Mother Otters burrow near to, and within, North American Beaver lodges, to give birth and to raise their young. The den will often have many entrances and exits. The mother raises her young alone. At about five weeks old the newborns will begin playing. At two months, the kits (also called pups) coat has grown in and she introduces them to water. At nine weeks they begin to eat solid food and are weaned by twelve weeks.
The family bond is beautiful to watch and the young River Otters are utterly adorable in their playfulness. Just some of the familial behaviors that have been so wonderful to observe–otters grooming each other, snuggling under Mom (and playfully biting her tail), siblings wrestling each other, and all taking a morning nap together.
One of the most interesting moments was observing what happened one morning after the mother caught a frog. At first look it appeared as though the kit was stealing the frog from her, but after examining the footage, she caught the frog and deliberately incapacitated it, although she did not eat. She was holding the frog for her young otter to come and catch it from her.
An Otter’s whiskers are extra sensitive; the long whiskers have evolved to aid in hunting underwater. NA River otters are near-sighted, possibly as a result of underwater hunting.
Cape Ann’s growing Otter population is a clear sign that our waterways are in good health. North American River Otters are very sensitive to dirty water. Clean water, along with the expanded range of the North American Beavers, has helped create a welcoming habitat for River Otters to dwell and to breed.
Why is this not so little white heron called a Little Blue Heron? Compared to a Great Blue Heron, it is relatively smaller. As to the entirely white plumage, this is a first hatch year Little Blue in its white phase. In the second spring and summer, the white feathers will gradually be replaced by beautiful slate blue feathers, giving the bird a temporary and unique calico appearance.
Little Blue herons are closely related to Snowy Egrets and the white immature morphs feed alongside the Snowys. You can tell them apart easily not only by bill and feet, but by their feeding habits. Snowy Egrets forage with a great deal of flourish, agitating the water with their feet, and vigorously fluttering, flapping, and flying along the shoreline. Little Blue Herons are stealth hunters, moving with slow deliberation before executing an exacting capture.
The North American River Otter is making an amazing comeback, not just on Cape Ann and all around Massachusetts, but in many regions throughout the United States. River Otters need unpolluted wetlands, streams, rivers, and ponds to survive, along with secluded places to den. Hollows in the banks of ponds and rivers make excellent dens and so do former Beaver lodges. As the perpetually-lodge-building Beaver has returned, so has the North American River Otter.
This summer over in West Gloucester there appeared to be two Otter families, one mama with three pups and another mama with four pups. After watching the romp of Otters eat tadpoles and frogs early in the summer, by midsummer they had graduated to American Eels. I at first could not figure out what they were doing skirmishing around in the tall grass at the pond bank. Compared to diving and resurfacing with a mouthful of frog, this was entirely new behavior. There was much excited chortling when one of the pups caught an eel, which then seemed to set off a chain of eel ambushing and eating. One morning I had the great fun of observing three otter siblings chomping down on an otterly delicious breakfast!
American Eels can grow up to five feet long and weigh as much as 16 pounds. These Eels were about three to four feet long. American Eels spend most of their lives in freshwater and only return to saltwater to spawn and then die.
The pups deftly use their feet to hold fast the slippery eel.
Why is clean water so vital to the survival of River Otters? Pesticides, industrial pollution run off such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and mercury are absorbed by the River Otters prey. The chemicals accumulate in the River Otters, causing illness and death.
Upcoming film projects and studying the life story of our beloved Mr. Swan led to learning more about the life story of many creatures found at our local ponds. Frogs in all their myriad incarnations I soon discovered were the keystone species, playing starring roles as both predator and prey. American Bullfrogs are by far the most common, but I also filmed Green Frogs and Wood Frogs. I shot hundred (perhaps thousands) of photos of frogs, and hours of footage too, and have only begun to organize, but here is a small sampling.
Young Bullfrogs lay in wait for bees and other insects drinking nectar from the pond lilies. They’ll sit stone still for half an hour and in some cases, even much longer, for the perfect moment. The smallest Bullfrog can leap several feet across the water and lily pads to snatch an insect mid-air.
When the hunter is hunted. Birds and otters feast on tadpoles, frogs, and froglets. Larger Bullfrogs are cannibalistic and eat smaller versions of themselves. First hatch-year Little Blue Herons (pictured) eating a frog in the above photo and a froglet in the photo below.
More about pond life coming soon!
If you would like to help towards the completion of my documentary film Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly, filmed in the wilds of Cape Ann and Angangueo, Mexico, please consider making a tax deductible donation here:
Donors contributing over $5,000. will be listed in the credits as a film producer.
For more information, visit the film’s website here: Monarch Butterfly Film
For an overview of the film’s budget, please go here: Budget
Thank you so very much for your help.