Thursday, January 17, 2013

Beavers and Otters Learn to Get Along

After abandoned farms and pastures became state park land in the 1962, beavers began developing the western end of Wellesley Island. They soon created two large ponds, the Big Pond (A in the satellite photo above) and Second Swamp Pond (C). Then the aging local trapper confined himself to muskrat trapping along the river shore and stopped trapping in the swamps. In the early 80's beavers built dams creating the East Trail Pond and Shangri-la Pond (E); by 1987, beavers built a 12 foot high dam creating the Lost Swamp Pond (B ). The beavers added more ponds up stream, but they also built ponds down stream toward South Bay, including D, what I would call Otter Hole Pond. The old trapper had never seen an otter on the island. By the early 1990s the beavers had built a series of ponds with one series leading up to the Big Pond and the other to the Lost Swamp Pond, both routes irresistible to otters coming up from the Saint Lawrence River through South Bay looking for bullheads, pollywogs and shelter.

To be sure, otters and beavers have co-evolved over several million years. But since Europeans colonized North America in the 16th century, otters and beavers were trapped for their pelts and almost extinct by the late 19th century. In the early 19th century John James Audubon described a last heyday for otters: "About twenty-five years ago we went early one autumnal morning to study the habits of the Otter at Gordon and Spring's Ferry, on the Cooper River, six miles above Charleston, where they were represented as being quite abundant. They came down with the receding tide in groups or families of five or six together. In the space of two hours we counted forty-six. They soon separated, ascended the different creeks in the salt marshes, and engaged in capturing mullets." One doubts that there have been many autumnal mornings for otters like that in North American the last 200 years.

Extinction ends the evolution of a species. Does near extinction undo co-evolution? With so few otters and beavers, did they lose their innate sense of how to co-exist? I don't know, but in the summer of 1997 I think I observed a significant event in the lives of some otters and beavers on Wellesley Island. They figured out how to get along with each other, but let me hasten to add: it took me 15 years to realize that.

That summer a drought crowded the otters and beavers on the west end of the island into the more viable ponds. The beavers moved from Beaver Point Pond, their newest pond, back to Otter Hole Pond. Adult otters could easily move into the huge river unaffected by the drought but otter mothers raised their pups in the beaver ponds and they wouldn't be fully prepared for life in the river until the late fall. I had reason to believe that their being crowded together might lead to difficulties. In March 1996 I discovered that otters dug a hug hole in the dam of one of the new large ponds, which is why ever since I've called that pond Otter Hole Pond. 

In April the beavers patched the huge hole saving their pond. In February 1997 I saw that otters dug two holes through Otter Hole Pond. In April the beavers patched it again.

It struck me then and I concluded later that beavers accept that breaching of their dam. They don't compete with otters for food. With the water draining out, otters could feast on pools of fish. Beavers could more conveniently chew the bark off logs and branches sunk in the pond. More air under the ice can make life easier for both animals. But in the late summer of 1997, when otters crowded into the same pond the beavers had to move back to because of the drought, the beavers seemed uneasy with the otters. Maybe I had an inkling that I might see something significant. I finally went out and bought a camcorder to supplement the sparse journal notes I was taking. There was a lot going. Even the herons were showing their displeasure at the otters catching fish.

October 2 just back from Otter Hole Pond - on my way there I saw fresh otter scats at the Middle Pond and then as I crossed one of the little ponds between the Middle Pond and Big Pond, I saw a half eaten fish.

After sitting at Otter Hole pond for a few minutes, I saw one otter working the area around the lodge. There was a heron on the far shore. I thought it was looking at me, about to fly away. Herons never flee when I appear on the scene but they almost always grudgingly fly away usually with a squawk. But this heron flew to the lodge, maybe to get a fish the otter put there. Then the otter climbed onto the lodge - scooted up to top - the heron gave an acknowledging crick to the neck. Was it a confrontation? Probably not. The otter did some grooming as they often do when they get out of the pond. Then the heron flew off.

