Friday, December 30, 2011

Hard Labor State Park: Northern River Otter (Lontra Canadensis)

December 9th, 2011. We were making our way back along the north shore of Lake Rutledge in Hard Labor State Park in Morgan County, Georgia, when I saw what looked like a duck with a white front preening itself on a long just off the shore. It was strange that it sat there when all the previous ducks we’d seen had flown off the minute they spotted us. At about the same time, a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) flew across the lake and settled in the branch of a pine tree just above the log.

We decided to drift along the shore and see how close we could get to the ‘duck’ as well as seeing if we could spot and photograph the eagle. Quite often, it’s useful to identify objects by taking a photograph using full zoom and then enlarging it in the preview window on the camera. And this is what we saw.

A Northern River Otter (Lontra canadensis) with a fish in its mouth. The otter was lying along the log. The fish was what had looked like a white front on the ‘duck.’

A cropped enlargement of the first image. It’s an adult otter, 3 to 4 feet in length. The fish is large too.

The otter slid back into the water and appeared on the left side of the tuft of grass at the left side of the first image. Just its head was above water. Then it disappeared under the water again. We thought this would be the last we’d see of it.

It then reappeared midway along the log again. Just its upper body visible above the log this time. I think it was having some difficulty managing the fish. The grayish sheen on the face and throat are visible in this shot.

This shot, the last we were able to get, shows the otter’s head, side-on, with the fish still in its mouth. Its holding onto the log with its short front, left leg. Clearly this otter is healthy and well fed.

The otter then disappeared. The next we saw it, it had swum underwater about 20 to 30 yards west along the shore and appeared briefly in the water before it climbed out onto the shore and took its fish off into the bushes to eat. We wondered if the Bald Eagle had seen the otter with the fish and had flown across the lake, hoping to steal a meal. Soon after the otter took its fish into the bushes, the eagle flew back across the lake and out of sight. Maybe this scene with eagle and otter is played out frequently.

This is the first time I’ve ever seen a Northern River Otter. The photographs aren’t the best, but not bad for the limiting light conditions, the distance from the otter, and the speed with which these events occurred. We’ll be returning to Lake Rutledge in the future in hopes of seeing this otter again.

Click on an image to view a larger image


- Hard Labor State Park

- University of Georgia Museum of Natural History: Northern River Otter (
Lontra canadensis)

Related post:

- Hard Labor State Park: The Many Moods Of Lake Rutledge


McGhiever said...

What a neat sighting! Unless you object, I've shared your entry on my state park web magazine,

JSK said...

By all means. It was an exciting sighting. Glad to share.