On my regular walks along Lake Colby in Saranac Lake, I’ve been finding a variety of ducks and other water birds. The other day was no different as I found five Bufflehead – all males – almost immediately as I started walking along the railroad bed. There were also two Common Loons on the main body of the lake – both quite close to shore. The wind was whipping across the tracks and I hadn’t seen anything else so I quickened my pace to reach the protection of the trees when I noticed a male Hooded Merganser swimming away from us near the shore.
I walked through the woods up to the next arm of the lake and spooked four female Bufflehead which flew to the far side of the bay where they joined eight other Bufflehead – only one of which was a male. Perhaps this male had something the other five males without females somehow lacked. From my vantage point on the tracks I also found three female Common Goldeneye – each sitting individually on the water and not closely associating with the other ducks or with each other.
It was a nice tally for the day, but just when I was about to turn around I noticed a lot of disturbance and bubbling in the water down slope from where I was standing. Thinking it to be a mammal swimming under the water, I waited to see if it popped its head above the surface. Perhaps thirty seconds later up came the periscope head of a North American River Otter looking curiously over at me and Wren on the tracks. It was quickly joined by two more heads and the three otters ducked and dived up and down, pausing to crane their necks out of the water to smell and observe us.
The one otter kept making snorting noises as it swam along the water surface, catching Wren’s attention and she stood with me watching them intently. The otters appeared to be simultaneously curious and frightened by our presence, and while they kept their distance, they came in a bit closer – smelling the air and watching us – dived and then reemerged again to check us out. I tried a few photos in the deepening gloom of the end of the day, but they didn’t really come out.
The otters repeated this behavior again and again, following an arc across the bay, eventually disappearing against the shoreline. They had taken better than 10 minutes to cover the short distance as they worked their way around us. I stood and waited a couple more minutes to see if they’d reappear and they soon did, once again inspecting our presence. Finally they turned and appeared to follow the shoreline out of view, cueing Wren and me to begin walking back. Further down the tracks I caught one more glance of the otters as they swam along the shoreline.
After the excitement of observing the otters I found a small group of American Tree Sparrows calling softly along the edge of the woods. I again noted the five male Bufflehead sitting together on the water, and the walk was capped off by a Muskrat swimming along the surface of the lake in the evening shadows.