When the otter went in the other side of the lodge, I heard some snickering so I knew there must be other otters and soon one went out to fish along the dam while the other dove at the base of the lodge and began munching what looked like a root, but must have been a well gnawed large brown bullhead. Then the otter fishing the dam came back and in a few minutes three otters came out like a little flotilla. They fished behind the dam, the far shore and I decided to wait and see if they would come around to where I was sitting, but they didn't. At one point an osprey flew over and I am almost certain that the otter gave its osprey-like call back to the bird. Heading home I crossed the dam at the Middle Pond in the next valley and saw a half eaten bullhead with the head still twitching! Is it evidence of more otter foraging in this pond or did a heron fly off before swallowing its meal? They sometimes seem to play with their food.

Let me step out of 1997 for a second. I hate to give the impression the otters and herons are implacable enemies. On October 17 I saw a heron scare an otter pup, but I never saw otters and herons have such a testy relationship again. During another late summer drought in 2001, herons and otters ignored each other as they fed on the shiners in a small pool of water behind Beaver Point Pond dam.

October 7 1:30 pm at Otter Hole Pond, soft summer day, wind just picking up. Leaves dry and crackling so its easy to scare ducks away. Tried two panorama shots of Beaver Point Pond and Otter Hole Pond. I couldn't capture the latter very concisely but there is a point of rock just on the north side of the Beaver Point Pond dam and standing there I can get most of the pond with just three photos pieced together.

A photo looking at the dam to the right doesn't quite fit with that panorama. Unfortunately I don't have a photo of this section of the valley when it was filled with small trees, nor of how it looked this summer during the dry spell when the beavers left. I do have a photo of the lodge during the summer and it's easy to see why the beavers abandoned it and moved back to Otter Hole Pond.

The lodge is tucked back in an extension of the pond to the left of the panoramic photo and there is a dam holding water back there. The drought is breaking. Half the water is back in the pond but no signs the beavers are back after moving back up to Otter Hole Pond.

Now and then I took photos of the ponds, but not enough. In 1997 I actually thought I was seeing the landscape more or less permanently altered. I wanted to name the beaver ponds and have them put on the map figuring that would help save them from destruction by humans. Here is what Beaver Point Pond looked like in 2011

That's a far cry from how it looked when the beavers flourished there in the fall of 1996:

October 9 went out at about two, sat by Middle Pond - not much happening and then went to Otter Hole Pond - the tree on the rock ridge on the south side - otters were out near the main lodge in the middle of the pond and I saw them before they saw me. There were four - looking much bigger - I could hear some back bones cracking as they munched fish and frogs. One seemed to try to get down into the dirt of the lodge. It sat at the base of the lodge nipping at a fish. They seem to be catching bigger fish. One otter came up with a large fish in his mouth and still dived down. I don't think it let the fish go. Then the four went off together purposefully - doing the far western shore. Only this time they scooted up on shore now and then.

They sported around a heron that looked bemused as usual. It eventually flew off. I repositioned myself further east to answer the riddle - where did the otters go? They seemed to be going up stream to the Second Swamp Pond so I moved up to the big rock, then down it so I could see. I spied the otters on the bank lodge on the shore across across from me.

I sat down and froze. The otters didn't seem to notice even though I was in a completely exposed position. The otters - just three - squirmed around in the dirt of the lodge. I had seen this before - but now - and it was a warm sultry afternoon - they were making a bed. One managed to zonk out pretty quickly, lying twisted on back and side with his head down and tail up. Another kept squirming on its back but just couldn't get comfortable. The third curled up into the one that already seemed asleep. Then the fourth otter joined them, nuzzled all the others, got a position above but not on the pile, stretched out on its back and seemed to go right off to sleep. Finally even the squirming one nestled in on its back. What a lump of fur! Pure relaxation and easy affection! For a period of several minutes the only movement was the twitching accompanying sleep.

This was not a quiet swamp, with the usual ducks, foraging chickadees and the sounds of work in the distance. Periodically the otters would look up, then nestle back down. Then one otter slipped out of the pile, dived straight down and didn't come back up. I guessed that it went into the lodge. I had speculated that beavers occupied this lodge. There were freshly gnawed logs here so I wanted to see if a beaver would appear, or if the other three otters would dive down into the lodge. The diving otter came back and dove again. Another otter woke up, but when the diving otter came up on the lodge, they all flopped back to sleep. Then a beaver appeared swimming east of the lodge. He could have come from the bank. I must see if there are bank holes over there. He swam away, over to my shore, forgetting the usual beaver inspection tour. He began gnawing on a little twig.

I wanted to see how the otter would react to a beaver tail splash. Soon enough there was a splash in the middle of the pond. The otters looked up briefly and went back to sleep. The beaver dived and seemed to go back to the large lodge in the middle of the pond. I sneaked away not disturbing anything but the anxious beaver, swimming near the lodge gave me another splash. Oh yes, the otters didn't poop as much as I expected. In the span of an hour only two went to the top of the lodge, stretched their tails out and relieved themselves.

Notice how much I wrote about the otters and how little about the beavers. But I had been watching beavers in this pond and the pond below for 3 years in all seasons. I was used to them. But the otters were infrequent and magical visitors to the pond, only easy to track in the late summer and fall. I didn't see the otter family until September 1. And back then before I learned how strict otters could be about keeping to their territory, I thought otters could pop up any time any where. I thought the otters I saw on the 9th were bigger. I was thinking there were four more otters added to the otter family of four I had been seeing! Without video there was no way I could confirm that.

October 10 I bought a video camera mainly to help keep track of the otters I've been seeing. About 5 pm Ottoleo [my 10 year old son] and I went to Otter Hole Pond. We went up to the shaded rocks over looking the pond and immediately saw a beaver in the pond, then Ottoleo saw the otters swimming right toward us.

We clearly saw 3 and both of us kept thinking there was a 4th. These otters probably den in the rocks that were below us. They soon saw or got a whiff of us and turned and swam parallel to rocks.

Two of them looped back farther out in the pond and swam back and forth periscoping up snorting in our direction.

They swam together like they were conferring.

Those two dived and disappeared. Then we noticed the 3rd diving and swimming off behind them. But two surfaced quickly back at the lodge, took another look at us and swam behind the lodge.

We kept hoping they'd reappear but they didn't. As we walked along the grassy part of ridge we almost stepped into some fresh otter scat.

We lost track of the beavers, but with the otters gone we soon saw them again. I assume they came out from their lodge, the same one the otters might have gone into. A beaver swam toward the dam. It dived into the water then resurfaced at the dam and walked over it and down into the shallows of Beaver Point Pond.

I think this suggests that the beavers are now uncertain about using their lodges in Otter Hole Pond now that the otters are here, and that they are denning in a burrow up-pond and then going past the otters and down to Beaver Point Pond. I saw the ripples the beaver made in Beaver Point Pond and then lost track of it. Then I noticed another beaver, smaller I think, in Otter Hole Pond. It cruised the now golden pond,

peeved either at my presence or the otters, it slapped its tail. Not that we saw the otters again. I saw the beaver cruise up the shady upper end of the pond. Then it was time for us to go home to dinner. We decided we saw three beavers. We noticed the third at the base of lodge hunched over for a long time. Maybe now that the otters were quieter, a beaver reclaimed its lodge.

Over the years I took photos of the ponds, but did it more rarely once I got the camcorder. Here is a photo of Otter Hole Lodge at a quieter time when the pond was lower and the beavers were back down in Beaver Point Pond

This photo taken during a thaw had poor lighting but reveals the contours of the dam.

And while I'm showing photos of the pond not taken in 1997 that still might better explain what happened in 1997, here is a photo of the rocks along the south shore of the pond, not far from the lodge, that shows places otters could den without bothering the beavers, and vice versa. The photo was taken during a drought. When the pond was full the water would be up to my waist affording underwater entrances into the jumble of granite rocks.

