In this column last Feb. 13, 2020, I told you about Wisconsin’s fun-loving river otters. Since writing that story, I have come across and observed two interesting river otter tales I must share with you.
First, I found out that territorial otters are not always fun-loving animals when an uninvited otter starts poking around another otter family’s territory.
Mary Lou and I were heading out to Sailor Creek Flowage by Hick’s Landing to try and find five trumpeter swans that Sue Kartman had spotted a day or two earlier. We didn’t see the swans, but we saw what seemed like four dark blobs sitting on the ice near a patch of open water. Out came our camera and binoculars and we soon realized we were watching a family of four river otters fishing and having “fun!” We decided to drive down the road to get a closer look and get some pictures, not knowing what we were about to witness.
As we got closer to the otter family we stopped and watched them for a while. Suddenly, they all took off running and belly-sliding on the ice heading towards Hick’s Landing Road about 100 yards away. We took off too to see what they were going to do and, as luck would have it, we witnessed something few people will ever see — an otter territorial dispute — that we caught on video.
It turned out that the family of otters apparently spotted an uninvited intruding otter entering their territory, likely to do some fishing in a small opening of water among the ice-covered flowage near Hick’s Landing Road. The four otters took off after the intruder, chased it across Club Road, across a boggy area, and up a steep open bank where they captured it. A fight ensued and all the otters tumbled down to the bottom of the bank where the fight continued. Eventually, the intruder got driven off and the otter family returned to their home ice and otter life appeared to return to normal.
Fortunately, we were able capture much of what happened between the otters on video, so please take a look at our short video, OTTER STANDOFF AT SAILOR CREEK FLOWAGE, by clicking on: http://www.apg-wi.com/price_county_review/opinion/
We can thank Dick Ross, who lives on North River Road in Park Falls for our second otter tale. One morning in early March, I got a call from Dick just after breakfast asking me to come out to his place to witness an American bald eagle working hard to get a dead trumpeter swan up on the ice from a sliver of open water on the North Fork of the Flambeau River. That would be no easy task as trumpeter swans are the largest flying water birds in the world.
By the time I got there, the eagle had given up and flown off. Dick was not sure if the eagle had killed the formidable swan or, being a scavenger, had found it dead and was just trying to retrieve it for a feast. My concern was that the swan may have died of lead poisoning, as sometimes happens, and the eagle was just scavenging it.
A snow squall came up and we could hardly see across the river, so I left thinking I might stop at the WI DNR to see if they might be able to retrieve the swan and have it checked for lead poisoning. Just small amounts of lead are deadly to both eagles and swans (see my Price County Review article, THE DEADLY IMPACT OF LEAD ON WILDLIFE, Jan. 23, 2020).
Dick had called another photographer to try and get some pictures of what was happening; he arrived after I left. He set up his camera equipment in case the eagle returned. While doing so, guess what happened? Dick gave me a call and told me a river otter had come along, snatched the swan, and took off with it signaling the end of this otter tale!
Now that spring has officially arrived, it is time to look for signs of spring. We have seen several encouraging signs as follows at our Nature Education Center. A bunch of robins arrived March 16 when only small patches of bare ground were showing with snow everywhere else. Robins, being adaptable at surviving the transition between winter and spring, immediately found our red splendor crab berries left over after turkeys, pileated woodpeckers, and squirrels had their fill over winter. They fed on berries left on small branches that other, heavier berry eaters couldn’t gobble up! The chipmunks are out of hibernation looking for seeds around bird feeders. Black-capped chickadees and pine siskins are harvesting dog hair for nesting that we put out for them and other birds. A flock of American goldfinches arrived this past week and the males are already starting to molt into their bright gold plumage. A few purple finches showed up to. The tree sap is running, and tree buds are enlarging. The squirrels are biting into maple branches, hanging upside down, and lapping up the sweet sap coming from the wounded branches. The trumpeter swans are coming back to what open water there is to swim and feed and head out to last year’s corn fields to pick up waste seed.
There are lots of waterfowl, tundra swans, common grackles, red-winged blackbirds, robins, eagles, and sandhill cranes in southern Wisconsin just waiting to move on north on southerly winds as soon as our snow and ice melts providing them with suitable habitat to find food. Enjoy nature’s grand miracle of spring renewal in the next few weeks.