Photography by Skeeter Lasuzzo
I packed into the back country at Hagerman Wildlife Refuge, carrying my photo equipment, in an attempt to photograph White-tail deer bucks. After spending the early morning in a portable blind photographing deer, I made my way to the edge of a creek to look for deer trails and signs. I noticed some movement in the water which turned out to be River Otters. As I set up my camera, the otters swam toward me and climbed onto a log to get a better view of me. After determining that I was harmless, the two otters calmly swam off to the river bank up stream and went about their normal behavior. I observed the Otters for awhile before I hiked out. I saw the Otters for the next couple of days before they disappeared.
River Otters, members of the weasel family, have long bodies, with short legs and web feet. They have long tails, one third the length of the body, which they use to maneuver in the water. They eat mostly fish, but also eat freshwater mussels, crabs, crayfish, amphibians, bird eggs, fish eggs and small mammals.
River Otters use dens for giving birth and protection from the elements. Den sites are usually located at waters edge, above the normal water level, quite often in the banks of a creek, but sometimes in piles of driftwood or hollow trees. Otters will usually have two to four pups that are born between March and May. The basic family unit is a mother with her pups, while the male otters live solitary lives except during mating season. River Otters are safe in the water, but can fall prey to bobcats, coyotes and cougars while on land.
Otters spend the day looking for food and engaging in what looks like play. Otters rely on play to learn survival skills. "Slides", which are located on river banks, are a common sign of river otter presence and are used by the otters to "slide" into the water. They will also travel on land between creeks and ponds.
I have been photographing in Hagerman NWR two to four times a week for years and have seen very few River Otters. In the last couple of years, I have seen otters on three occasions. Maybe they are becoming more plentiful. Let's hope so.