[In mid-winter here in Maine only a few birds and animals stay in town, and are neither nocturnal not hibernating. So I’ll be returning more than once to the active ones, and interspersing that with archived but never-posted blogs. Today, a break from warblers, and back to the otters.]
A whole summer can go by without a glimpse of an otter. They can stay underwater for up to 8 minutes and swim at 6mph. If they are on the surface, they swim low in the water, barely raising their heads to catch a breath, and they are dark brown shapes in a matching brownish pond.
If they emerge to eat a fish they are often concealed by the thick vegetation in the shallow water at the pond’s edge.
But in winter, the game changes. They are hunting under the ice, and so they can’t breathe on the move, but only by finding a hole and surfacing. They create the holes and keep them open, at least for a while, so they use the same holes all the time. My otters seem to base themselves at a hole for an hour or so, diving under the ice for 2-3 minutes to hunt, then returning to the hole to breathe. They usually come out for half a minute or so, having a little rest, and maybe a little light grooming. If they catch a fish they lie on the ice, crunching away, in full view, and strikingly dark against the snow. All I have to do is watch the holes, and if it happens to be a time and day when they are hunting nearby, I will see them. Even more helpfully, they seem to like the period between about 1pm and 3pm, so I usually go out looking for them right after lunch.
They have one hole relatively near the shore, so I got some closer shots one afternoon.
The one on the right has just emerged and is having a good shake:
This youngster is nuzzling its mother, below (the father plays no role in rearing the young):
At one stage I thought I had been spotted:
One “periscoped” to get a better look:
Then they settled down again:
By now, you are no doubt thinking that winter otter spotting is easy. To dispel that impression, let me point out that the pond is half an hour’s walk each way through sometimes thick snow. I am out every day at least once, sometimes twice, on snowshoes or spikes, for 90 minutes or so per trip, and I can go days or even weeks without seeing a single otter. Today the temperature was 2F, (-17C). No otters. But if it was too easy it might lose its wonder, so I am content.
PS: They can periscope quite far out to improve the view; this shot is taken from further away on another occasion: