Late March is when River Otters seem to become more visible on the St. Louis River. Maybe it’s because the river ice is breaking up and they spend more time loafing/feeding/playing on the shelf ice conveniently located next to open water. Or maybe that’s when I stop on the Fond du Lac bridge to scan for critters.

Just recently I spotted a family group (five total) using a thin crack in the ice as their access to the river’s surface. I set up my camera and tripod so I could just peek over the edge of the railing and so not disturb them. I watched them for at least 45 minutes. One would come to the surface and drop two or three minnows from its mouth onto the ice, munching the bunch quickly before slipping effortlessly and silently back into the water. Sometimes two would appear and they would bask in the morning sun for a brief minute. One spent a couple of minutes preening its dense water repellant fur.

I love otters…They just seem to love life. Play is as important to them as eating it seems. When traveling overland in winter and across wind-swept lakes, they will run and slide on their bellies for great distances…run…slide…run…slide. I’ve seen three together on the ice, rolling, tussling, having a grand time. We could learn something from otters…Like my mother always said, “Work hard, Play hard” (at least I think she said that).

Most of these images are looking down on the otters from 40 feet up on a bridge…Not a great technique for wildlife photography. You don’t get as intimate a portrait as with eye-level images. The last shot is eye-level and it was taken a week ago on another stretch of the St. Louis when I crawled on my belly across the ice to the shelf’s edge. Every time the otter dove, I’d work my way closer. The otter was fine with me until I crossed that invisible line of his comfort zone…and then he was gone.

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