Otter Excursions

One of the most enjoyable 4-footed wildlife interactions one can hope to enjoy on a semi-regular basis at Elk Lake is 'swimming' with the otters. By 'swimming' I mean floating in my kayak among the otters who are doing all the swimming. However, because the kayak puts you so close to the water level, it feels like I am actually interacting with these curious and interesting animals.

Yes. I know otters eat fish. However, my fish biologists assure me Elk Lake enjoys a burgeoning fish population. Thus the otters are doing us no harm on this regard.

Yes. I know otters are of the Mustelidae family with such ferocious cousins as the weasel, polecat, and badger. In fact, I know from personal experience these animals are fearsome opponents more than capable of defending themselves against attacks from larger predators.

Nonetheless they are fascinating creatures - graceful and swift in the water as well as quick and agile on land. So, I dedicate this post to the Elk Lake Otters. May their days be long and playful.

The otter's long slim body is covered with an amazingly soft underfur protected by an outer layer made up of long guard hairs. Their coat is designed to trap air and keep them warm and dry in their water-filled environment.

Elk Lake's Otters do not leave in the winter time. And, since the lake is ice-covered, the water is obviously quite cold. The otter's high metabolic rate keeps them warm, However, like other mammals which have a high metabolism (think hummingbird), otters must consume a fair amount of food. In fact, adult otters living in 50 degree water must eat at least 4 1/2 pounds of food daily to survive. Thus an adult spends 3 to 5 hours a day hunting and a nursing mother up to 8 hours per day.

Otters den on land and, unlike the beaver, they have been known to den quite a long distance from water. An otter den is called a holt or couch.

An otter pup (like the one shown here with an adult), is called a whelt, kit, or pup. Adult males are called dogs. Adult females are called bitches.

While I always think of otters as water dwellers, they actually spend quite a bit of time on the land to avoid waterlogged fur. In fact, little nooks and crannies such as this one are a favorite place to while away the hours before the next meal.

Otters are curious and playful. Perhaps that is why they have captured my imagination. Occasionally I have seen a lone animal. However, it is much more common to see them in groups of three to eight - playing, chattering, eating, and just plain enjoying life.

Female otters typically give birth to four to six young. These two curious youngsters appear to be the only two left in this family. Note the long whiskers sported by these youths. The otter's whiskers are extremely sensitive and actually help it to locate prey in murky waters.

Note also the webbed toes and long claws. These uniquely shaped feet have an extremely delicate sense of touch. River Otters (the species which inhabits our local waters) are well-adapted to life in our lake. Their head and short neck are of similar diameter. Their ears are short, but this does not limit their hearing. In fact, I found it interesting to note both their sense of hearing and smell are extremely acute. Surely that is a bit unique for an animal who spends much of its time underwater. Otters have streamlined bodies with their tails contributing up about 1/3 to their total body length. Their legs are short and powerful, and while they do not move as freely on land as in the water, I have seen them travel very quickly, even on land.

Here is one final piece of River Otter trivia: Did you know their right lung is 19.3% larger than their left and has four lobes as compared to the two on the left? I didn't. Why? Well, it seems scientists are not quite sure but, without doubt, one day they will find this, too, is part of this amazing animal's intelligent design.

And while most would not expect to see otters while visiting Elk Lake in the winter, you might be surprised at how frequently I see tracks or even a little dark body busily working away on the ice doing - well, otter business obviously!

Such is life at Elk Lake - and I am glad I am able to enjoy it!

Lady of the Lake


Fall At Elk Lake

While the view out my window shows little resemblance to those I will be posting today, there is something extremely special about Elk Lake in the fall. Okay, I'll admit it - as far as I'm concerned, Elk Lake is special ANY TIME of year. However, each season has a magic all its own.

Spring is the season of rebirth. In the spring my hikes (and thus my photos) are predominated by life's return to the valley. Elk. Deer. Babies. Flowers. Green Leaves. Buds. Birds. These bring joy and delight to my life.

Summer is the season of people and play. This time of year my hikes are often shortened to accommodate the needs of our guests. Nonetheless, the hills around Elk Lake hold the treasures I seek, and the lake offers placid morning waters for my kayak alone.

Winter is the season of silence. Elk Lake is never a noisy place - even with a 'crowd'. However winter is a time when silence predominates. I am convinced few have heard real silence. I have! In winter this is an Elk Lake 'speciality'!

Fall, however, is the season of peace. Glorious color surrounds and peace on earth seems to abound. There is something wonderous about fall colors, warm sunny days, and crisp starry nights which seems to invite you in and envelope you in a sense of peace and good will.

Whatever the reason, I have found fall to have a flavor all its own - and it is one I obviously enjoy. However, while it is easy to capture new growth and returning wildlife on film, and it is possible to at least partially replicate a lovely summer morning or the utter stillness of a winter dawn, I find it nearly impossible to capture the 'feeling' of fall. What follows are a few attempts.

Perhaps the lake is the place to start - placid, serene, a mirror reflecting the beauty surrounding it.

Or maybe it is revealed in the clear contentment of an orange butterfly, happily drowning in a field of yellow flowers.

Perhaps it is found in the early morning paddlers - their red canoe quietly slicing through still waters.

Personally, I think the dawn's early light on dark, still lake waters says it best.

Yet the purple mountain majesty reflected in Elk Lake's mirror doesn't do a half bad job either.

Certainly there is something magical about golden light on still water - something 'On Golden Pond' could never came closer to communicating :-)

Of course Elk Lake's fall beauty is not limited to her early mornings - although they may best capture the magic of the season. Still there is something inspiring about the contrasting colors - brilliant against dark - which makes one's inner poet scream for release.

Even the cabins take on a new sparkle and shine wrapped in their colorful fall wardrobe.

But these colors need no backdrop crafted by human hand to inspire!

Each leaf a work of art I struggle to capture.

Until I finally collapse, satiated, on the porch - content to sit and soak and dream.

Ah. . .fall days! Were I not blessed to enjoy the season of silence decending upon my corner of paradise 'a mile from heaven', I might be tempted to pine for more of the magical days of fall. However, there really isn't a bad season at Elk Lake so. . .regardless of the season I am perfectly content to just enjoy another day as the

Lady of the Lake