Otter bliss

[As I send this, I am in Boston, where we had 23.7″ of snow yesterday, but no otters!].

Otters love to slide, and although they are said to do it in play, they also put it to practical use as a means of locomotion. This is all about sliding.

My videos are taken on my camera, hand-held and wobbly ( a style much admired by avant-garde directors). Nonetheless, from time to time I inflict them on my readers.

Here is a very short clip of a sliding otter, which I have slowed to half-speed. Although I have seen their tracks in the snow I’ve never watched them doing it before. It reminds me in its nonchalance of Nadal sliding to reach a ball on a clay court:

When an otter or two decides to really travel, they can use this slide technique to cover big distances. The other day we had two inches of fresh powdery snow on top of an icy crust on top of a ten-inch base layer. I decided it was too good to miss, so I went out skiing in the woods towards the beaver pond. And there, going across my ski trail, were two parallel otter slide tracks. You can see one in the foreground, heading from my ski trail (bottom right-hand corner) off to the left, and a second one just visible in the background,

It had only stopped snowing an hour or so earlier, so they were absolutely fresh. I needed my snow shoes, so I went home, and changed my equipment. On my return, I first followed the tracks north towards my beaver pond, which is frozen solid. My tiny beagle cleverly discovered the only patch of thin ice, and fell in. Disaster. Just as I was about to throw down my camera and get on my belly to rescue her, she managed to hoist herself out onto the ice. So we went straight home to dry her out.

I phoned a friend, and she and I set off again, on snowshoes, and without the dog. We returned to the beaver pond, and realized they had emerged from the water just where my dog had gone in (!), climbed over the beaver dam, and down to the stream bed. The dam is in the background of this shot at the top of the photo, with the pond invisible behind it:

The otters seemed to have been messing around on the ice, possibly grooming, or even eating a fish? Here is a close up of their prints:

They followed the stream for a short distance (look at the tracks at bottom right of the photo)::

Then they peeled off into the woods, heading who knows where? The tracks were roughly parallel, about 7″ wide, but sometimes they’d part to go on opposite sides of a tree, then rejoin each other:

I used my GPS app to record our walk, and we tracked them from the beaver dam southwards for 0.6Km, the yellow line on the map. Then we ran out of time, and they were still a long away from the nearest water, though they seemed to be heading for the small stream at the bottom of the map, about 0.4Km further on..

For most of the way the ground was more or less level, but sliding was their preferred technique. Occasionally they had to waddle to go up and over (or under) a fallen tree or small boulder, which looked like hard work, but otherwise they slid, putting their paws down for the odd shove. The longest single slide we saw was about 20 feet. Most were six feet or so between boosts. It was a magical close encounter, a window into their lives.

PS Thankyou, Leigh, for your company, your tracking expertise, and your own wonderful blog, Wonder my Way, .

7 thoughts on “Otter bliss”

  1. Wow! That’s a delightful expedition….what if you had surprised the otters & seen them sliding…maybe you will, sometime soon! Good thing your Beagle is alright. Yes, we got a lot of snow ‘down here!’


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