Friday, April 24, 2009

River otters on Lake Superior

In early April my dad, brother, his kids, and I were driving along the shore of Lake Superior on the way to a nearby trout stream. I was looking out at the lake and spotted a long dark critter on the ice near the shore. My brother saw it at the same time. We turned around and drove back to find this northern river otter with a dead fish pulled up onto the ice.

I hadn't brought my camera with me and asked my dad to take me back for it. After I got the camera I drove back to where the otter had been. Everyone else went fishing. I pulled over to the side of the road and shot a few photos from inside the car. Another car stopped behind me and the driver walked up to see the otter and wanted to visit. When the driver walked up, the otter got off of the ice, pulled the fish into the water and swam off.

I couldn't see where the otter put the fish, but it was too big for him to move it far. I was disappointed that the otter left but thought he'd come back to eat. I moved my car further away from where the otter had been, took my camera and tripod and walked down along the lake shore. I found a good spot tucked back among some rocks with tree branches in front of me. I sat on the sand, pulled my hat over my ears and my jacket tight around me as a stiff breeze came in off the lake. Then I waited.

After about 10 minutes I could see the otter popping its head up from a crack in the ice about 50 yards away. A little while later it swam to where I last saw the fish and got up onto the ice.

Here is the otter with the fish which turned out to be a large carp.

The northern river otter is eating part of the carp.

After eating for awhile the otter pulled the fish back into the water and stood on the snow.

The otter didn't seem to mind me sitting about 50 feet away.

Once the otter left, this herring gull came to clean up the scraps.

After swimming in the lake for about twenty minutes the otter came back to where it had left the carp.

The otter had all it could handle pulling the large fish back up onto the ice.

I watched as the otter braced itself and tugged the fish up out of the water.

The fish seemed like a tremendous feast.

The river otter spent the next half an hour eating its fill. Gulls flew over and sat on the ice nearby. When the otter was done eating it again pulled the fish off the ice and lodged it underneath so the birds could not get at it.

The otter shakes off after swimming in the lake.

The otter is up on the ice near some old dock pilings.

The otter spent time cleaning its paws and fur and rolling on its back.

Finally the otter stood up to its full height, looked around and then swam off. In all I spent more than 3 hours photographing the river otter. During the time that I was there I could see three adult bald eagles out on the ice a few hundred yards away, but they never tried to steal the fish nor did they fly very close to the otter.