October 11 I went off by myself after 4pm, went to the north shore of Otter Hole Pond. Otters were there and I think they heard me, because they snorted. Three of them swimming up pond turned and swam back toward the main lodge and disappeared diving into the water. I enjoyed watching ducks for an hour - skittish from duck hunting. I relocated to a concealed spot on the north shore of Beaver Point Pond where the beavers have been doing more tree cutting. Beavers appeared after five. One in Otter Hole Pond splashed several times, I assume at the otters, which didn't prevent two or three beavers in Beaver Point Pond from grooming and cleaning themselves on the shore across from me.

I usually see the beavers more active in this pond. Much fresh beaver work down there, but they didn't seem interested in that. The darker beaver stayed hunched over a long time.

October 15 Yesterday after lunch I went to Otter Hole pond. The otters were there, but my camcorder battery ran out, so no video. All four fished together and when they got toward the shore, one started screaming because of me.

October 17 I went to Otter Hole Pond - saw a brown body coming up from Beaver Point Pond scattering the ducks I didn't scare away. I thought it was the otters but it was a beaver dragging a branch up. He took it past Otter Hole Pond lodge and then sank it.

A beaver is not going to sink branches for winter unless it is planning to live in the lodge. The beaver seemed to become cautious. I thought it sensed me, but then the otters showed up. Of course, I trained the camcorder at them as they swam down pond. One pulled up short of the lodge, and turned away with an angry screech.

After studying the video a long time, indeed, years after I took it, I figured out that the otter had turned away from a beaver in its way. Meanwhile another otter, or probably two other otters, swam under water, as far as I could tell, and surfaced at the beaver lodge.

I heard an otter screech, really it's more of a high pitched growl, and one otter climbed on the lodge. Then there was a splash from the other side of the lodge, that I couldn't see, likely a beaver slapping its tail. I was anticipating a confrontation between the otters and beavers, but I expected the more peaceful vegetarian, the beaver, to keep away from the otters. Instead it looked like the beavers were putting it to the otters. I waited for an otter to chase the beaver or beavers away. Instead the one on the lodge slowly climbed down its slope of logs

and got back into the water, following another otter that evidently had lurked at the edge of the lodge.

All the otters began fishing just off from the lodge in their normal fashion with rolling dives and at times tails wagging in the air and using stray logs, and not the lodge, as a place to dine on a caught fish. I hadn't notice that once again there was a heron around the pond, and fortunately I had the camcorder running as it flew low over the pond and gave one of the otters a fright.

It seemed like the otters who for a month and a half seemed to rule this pond were being put in their place. Then a beaver swam between me and the otters coming down from the direction of the Second Swamp Pond. It was making a deep wake exhibiting an attitude which I later learned was one of high alert.

But the beaver didn't bother the otters nor did the otters notice it. The beaver went directly over the dam down into Beaver Point Pond.

The otters did move closer to me, and found good fishing around some logs floating off in the pond not far from me.

Then the otters had their fill and continued up pond.

Over the years I've gotten the impression that beavers don't gang up when they confront other animals or a wandering beaver invading their territory. One beaver seems delegated to be the policeman, so to speak. I decided not to go off looking to the otters. I don't want to chase otters, as I've sometimes done in my earliest experiences watching them. I don't want to give the otters any reason to leave this pond where I have such a comfortable seat to watch them. Plus I wanted to see if any beavers were still in the pond. In about a half hour I saw the otters swimming through the trees flooded along the north shore.

As they were about to turn and swim down pond, I used the camcorder zoom to start getting a closer look at them, but they didn't come out from the trees as quickly as I expected. I saw ripples in the water and zoomed in on that. Then I heard a loud screech, shifted my focus to where I thought that was coming from and saw a beaver floating in the pond facing the otters who were backing away in the water,

and two climbed on logs, and I heard more screeching obviously coming from the otters. Then all four of them swam back away from the beaver

and the beaver swam placidly back to the lodge. Although I had been seeing the beavers and otters warily coexisting since they both started using this pond, I assumed that if there was any confrontation that the otters would dominate if not attack the beaver, and in this case there were four otters and just one beaver. So rather than follow the beaver back to the lodge, I used the camcorder to try to discern the otters' next response to the beaver's blocking their way, but as far as I could tell, the otters disappeared. Then I looked for that unflappable beaver and couldn't find it either.

