How I got this photo: Chance encounter with a river otter

  • Updated: February 20, 2014 - 11:39 AM

The photographer was stalking waterfowl when this otter materialized from an icy Minnesota river.

Photo: Photo by Bill Marchel

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

If you’re a wildlife photographer and waterfowl are on your mind, late winter is a good time to get out. For one thing, the patches of open water are magnets for congregations of birds.

Ducks, geese and swans aren’t the only subjects attracted to open water this time of the year. A lucky photographer might see mink, beavers, muskrats or, if he or she is really fortunate, a river otter.

That’s what happened to me while attempting to photograph some ducks a few hundred feet below a dam on a central Minnesota river. A strong current kept the water from freezing in that location. Mallards, common mergansers and common goldeneyes used the small area to feed and drink. To my knowledge this was the only ice-free location within a few miles.

Wearing camouflage from head to toe, I stood behind my tripod-mounted camera and telephoto lens, hiding as best as I could in the scant shoreline vegetation while waiting for waterfowl to appear. The afternoon sun was shining over my right shoulder — all the better for capturing the iridescent plumage of the birds, should they happen by. I double-checked the settings on my camera.

I waited perhaps an hour, and no waterfowl appeared. A brisk northwest wind rattled the trees and brush around me. The temperature was in the mid-20s. Even though I wore insulated neoprene waders and a heavy jacket, the cold was starting to penetrate.

We’ve all heard the expression “the harder we try, the luckier we get.” I kept this in mind as I waited.

Then, upstream from my hideout, I noticed waves near the edge of the ice. Some sort of critter — a muskrat or beaver, I assumed — had disturbed the water. Now the animal appeared, its head above the water’s surface. It was an otter. Much to my delight it was carving a V-shaped wake in my direction. I trained my telephoto lens on the approaching animal.

As the otter swam closer, I worried it might catch my scent before presenting a good photo opportunity. But I also knew that otters are inquisitive animals. Sometimes they appear as curious about us as we are of them.

Indeed, when the otter got a whiff of me, instead of diving and swimming away, it rose up and stared in my direction, its walrus-like whiskers dripping water. I was able to snap two images before the sleek animal continued its trek downstream.

The wonders of digital photography allowed me to instantly critique the resulting images. Satisfied with my work, I headed for the warmth of my truck. I consider these two otter photos the best in my collection. Had I not been situated close to the only open water in the area, I never would have seen the otter.

Bill Marchel, an outdoors writer and photographer, lives near Brainerd.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

Click here to send us your hunting or fishing photos – and to see what others are showing off from around the region.


Atlanta 2
Philadelphia 3 FINAL
NY Yankees 1
Detroit 5 FINAL
Baltimore 4
Toronto 4 FINAL
Pittsburgh 1
Cincinnati 2 FINAL
Cleveland 4
San Diego 3 FINAL
Seattle 4
Chicago WSox 6 FINAL
Los Angeles 4
Kansas City 13 FINAL
Texas 2
Oakland 9 FINAL
San Francisco 2
Wisc-Milwaukee 0 FINAL
Milwaukee 8
Arizona 6 FINAL
Colorado 3
Univ of Minnesota 1 FINAL
Minnesota 3
New York 82 FINAL
Indiana 105
Phoenix 105 FINAL
Orlando 100
Cleveland 120 FINAL
Toronto 112
Utah 84 FINAL
Boston 85
Charlotte 115 FINAL
Brooklyn 91
Denver 100 FINAL
Minnesota 85
Detroit 85 FINAL
New Orleans 88
LA Lakers 94 FINAL
Miami 100
Philadelphia 118 FINAL
Oklahoma City 123
Memphis 102 FINAL
Houston 100
Sacramento 85 FINAL
San Antonio 112
Milwaukee 93 FINAL
Golden State 102
Portland 98 FINAL
LA Clippers 93
Ottawa 3 FINAL
Winnipeg 1
NY Rangers 1 FINAL(OT)
Detroit 2
Pittsburgh 1 FINAL
Colorado 3
Montreal 1 FINAL
Anaheim 3
Longwood 65 FINAL
Presbyterian 61
Campbell 64 FINAL
Gardner-Webb 72
Liberty 70 FINAL
UNC-Asheville 80
Ohio State 77 FINAL
Penn State 67
Maine 66 FINAL
Albany 83
Duquesne 81 FINAL
Fordham 66
George Washington 67 FINAL
George Mason 51
Tennessee 78 FINAL
LSU 63
Notre Dame 71 FINAL
Louisville 59
SE Missouri St 74 FINAL
Morehead State 79
St Francis-PA 73 FINAL
Mount St Marys 58
Hartford 63 FINAL
New Hampshire 67
Wagner 68 FINAL
Robert Morris 91
Long Island 70 FINAL
St Francis-NY 79
La Salle 50 FINAL
Saint Josephs 55
Providence 79 FINAL
Seton Hall 66
South Florida 74
Binghamton 57 FINAL
Stony Brook 62
Vermont 66
Sacred Heart 85 FINAL
Bryant 91
Richmond 56 FINAL
Massachusetts 53
Wake Forest 51 FINAL
Duke 94
Purdue 66 FINAL
Michigan State 72
Miami-Florida 67 FINAL
Pittsburgh 63
St Bonaventure 64 FINAL
Saint Louis 48
New Mexico St 69 FINAL
TX-Pan American 48
Houston 68 FINAL
Tulane 63
Howard 62 FINAL
Oklahoma State 82
Cincinnati 56 FINAL
Tulsa 47
Miss State 56 FINAL
Vanderbilt 66
Utah State 53 FINAL
Wyoming 76
St Johns 67 FINAL
Marquette 51
SIU Edwardsville 66 FINAL
Eastern Ill 78
Air Force 66 FINAL
Fresno State 68
Nebraska 57 FINAL
Illinois 69
Colorado State 78 FINAL
Nevada 62
Boise State 68 FINAL
San Jose St 51
San Diego St 60 FINAL
Oregon 65 FINAL
Oregon State 62
UC Santa Barbara 78 2nd Half 5:51
Hawaii 64
Toledo 64 FINAL
Northern Ill 68
Wake Forest 69 FINAL
Boston College 53
Eastern Illinois 35 FINAL
UT Martin 68
Austin Peay 69 FINAL
SIU-Edwardsville 72
Virginia Tech 57 FINAL
NC State 56
Massachusetts 55 FINAL
St Bonaventure 49
Auburn 71 FINAL
Florida 49
Penn State 63 FINAL
Indiana 68
Clemson 53 FINAL
Georgia Tech 80
Davidson 63 FINAL
La Salle 74
Loyola-Maryland 46 FINAL
Lafayette 58
Boston U 48 FINAL
Colgate 58
Coll of Charleston 58 FINAL
James Madison 107
Delaware 76 FINAL
Elon 77
Drexel 58 FINAL
Northeastern 42
Hofstra 75 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 76
Towson 56 FINAL
William & Mary 68
Miami-Ohio 55 FINAL
Akron 67
Ball State 85 FINAL
Central Michigan 69
Buffalo 55 FINAL
Bowling Green 47
Western Mich 65 FINAL
Eastern Michigan 74
Ohio U 69 FINAL
Kent State 56
Youngstown St 62 FINAL
Cleveland State 73
Illinois-Chicago 54 FINAL
Wright State 74
Alabama 56 FINAL
Vanderbilt 66
Detroit 60 FINAL
Milwaukee 56
Purdue 58 FINAL
Wisconsin 56
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters





question of the day

Poll: Should the lake where the albino muskie was caught remain a mystery?

Weekly Question