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.


Buffalo 12/28/14 12:00 PM
New England
Cleveland 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Dallas 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Indianapolis 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville 12/28/14 12:00 PM
San Diego 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
NY Jets 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Chicago 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Philadelphia 12/28/14 12:00 PM
NY Giants
New Orleans 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Carolina 12/28/14 3:25 PM
Detroit 12/28/14 3:25 PM
Green Bay
Oakland 12/28/14 3:25 PM
Arizona 12/28/14 3:25 PM
San Francisco
St. Louis 12/28/14 3:25 PM
Cincinnati 12/28/14 7:30 PM
TBA 1/3/15 2:00 AM
TBA 1/3/15 2:00 AM
Toronto 110 FINAL
LA Clippers 98
Boston 88 FINAL
Washington 101
Orlando 102 FINAL
Charlotte 94
Memphis 103 FINAL
Miami 95
Indiana 110 FINAL
Brooklyn 85
New Orleans 100 FINAL
Chicago 107
Atlanta 90 FINAL
Milwaukee 85
Philadelphia 66 4th Qtr 5:53
Utah 69
New York 58 3rd Qtr
Sacramento 67
Minnesota 27 2nd Qtr 8:59
Golden State 36
NY Islanders 3 FINAL(SO)
Buffalo 4
Detroit 3 FINAL(OT)
Ottawa 2
Carolina 1 FINAL
Tampa Bay 2
New Jersey 1 FINAL
NY Rangers 3
Boston 2 FINAL
Columbus 6
Winnipeg 4 FINAL(OT)
Minnesota 3
Washington 3 FINAL
Pittsburgh 0
Dallas 4 FINAL
St. Louis 3
Philadelphia 1 FINAL
Nashville 4
Anaheim 1 FINAL(SO)
Arizona 2
Chicago 4 3rd Prd 10:22
Colorado 2
Edmonton 0 2nd Prd 12:52
Calgary 3
San Jose 1 2nd Prd 16:39
Los Angeles 1
Indiana 87 FINAL
Georgetown 91
Maine 43 FINAL
Seton Hall 72
UNC-Wilmington 82 FINAL
Minnesota 108
Georgia State 61 FINAL
Green Bay 78
Jacksonville St 61 FINAL
Jacksonville 75
Kentucky 58 FINAL
Louisville 50
Northern Ky 55 FINAL
Northwestern 76
North Carolina 89
Pepperdine 53
Santa Clara 60 FINAL
St Marys-CA 73
Oakland 56 FINAL
Maryland 72
Gonzaga 87 FINAL
BYU 80
Mercer 77 FINAL
Georgia 86
San Francisco 77 FINAL
Pacific 71
Wright State 55 FINAL
Ohio State 100
Presbyterian 65 FINAL
Virginia Tech 87
Brescia 42 FINAL
Western Ky 89
Tennessee St 46 FINAL
Tennessee 67
Kennesaw St 45 FINAL
Illinois 93
Colorado State 56 1st OT 0:37
New Mexico St 57
Portland 61 FINAL
San Diego 58
Wayland Baptist 63 FINAL
Utah State 75
Bristol University 59 FINAL
Weber State 109
Sacramento St 74 FINAL
Utah Valley U 49
Southern Utah 29 2nd Half 16:32
SD Christian 27 2nd Half 14:50
San Diego St 49
Illinois 18 FINAL
Louisiana Tech 35
Rutgers 40 FINAL
North Carolina 21
NC State 34 FINAL
UCF 27
Cincinnati 17 FINAL
Virginia Tech 33
(15) Arizona State 36 FINAL
Duke 31
Miami-Florida 21 FINAL
So Carolina 24
Boston College 30 FINAL
Penn State 31
(25) Nebraska 34 4th Qtr
(24) USC 45
Texas A&M 12/29/14 1:00 PM
West Virginia
Oklahoma 12/29/14 4:30 PM
(18) Clemson
Arkansas 12/29/14 8:00 PM
Notre Dame 12/30/14 2:00 PM
(22) LSU
(13) Georgia 12/30/14 5:45 PM
(20) Louisville
Maryland 12/30/14 9:00 PM
(9) Ole Miss 12/31/14 11:30 AM
(6) TCU
(21) Boise State 12/31/14 3:00 PM
(12) Arizona
(8) Miss State 12/31/14 7:00 PM
(10) Georgia Tech
(19) Auburn 1/1/15 11:00 AM
(17) Wisconsin
(7) Michigan State 1/1/15 11:30 AM
(4) Baylor
(16) Missouri 1/1/15 12:00 PM
(2) Florida State 1/1/15 4:00 PM
(3) Oregon
(5) Ohio State 1/1/15 7:30 PM
(1) Alabama
Houston 1/2/15 11:00 AM
Iowa 1/2/15 2:20 PM
(11) Kansas State 1/2/15 5:45 PM
(14) UCLA
Washington 1/2/15 9:15 PM
Oklahoma State
East Carolina 1/3/15 11:00 AM
(2) Connecticut 96
Houston 50
Gonzaga 78
Pacific 92 FINAL
San Francisco 54
St Marys-CA 62 FINAL
Santa Clara 61
San Diego 87 FINAL
Portland 65
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