October 19 Today I approached Otter Hole Pond from the northwest. It seemed quiet but as I was crossing on the dam to get to the other side of the pond where it was more comfortable to sit and wait for otters, I saw the otters up pond. I managed to get to the other side without their seeing me. It seemed like they were taking the same route toward the lodge as they did two days ago with the mother in the lead and her pups chirping quietly behind her. But while the mother swam boldly to the lodge, the pups stayed behind and fished in the shallows along the northwest shore of the pond. The mother went on the other side of the lodge so I lost track of her but soon enough she joined the pups.

They swam over to the shallows along the north shore of the pond fishing as they went.

One pulled up with a fish, raising its head high about the water as it chewed

and then once again the mother swam toward the lodge, this time swimming to the side where I could see her. She swam quite fast and, I thought, purposefully.

She dived directly into the water beside the lodge and I kept the camcorder trained there long enough to give me the impression that she went into the lodge. I noticed that there was a strip of mud on that side of the lodge suggesting that beavers are beginning to prepare the lodge for their occupying it during the winter. When the otter came back up to surface of the pond another otter was on a log next to the lodge. Then they both dived down next to the lodge. I heard a noise, a kind of chuckling purr. Later I learned that's a sound otters make when they are coordinating their swimming. No sound from any beaver

I got the impression that they were checking to see if beavers were in the lodge. Then they both swam back up pond, but not far, and close to me. Centering their diving around a tree trunk floating in the pond.

The otters -- I could always see two and I think all four where there -- churned the water with their foraging which seemed very successful judging from the number of fish they brought up. Then their roiling moved a bit up pond and I was treated to some synchronized dives.

I think the pups were no longer being fed by the mother. They were catching fish on their own.

I have been getting looks at these otters for a couple weeks, always seeing two together, then three, and now and then seeing four together in the water. Today all four of them scampered up on the far shore. As they came back down into the pond, it looked like the mother stood guard up on a downed tree trunk as the three pups hurried into the water.

They swam along the north shore of the pond. I waited patiently and then finally noticed an otter on the bank lodge. It began digging down into the dirt of the lodge.

Eventually it was joined by at least two more otters, but one dropped down into the water. The remaining two began nuzzling and one seemed to enjoy being rocked around on its back, but unfortunately, the distance to this lodge is just a little beyond the range of the camcorder. Indeed just beyond the two active otters there was a lump of black that I sometimes thought was another otter, sometimes thought was a shadow. Then the otter that went swimming came back up on the lodge and I think nuzzled that black lump awake. But I really couldn't be sure.

It is very difficult to distinguish one otter from the other as they rolled around. When I left they seemed to be falling to sleep. They were up on lodge for a long time and I had to get home. In retrospect, I think it was that digging down into the dirt of the lodge that was bugging the beavers. To prepare for winter beavers sink logs and branches around their lodge and they also bring mud up from the pond around the lodge and lard the mud on the lodge. That deepens the channels around the lodge to make it easier to swim under the ice and, once it freezes, the mud on the lodge adds insulation keeping the lodge warm and making it harder for coyotes to dig into the lodge.

October 20 to 24 It turned colder and some of the ponds had ice in the morning. I didn't see the otters until briefly on the 23rd, I saw one poop on the rocks below where I usually sit, too far away to get a good video. Then it disappeared. Meanwhile the beavers seemed to be devoting all their attention to Beaver Point Pond. I decided to wait for a warmer night to see if they had moved back to the lodge there. Then on the 24th I saw that the beavers were making a winter cache in front of the lodge in the middle of Otter Hole Pond. The otters didn't scare them off.

October 25 I went out in the evening hoping to see beavers add to their food pile. I saw several beavers but none at work. Most came up to the pond from the east, not from Beaver Point Pond to the west, as if they were coming from a bank lodge, where? Since they came without food, I assume they were coming to get something to eat at the cache. They don't always wait until winter to eat the food they store for the winter. Half of the beavers dived on the upstream side of the lodge, half dived next to the food pile, which has grown quite a bit.

