I now know that I have at least four aquatic mammals in Dollar Lake. The muskrats are, by far, the most visible but there is ample beaver evidence at the south end of the lake to prove the existence of these large rodents. An occasional mink track reminds me of their presence as well. Up until this year, I was fairly certain that these three mammals made up the entire hairy contingent in “my” lake. This spring, however, a forth critter made itself known. Imagine my surprise when I spotted an otter gamboling about the waters off the end of the dock. I was otterly surprised.
River otters are large animals, so it is hard to understand how one had been present in Dollar Lake for the last three years without being spotted. An average male weighs around 25 pounds (a female comes in at around 15 pounds) and they range from 3-4 feet in length. Because they tend to be nocturnal in habit, I guess it is very possible for a daytime human to overlook them. In spite of the above reasons, I’m guessing that this individual was a newly arrived visitor (a wandering otter known as an ottermobile). I’ve now spotted it over the course of the last several visits – usually towards late afternoon/early evening.
Otters are primarily fish eaters, so it is not a surprise that when I see him he is fishing. They do eat crayfish and prey upon an occasional muskrat or two, but fish are the mainstay diet for these hefty members of the weasel family. Dollar Lake is stocked with an abundant supply of small bullheads, perch, bluegill, and sunfish and in that regard it is an otter paradise.
When on the hunt, the first evidence of activity appeared as a bubble trail issuing to the surface. The trail twisted and turned with amazing velocity as the otter darted back and forth under the water in active pursuit of its prey. The frothy evidence would often disappear and then suddenly re-appear, within the blink of an eye, at a point several yards away. According to the literature, these creatures can swim 7 mph and can stay submerged for up to 8 minutes. They are as agile as the fish they are chasing.
I never saw the Dollar Lake Otter submerge for more than a minute at a time before the rounded head bobbed to the surface. More often than not he was chewing away on the last remnants of a finny meal and displaying a formidable set of teeth.
I never knew exactly where the thing would come to the surface and therefore had a very difficult time trying to get a decent picture of it. It would only remain exposed for a few seconds before diving again. My sole still photo for the first half of the month was a single shot of an otter butt slipping beneath the surface. The thick muscular tail was obvious in the shot, but little else. In this particular case, the beast slipped beneath the surface and didn’t re-appear until it was half-way across the lake and well beyond my camera range.
Play is the key component of otter life. They are well known for their Disney-like antics and my otter displayed a bit of this playfulness as I was filming it. At the end of a feeding sequence, it came up within a bed of lily pads. He purposely wrapped himself up in the stems and performed a few belly rolls before breaking free. The twilight hunt had been successful and the creature was apparently playing out some extra energy before taking a break.
This video evidence provided me the opportunity to at least share my otter amazement using something other than words and a single butt shot.