Sunday, October 13, 2013

Spotting Otter on the Buffalo River

Spotting otter on the Buffalo River is first about staying alert, and then second about knowing what to look for.  Often I have found otter only by seeing pool ripples that come from the river bank instead of in the pool like a fish would make. Waiting a bit has often led me to an otter eating in a snag that was not very visible. 

If I am trying to spot otter from a distance, I look for surface disturbances including churning. You can see these at 100 yards if you pay attention. Another long distance clue is showing in the picture below. Blue heron will follow feeding otter.  If you see a blue heron that is not very timid, that can be a strong clue. If it flies short distances like 10 yards or so and settles, then repeats, it could well be following otter.  The two clues together is just about a lock.  (I have seen 2 blue herons follow one otter family.)

Once spotted, you can hike or wade to where the otter are as a rule. They are not afraid of humans unless you really thrash around. I have shot them for as long as a half hour or more. Otter often will come very close to check you out.  I had a family of 4 stop feeding once and swim up 10 yards away from me and pose on a stump while checking me out.  Otter are fun to photograph and watch and usually put on a very interesting show. 

Photographers remember otter are a very dark subject. Depending on conditions (and your metering settings) you might have to overexpose a full stop to get any detail in their fur.  Often you cannot because they are coated with water. 

Blue Heron Follow Otter to Get Scraps and Fish

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