching in the grass.
The length of otters and their propensity to hump their rear up and around can sometimes make one otter seem like two. So when otters are bunched up like this and the view partially blocked, one hopes to see three heads together or three tails, and then one can say there are three otters. I see three heads in the video clip at 3:38. At the end of this clip one otter goes down the slope, and into the pond and it swims away, looking very much like an adult. How many otters were still in the grass on the hill?
The next video clip begins with one otter with its head up evidently looking out onto the pond, but it shows no inclination to leave where it is. Then it begins tussling with another otter and at last at the 2:10 mark, we can just see three otters. Meanwhile I had not noticed any otter coming up the slope after swimming. At 2:55 one of the otters goes down the slope to scat and by the size of the tail looks like a pup. Here's the second video clip:
Beginning at the 3:30 mark, the slope the otters were on got bathed in more sunshine. The pups fur looks browner, and the pups begin acting much like they did in the July 19 videos, squirming on top of their mother. At 3:52 the mother, or should we say adult, seems distracted by something in the pond. At 4:04 she goes back to a resting position. One of the pups comes over to a log for a yawn and then goes down and scats.
At this point, I was getting the impression that there was another adult otter swimming in the pond, though I could no longer see it. And that the adult with the pups was probably not the mother. I thought I could figure this out when and if the other otter came back from foraging in the pond. Then I saw an otter swimming in the pond below me. Was the mother back? Here's the confusing video clip, ruined by my turning off the camcorder frequently to save power in my low battery, but I couldn't make any better sense of the situation with my eyes. There should have been four otters on shore, but I never saw them together.
I also can't say that, if two adults were minding the otter pups over this period, that the pups reacted any differently to one or the other. Most strange to me is that I never saw the otters all get back in the pond. The scan of the pond at the end of the clip only shows my expectation that there is where they must have gone. However, investigating the area later, I saw that at the base of the slope there was a fallen tree trunk with a hole through it and into the bank. Perhaps they went in there. I was not the only possible threat. There were noisy hikers on the trail at the other end of the pond. All this was confusing, perhaps interesting, but doesn't forward my explanation of the orderly education of otter pups. There will be more bumps on that road. Now, on to August.
I saw otter mothers and pups in the ponds in August 2001, 2002, and 2003. Since then my August sightings have been in the marsh of nearby South Bay. This probably reflects the deterioration of the beaver ponds closest to South Bay. They were abandoned by the beavers as they moved upstream. That the otters kept putting holes through the dams during the winter didn't help. More on that later. In 2001, after my confusing sighting of July 26, I was curious if I would continue to see three otters together or four. I saw them again, out in the East Trail Pond on August 2, a week later. I think the first otter we see, briefly up on a log, is a pup, still clumsy but much more adept handling a log than it was in July. What also is interesting is that the otters are fishing apart, all around some pond vegetation. Here is the video clip:
What is most interesting is that the pups are able to dive, though the mother, as we see at the 1:07 mark, is right on their case. Their foraging is still centered around logs and clumps of vegetation, though I don't think the mother is still methodically serving fish on the logs this day. At about the 2:01 mark we see a classic pup dive with the little tail waving straight up. This, I think, is a sure indication that the pup is trying to master the deep dive. That I can't see the pup surfacing is an indication that it is learning to swim underwater, too. At about the 2:19 mark the mother gets wind of me, as indicated by her blowing. In July recognition of my presence often led to a quick exit. Not now. The mother cranes her neck, looking up. The pups also keep their heads up and then all three swim away from me, diving smartly. The pups seem to have mastered the mechanics of fishing, but did we really see them catch any fish? Also, the skills the pups have learned suggest why the mother no longer needed a helper (if she indeed had one back on July 26!)
The summer of 2001 was a drought year in the Thousand Islands region and succumbing to the popular notion that otters need plenty of water, I worried about the otters. But I continued to find their scats, not only around the East Trail Pond, which continued to hold its own, but around what remained of Beaver Point Pond, which the drought reduced to a rapidly diminishing pool behind the dam. Here is an image captured from video I took on August 4 of the dry channels of the pond
But around the pool of water still behind the dam, especially on the dam, I kept seeing plenty of fresh otter scats.
On August 15 I came out at dawn, and, through the mist, saw three otters come down the trickle of a creek in the middle of the pond and swim into the pool of water behind the dam. Though the images are hazy, the video I got, which lasted about 23 minutes, showed just about everything the otters did during this dawn feeding. I edited that 23 minutes into four long video clips. The first one, I think, clearly establishes that we are watching the mother and her two pups.
By the 0:20 second mark we can see that one otter is leading as it ducked in the water to catch shiners, and two smaller otters followed without much ducking into the water. A little later one of the otters brings a shiner up on the beaver dam. I think that is the mother, and the two pups dart about in the pool of water behind her trying to imitate her without much success. In the next clip, the otters are joined by a heron, which doesn't seem to bother the otters even as the heron stabs shiners with its beak.
I think the pups show their lack of concentration on the task at hand, catching fish, in two ways: they keep chasing each other and they duck into a hole in the dam. At the beginning of the clip above I think the mother gives a shiner to a pup and it gets up on a log as it eats. Then at the 1:30 mark the mother puts another shiner up on a log of the dam and the pups contend with that. In the ensuing swirling action I can't be sure which otters are the pups. Did the mother eat the fish on the dam log? or is that a pup and is she showing the other pup how to chase a fish?
In the next video clip, the pups seem to disappear. I think they went into the dam, and mother takes a shiner there to either feed or entice them out. At the 1:00 we see a pup swim by the mother as she is eating. Here's the video clip:
Given the distance and angle of the camcorder, the fishing heron looks to be almost on to of the otter. They are close, but not that close, say between 5 and 10 yards apart. Especially in the next clip, I get the impression that the mother otter is more inspired by competing with the herons, than any compulsion to feed her pups. She checks on her pups, who keep tending to go into the dam (though I can't see that it from their fear of the herons.) Finally at the 5:00 mark she seems to try to rally them, but they are reverting to earlier behavior and start swirling. Then she leads them past the herons and out of the pond. Here's the video clip:
The otters leave the pond, going in the same direction from whence they came. I tried to follow them but lost them in the morning mist, and couldn't find them in any of the ponds upstream. I am pretty sure they never sensed my presence. Herons are usually more easily alarmed than otters and they remained in the pond. That the otters left suggests to me that they are not prone to fish out even a small pool of water. When I came out here again at dawn, three days later it was shallow enough for a raccoon to catch the remaining fish. I did see the otters again very briefly in the East Trail Pond on August 22, and would see them again in September. But for now, let's continue looking at longer sessions with otter pups in August.
Now, on to the next page: Page 10
Contents and Guide to Video Clips
By Bob Arnebeck mailto: email@example.com