Half seemed to sniff the lodge before they dived as if getting instructions, reading directions. One was down beside the lodge in front of me munching on green leaves. Those leaves wouldn't keep until winter anyway. It struck me that they were using the lodge as a place to eat leaves and gnaw the bark of sticks just like I had seen otters use it as a place to eat the fish they caught.

Two of the beavers went over the dam one after the other.

And once in Beaver Point Pond one seemed to stay right on the tail of the other. There are more trees in that pond, including big aspens. I got the impression that there were already beavers down in that pond. I soon heard tail slaps. Did the newcomers warn the other beavers that I was around? Or was someone else was observing them down pond? When I walked down, a beaver swam over to me, gave me the long look,

Then it swam down wind to confirm its suspicions, swam back to me and started slapping its tail.

The beavers knew I was there and even if I could see them in the dark, I would just see how they reacted to me, and not what they were really up to which I assume will be cutting trees in Beaver Point Pond and trimming off branches to haul up to their cache in front of the lodge in Otter Hole Pond.

Pardon the poor videos and photos. I might be able to improve them when I get better software, but the basic problem was my inexperience taking video of beaver activity as it got dark. I always tried to get a close-up of the beavers which made for a better image but didn't really show how the lodge, the cache, and the hungry beavers formed a group. It also must seem like I've lost the thread of my story since I was no longer seeing the beavers confronting the otters. Indeed, for years I didn't think there was a continuing story. On the one hand, one should not jump to conclusions when interpreting what nature reveals, but on the other hand never stop going over what one has seen, search for subtleties that might have been missed. On October 17 the beaver fronted the otters and finally kept them away. On October 19 the otters came back and even dived into the lodge. But something had changed. The otters didn't climb up on the lodge on the 19th and meanwhile the beavers continued preparing the lodge for winter.

October 26 I went out at noon. Middle Pond and co. were frozen. Otters were back in Otter Hole Pond, four of them going through all the paces. After bobbing around as a group in the middle of the pond, they swam quickly down toward the beaver lodge, making some nice rolling dives.

There was no aggressive investigation of the beaver lodge. A pup or two used the logs in the cache in front of the lodge to dive off of,

but none of the otters went up on the lodge. They fished as they headed back up pond. While fishing together, there seemed to be no sharing of fish or trying to steal another otter's catch. So I think I can conclude that all the pups have learned to fish. Well, there was one brief byplay as one otter screeched another away. Then the mother, I think, got a big fish and resting on a log brought it high out of the pond as she chewed it. Each of her pups swam by her and not one made the least feint toward her and try to beg for a bite.

They swam to the bank lodge up pond and I saw two of them, pups judging from the playfulness, dry themselves in the sun there.

I tried to get closer and was discovered. I thought they were all hiding in fear but when I walked out going down pond, two of them came huhhing after me to see that I was leaving and then either swam behind or dived into the bank lodge. If they did dive into the lodge, bothering the beavers in there, it was my fault for scaring them away from their rock den. Here is the video I took and edited that day, and you can see things better than the still shots lifted from the video show.

Notice that a heron flew low over the otters. No peace between them. I think what is most important to notice is the change of attitude in the otters from the 19th. Then they seemed aggressive around the beaver lodge. On the 26th they just went about the business of catching fish and napping, until they took umbrage at my presence. The beavers and otters seem to have decided how each could use the pond and the two lodges.

The end of daylight savings time plus the colder and wetter weather common in early November made it more difficult to get out to the ponds especially seeing the beavers in the early evening. On comfortable afternoons I would sit by Otter Hold Pond and wait for otters to appear. On October 30, my wife and I watched the otters napping on the bank beaver lodge. They kept napping and didn't go fishing. Then the rains came, 2 inches in 24 hours. The beavers began cutting down trees on the west shore of Otter Hole Pond. A week later there was more heavy rain. The drought was over. All the ponds, even Beaver Point Pond, were full to the point of leaking.

