A River Otter in my Tent!
This curious and playful river otter crawled inside my tent and woke me up one morning in Katmai National Park & Preserve, Alaska.
Often I see a playful side of wildlife when I am out photographing. In this case, a river otter appeared to be wanting to play with me. The curious otter woke me up one morning in the wilderness backcountry of Katmai National Park & Preserve in Alaska.
The Story Behind the Photograph
Way back in a remote part of Katmai National Park & Preserve I had been camping alone for four days. I was photographing the lush forests in this wet landscape along with the occasional bear, wolf, or lynx I was lucky enough to see while hiking the ridge lines.Read More
This was my second trip back into this area in the June-July timeframe and decided to leave my electric bear fence back at the float plane base camp. Brown bears (grizzly bears) very rarely seek campers in their tents. Nevertheless, the tiny little strands of electrified wire do help me sleep better some nights. I had become so relaxed, a good thing, that I slept this night with the door of my tent wide open so I could watch the view of a small stream as I dozed off. Mosquitoes and flying bugs were not an issue at the time.
I have been told that I sleep like a rock, once I am out it takes a bit to awaken me. Perhaps that is a good trait when camping alone in the Alaskan wilderness, otherwise, I might be a nervous wreck with no sleep at all.
As the first light of day illuminated the stream I awoke to something crawling on the foot of my sleeping bag. Groggily, I could make out the small and sleek silhouette of a river otter scampering in and out of my tent. My eyes were slow to focus and once they finally did I was surprised to see this river otter a few feet from my wide open tent door.
I always keep a camera next to me ready to go. Hastily, I tried to get the quick little guy in focus and adjust my exposure. There was no time to get up from my sleeping bag, so all this was happening as I lay down in my bag and raised my head. Otters move at a very fast pace. In less than a minute I watched him slither downstream in the shallow stream, swimming in places where it was deep enough.
What a way to start the day! I guess I better get up out of bed now. If wildlife are having to wake up the nature photographer in this manner, I must be doing something wrong.
The Science Behind the Photograph
In addition to being surprised by a river otter visiting me in my tent was that fact that a river otter was even in this area. River otters eat fish and this stream was small, shallow, and blocked from larger bodies of water by a tall waterfall. Why was the river otter there?Read More
Although fish is the main diet for river otters, they also eat frogs, salamanders, and even birds and rodents. They are able to move very fast on land in the water. I have never seen any fish, even small minnows, in this stream, so my guess is that the otter was just exploring and perhaps looking for other sources of food, like small birds or ducks in this stream.
On a later trip to some remote large lakes in Katmai, I watched Common Mergansers dive bombing a pair of river otters. The ducks were trying to scare the otters away from a large group of Mergansers.
River otters can travel a long distance in one day. At home in New Mexico, when I am lucky I see river otters on the Rio Grande River by Taos. They can be seen in one part of the river and then very far away in just a few hours. The estimate is that often cover more than 20 miles per day. When taking their incredible mobility into account, I think the river otter that woke me up that morning was exploring small tributaries of a larger stream that was far from me.
Limited Edition Prints
A River Otter in my Tent!
(16 x 24 inch print shown here for scale)
“A River Otter in my Tent” (c) Ed MacKerrow / In Light of Nature. ( 4010:3648, 20170701__D2_0899v2 )