Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Otters Are Here!

A beautiful afternoon, with lots of sun and a bright blue sky. It seemed like a good day to check out the ice in the marsh behind Three Pine Island. Sure enough, it was good and solid, mostly, with open areas only where streams run through.

I love to wander around frozen marshes, poking about where even my canoe can't gain access in summer, trying to ID the bushes and berries wearing their winter disguises. Today I found two kinds of Sweet Gale, same species but each appearing very different. Here's one kind with spiky little nubbins that I'm guessing are the staminate catkins that will fluff out with pollen come spring. Right now they seem to be sprinkled with something that looks like wheat germ.

Then I guess these must be the female buds. So sleek and elegant now, if they're what I think they are, they'll expand in spring into bright pink puffs of pistillate flowers.

And here are some bright green puffs right now, decorating the trunk of this leaning tree. Such pretty pin-cushiony tufts of moss! And funny. Looks like a bunch of hedgehogs climbing that tree.

Here's a close-up shot of one of those tufts, revealing its tiny curlicues.

There were lots of critter trails in the woods and across the ice today, foxes and coyotes, mostly, the same as I usually see around here. But then I came to this spot by a stream, and Whoa, I said, that's otter! In fact, it looked like several.

It was fun to see how they slid alongside the stream, slipping easily under logs.

I followed the trails where the otters left the stream and made their way through the woods, sliding along on the snow like kids on toboggans.

Because of their habit of sliding, it was hard to find a distinct, discrete print, since most were obliterated by the swish of their bodies. But here's a pretty good one. Looks to be about four inches long.

And here are a whole bunch more, packing the snow around what must be the otters' den among boulders close by the stream. There was lots of scat there, too, outside the door of the den. I poked some apart and found what looked like fish scales.

Well now, that was quite a find! I wonder when is the best time of day to observe river otters in action. If I were much younger, I'd probably plan to camp out in a blind, in order to spy unobserved. Not likely, at my age. But I'll certainly come back here often. At least now I know where they live.


suep said...

Oh boy I wish I had been able to go there yesterday with you - that first shot of the otter trail is beautiful! It looks like musical notation ...
Let's work on that "camping out" idea some time this year, I've got some ideas ...

Bird said...

Oh how exciting! This makes me want to camp out in the woods - the things you'd see!

I love the little procession of mosses climbing up the branch :)

Woodswoman Extraordinaire said...

I so love otters. It's best when you can find them in action, but just finding the sliding tracks brings to mind great images. If anyone doubts whether wild animals do things just for fun, they should spend some time watching otters slide in snow!

Ruahines said...

Kia ora,
Great place you have here. Love doing a virtual walk in winters bliss. Here in New Zealand we are in the midst of a steamy summer. I really enjoy the micro photos. The winter woods remind me of my youth in Wisconsin.

Ellen Rathbone said...

WOW - what a great find! Or I should say "great finds." I really like your hedgehoggy mosses. I'm thinking Dicranum, because of the curliness, but I could be wrong (no field guide on hand at the moment). The otter tracks, though, are the highlight! It's always a joy to me when I find otter tracks.

Kenton and Rebecca said...

One of our favorite tracks to find! This year, however, we haven't seen any at all, so it was wonderful to get to see them through your eye (or lens =) What a lovely adventure!

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Thank you suep and Bird and Woodswoman and Ruahines and Ellen and Kenton and Rebecca. I'd love to take all of you along as I try to spy on those otters -- though of course such a crowd would surely keep them in hiding! You can be sure I will post a photo if I ever do see them.

Welcome, Ruahines! Isn't it amazing how this blogging business can connect folks from all over the world?!

Jackie Callahan said...

Wow! That's amazing!How exciting to find otter tracks! I love their sliding tracks, they bring forth vivid pictures! Oh I am so grateful for all things wild and wonderful!