St Croix River Road Ramblings

Welcome to River Road Ramblings.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Otters Slide, Y Not U?

For many years a pair of otters have lived  on the small lake where Margo and I spend our summers.  They, along with beavers and water fowl are what makes living near a lake so special. 

The first time we saw an otter, we mistook it for one of the beaver family that lives in the lake.  For many years, the beavers have fought a battle with the Town crew—the beavers damming the road culvert that is the lake overflow and the crew clearing away the dam.   

The lake level rose a foot, then dropped, back and forth all summer as the battle raged, until late fall the beaver’s persistence won the final round for the season. 

When a beaver swims across the lake, his head is above the surface and he heads purposefully to a distant point—an unwavering rippling vee in the water as he goes about his work.  One day, we saws a head above the water making the rippling vee of what surely must be a drunken beaver.  This way, that way, diving down, and coming up yards away, and finally after 30 minutes of aimless waterobics, he dove purposefully down, disappeared for 3 minutes and came up, floated on his back and leisurely ate a fish held firmly in his hands. 

We had only seen Disney TV otters before.   Here was a real live one in our lake!   We came to the cabin weekends and soon saw two of them and then a third smaller one, their cub.  They followed the same pattern, swimming around playfully for an hour or more just off the shore from our porch, ending with lunch.  

Studying otters in the encyclopedia, we found that they are wonderfully adapted to water, live in tunnels along the bank, and are remarkably able at catching fish, finding clams, and other food.  This gives them hours of leisure each day, winter or summer.

On a trip as Scout leader for 15 scouts to the boundary waters of MN, we met an otter next to our primitive canoe camp.  The boys caught several fish, attached them to a stringer and tied it to a log just around the corner from camp.  When supper time came, they went for the fish, disturbing an otter sitting on the log, eating the last of the fish.  The stringer had only fish heads left. The otter had learned that when campers were nearby, a free lunch was likely.  

As we watched throughout the year, the beaver busily cut trees, worked on the dam and their brush house and drug vast amounts of brush to the bottom of the lake for winter foo.  We never saw them but they were working, sharing the lake with the otters who were never at work.  Each evening  mother, father and cub swam completely around the lake, barking, playing tag, and hassling the swans, loons and ducks along the way.  The beavers and otters ignored each other—workmen ignoring the idlers.    

Last week, with the ice still thick on the lake, we watched this otter pop out onto the wet ice from a series of small holes.  He looked around, and then made a run for it and slid on his belly back and forth for half an hour.  He was purely at play.    

Meanwhile, the beaver came ashore at the open spring, looked around,  and went directly to the tag alder and willow brush and began gnawing them off, and eating the bark.  Filling up, he swam under the ice, undoubtedly in a straight line to the open water at the road culvert and came ashore and contemplated the escaping water, obviously annoyed, likely having a touch of Midwestern Lutheran guilt, eager to begin the skirmish with the town crew anew.