River Otter—Lontra canadensis
When I was at the Schoodic Peninsula at Acadia National Park last fall, I especially enjoyed watching for otters. Here is what I wrote in my journal the first morning I saw them, after several days of looking for them each morning, hoping to catch a glimpse of them:
As we passed the pond where I’ve seen otter tracks crossing the road every morning, we heard some quiet splashing and spotted four little heads, each with its own wake, coming diagonally across the pond toward us. Otters! As they arrived at the edge of the pond, they saw us and submerged briefly. Then a head popped up, clearly looking at us and looking as though the otter was treading water to stay upright. Up and under a few times, whiskers dripping as the otter checked us out, clearly wary.
We backed out of sight and waited. And waited some more (and got colder and colder). After what seemed like a long time, but was probably no more than five minutes, an otter appeared on the roadside. She (or he) looked around, then ducked back out of sight, just as a second otter appeared. That one looked around a bit less warily, then loped across the road. As he reached the far side of the road he lay down briefly—which explains the larger wet marks I had been wondering about at one end of the tracks crossing the road each morning. The other three otters now appeared and loped across the road with their inimitable, curvy movement. Was the lead otter’s lying down a signal that all was safe?
Another morning I was looking out at the cove at some ducks and grebes, when something else caught my eye, something that looked a bit different than anything I had seen out in the water. I lifted my binoculars for a closer look—an otter swimming through the cove! Soon it was joined by three more, and I watched as they undulated up and down, sometimes diving, sometimes seeming to just enjoy up and down motion, as they curved in and out of the surface of the water without going deeper.
I watched as they climbed out on a rock and one leaned back, as though in a seaweed-covered recliner. At one point they all swam to a different rock and I watched as first one, then a second did what appeared to be scent-marking (sketch and description in my field sketches). Soon after, they all swam off, and I didn’t see them again until the next day, when they were out at Schoodic Point, swimming and then climbing on the rocks to eat, with one otter, who was separated from the other, whistling with what sounded like a distress call.