On November 5 my love for otters was requited. Unfortunately, video overwhelmed my written journal. This is all I wrote about what I saw November 5: "Lots of good videos of otters roiling for fish in front of dam." Of course the video helps me remember, and it was a stunning experience. I sat at my usual spot above the jumble of granite that forms the south shore of Otter Hole Pond close to the lodge. Then, as I tell myself in the video, I heard a chuckling purring sound. I first thought it came from beavers in the lodge but the otters were making it in the rocks below me. Then suddenly the otter family swam out from their den in the rocks and treated me with the an elegant display of swimming, diving and fishing.

Then they fished behind the dam. They paid no attention to the lodge and they may have been intending to go back to the rock dens they came out from -- plenty of room to scat and nap there, but they noticed me and gave me the business.

November 11 in the evening I went to Beaver Point pond and otters were in the pond - they snorted at me and retreated over the dam - it was past their bedtime anyway. Then a beaver splashed at me - a little guy - quite persistent it came right up to me. What a symphony of work at around beaver point but I still think the beavers live in Otter Hole Pond. A might chilly but I managed the video well enough.

That journal entry hardly describes what I saw and the video shows half the excitement. There was a high rock just south of Beaver Point Pond dam that I reasoned would make a good vantage point to watch activity in the pond. I was wrong. The otters were in and out of the pond rather quickly. The whole time the beavers tried to get to work in the pond, a small beaver kept swimming below me and slapping its tail. Thus an evening that might have included another otter-beaver interaction turned into a display of both species' dislike of me.

As the ponds began to freeze, the otters and beavers reacted differently. The otters expanded their range. I saw tracks in the going to and from South Bay. The ponds freeze first so the otters fish more in the river. The ice limits the beavers. They don't range far from holes in the ice, and they forage more in the day.

I managed to get some good close-ups of them nibbling twig bark along the shore of Beaver Point Pond.

I finally got video a beaver bringing mud up on the lodge.

November 17 I went out in mid afternoon. No signs of otters except that area in front of rocks was open. I saw some fresh scats. Beavers were all over. Two big ones in Beaver Point Pond again. Little guys around the lodge. One mid sized beaver packed mud on the roof of the lodge in Otter Hole Pond, which looked quite muddy, black with mud. Beaver would not slide down but climbed down.

On the 17th at least otters still seemed to be behaving, going into the rock dens at Otter Hole Pond. Then on the 19th, instead of seeing four otters, I just saw two. November 19 ... I came up to Otter Hole pond and immediately caught a glimpse of fur at an opening in the ice of Beaver Point pond Otters! Two of them - one surfacing with a fish and climbing out onto the ice - devouring it in a fiddle faddle way as if for my entertainment. I think I heard them under the ice at Beaver Point Pond dam, then again I thought I heard them below Otter Hole Pond dam but a tail splash proved that to be a beaver. The other day I saw the trails of two large otters coming back into the ponds from South Bay.

Evidently, back in 1997 I was still expecting another otter-beaver confrontation. In retrospect I think they had made their peace. On December 7, we had a fresh snowfall, and my wife, son, and I took a walk along South Bay. Just before we reached the creek that drains Otter Hole and Beaver Point Ponds, we saw fresh otter prints in the snow and their trail headed up a little ridge overlooking Beaver Point Pond. We followed and once up the ridge we saw two otters sliding in the snow around the lodge the beavers built and abandoned back in the summer. The otters scampered on top of it as if to get more speed to slide in the snow.

Then they headed up pond and I guessed that they swam under the ice up to Otter Hole Pond. I followed and found them there. The beavers' cache in front of the lodge was huge.

The otters saw me and starting huffing at me. So I can't say for sure where they would have gone if I hadn't be there. But there were no otters slides on the snow covered cache and lodge. All the slides on the pond ice and snow flowed out of the rock dens.

But yes, there was a hole in the dam again by mid-winter, but it was much smaller than the past two winters.


  1. Brilliant, Bob! This is very interesting to us with our observations of contacts between otters and beavers.

  2. Thanks Paul. Let me know if you see the same behavior or something different.

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