On April 26th I went tracking with a professional nature and wildlife photographer named Benjamin Olson. He is interested in what I do as an animal tracker and I am interested in learning the technical side of photography; good companions for a day in the woods. The weather was as follows: in the high 40’s, sun shining through a blanket of fluffy clouds, and a dusting of fresh snow on the ground from the day before; ideal tracking conditions. We brought along snowshoes (in Finland, MN snow sometimes exists even at the end of April) and made our way through the Aspen and Balsam Fir Forest down towards the creek that drains off of Wolf Lake. Johnson’s Creek is my favorite spot of all the 2000 acres of Wolf Ridge campus. It is surrounded by a low-lying wetland winding through a valley, nestled next to the impressive and jagged cliffs of Mystical Mountain.
Ben commented on the utter beauty of the North Woods and told me that I am lucky that this is my back yard; I agreed. Ice on the flowing water had thawed and the creek was moving swift and cold. As soon as we got to the Lake Study bridge, we picked up the trail of a river otter. It had a neat, round little hole in the ice near the shore of Wolf Lake that he/she had apparently been using as an access point. We picked up its tracks in the snow, a distinct bounding gait with 5 webbed toes. Along the banks of the creek, the otter slid on its belly for many feet, using its body as a sled. Tracking river otters in the wintertime is one of my favorite pastimes; the wonder and curiosity and apparent fun had by these magnificent creatures is contagious. I once found a spot in Western Massachusetts where some otters had repeatedly belly-slid down the same forested slope, as if it were a playground slide.
We came across an old beaver dam and found a spot where otters had been crossing to get to the next stretch of creek. There are areas known as “otter rolls” or “haul outs” where these aquatic weasels leave the water to roll, lay, dine, and scent their territories. The same haul out may be used year after year. I had placed a trail camera to monitor the area and was thrilled to see that I had captured photographs of otters! Seeing them on my camera was very exciting, as I have not yet caught a glimpse of them with my own eyes since I have moved to Minnesota. As we journeyed back the route we came, I noticed little five toed otter tracks, directly registering on top of the human snowshoe tracks we had made on the way in! Being the curious and clever critters that they are, they must have been hidden while we passed and then came out to investigate!
I encourage you to visit Benjamin Olson’s website to check out his inspiring and fantastic wildlife photographs: http://www.benjamin-olson.com/