Escaped Lake Superior. Found Spring and Imminent Death

Here I sit at my computer on Wednesday morning. The third Alberta Clipper in four days has dumped more snow upon us in northern Minnesota. In fact, over the past 3+ weeks northeast winds have blown cold off Lake Superior, and Spring seems so very far away. In short the weather has been cold and ugly. The light (or lack thereof) has been a photographer’s nightmare. On Sunday afternoon, winds were gusting over 40 mph down at the entrance to the Duluth Harbor. I took this photograph of the Michipicoten as it approached the entrance to our harbor.

When I awoke on Monday, the weather map appeared to show that 50 miles inland from the “big lake”, sun might rule the day. Thus, I drove away from Gitche Gumee and was rewarded after only 30 miles with a bright, beautiful day. I took this photograph of Hellweig Creek right at dawn in her frosty finest! I was now in a great mood.

Little did I know my emotions were about to get suddenly jerked around. Driving a back road I spotted splashing in a creek swollen with snow runoff. Further investigation revealed an otter was splashing in the stream while trying to catch its breakfast … or so I thought. Given the sun angle was wrong, I hiked through the back-country to come out on the stream bank such that the sun would be at my back and upon the river otter.

Strangely, the otter had almost not moved. I then noticed it would dive under the water, and resurface at the exact same spot. The animal appeared to be making sounds of extreme distress; something was clearly not right. Even when I walked to within ten yards of the otter, it did not try to escape my presence. The otter looked me straight in the eyes and screamed repeatedly in pain. It was obvious the animal was caught. I walked to the edge of the stream, but given the turbidity of the fast moving water, I could not see anything. I suspected it had to be caught in a trap. Taking my monopod arm, I reached into the water and snagged a chain. Carefully pulling back, I managed to pull the chain enough such that the otter could get up on shore and avoid drowning.

It is now time out from this narrative. I was in a quandary. I had no way to free the otter, nor would I consider taking that action. Tampering with huge metal traps if one does not know what one is doing (I don’t) with their fierce claws is not only dangerous and stupid, but I am pretty certain is against the law in Minnesota. However, leaving an animal to a slow painful death by drowning was not an option I was willing to choose. Even if I had wanted to release the trap, the water was too deep, and the current too strong for me to reach its anchor. Finally, I did not have the means to kill the otter with me in my in my car, and put it out of its misery. In addition, and this is very important, I support a trappers right to take animals. Folks may find my support of the trapper’s right to run a trap line surprising. Even though I write and maintain this bird blog, I occasionally hunt pheasant on the family farm down in Iowa. Very little is black and white in this world.

In the end I made certain the otter could safely remain on shore, but did not release the animal. Death was the only certain outcome for the otter. It had calmed down, and was not screaming in terror or pain. I knew there were only two possible outcomes. Either a wolf or some other predator which lives in the area would kill the otter while it was caught, or the trapper would come by and claim his catch. You may criticize me for my action, but I was comfortable with the end result … albeit not a happy ending. Death by predator or trapper would be swift, not lingering.

Should folks choose to comment about this post and trapping in general, I warn in advance I will NOT allow vulgar language or any personal attacks on me or other commentators. You are welcome to express your views in a civil manner, and point out how you disagree with anything written and why you have that view. I realize trapping is very controversial. I personally could never trap animals.

Here are a few photos which document my otter incident.Y3-M04-Sax-Zim-Bog-Trapped-Otter-1 Y3-M04-Sax-Zim-Bog-Trapped-Otter-3 Y3-M04-Sax-Zim-Bog-Trapped-Otter-4



As you may imagine, this event put a damper on my birding expedition. Although I had found the sun, death had weighed in to my morning. I decided to continue my expedition, and I was pleased to discover the spring migration finally seemed to be starting in the Sax Zim Bog region. Here are some of the other photographs I took w/o too much commentary.

Western Meadowlark Rides the Rails!


Common Magpie


Waterfowl Convention at Little Stone Lake
(blue ringed ducks, hooded mergansers, trumpeter swans, goldeneyes)


Turkey Gone a Courting

6 thoughts on “Escaped Lake Superior. Found Spring and Imminent Death

  1. Your description of the encounter with the otter was very hard to read, but I appreciated your candor. I felt both your pain and the otter’s terror. I don’t see any option you had. That was a tough situation to deal with, and at least you were able to get the otter out of the water. I hope its misery was short-lived; I have a feeling your psychological pain will last a lot longer. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Sorry you had to go through that Rich. Too bad it wasn’t a kill trap, or just didn’t hit right. I am o.k.with trapping as long as the trap kills intantly. I used to do it when I was younger, including snares but lost the stomach for it when I saw the suffering. I’ve dipatched several auto- wounded animals , including, deer in the past rather than leave them to suffer , with a gun when I’ve had one, but a tire iron or jack handle works, I know, ick, but I think it’s o.k. and better to end it

  3. I believe Teresa’s comment says it all. I am not in favor of animal trapping. I can’t kill anything & am hurting about that otter.

  4. Thanks for the story on the otter! I have been a hunter for many years even though I do not hunt like I used to, I would agree with you and even though I have never had a desire to trap I would support anyone who does. I do hope this trapper follows the state guidelines and checks is traps on the required time frame if not sooner!

  5. Rich, my heart goes out to you as I picture you encountering this scene and mulling your options. I agree with the decisions you made and know you struggled with the heartache involved in walking away. Even if you had thought to use the tire iron option to end it’s misery sooner, I’m having a hard time picturing you actually taking those steps. It’s one thing to hunt pheasant with clean(er) kills by shotgun than it is to physically strike down an animal, even if the ultimate goal is to put it out of misery. I think you and I are very much alike in that way. I cried for hours after hitting a rabbit with my car years ago…I can’t imagine having the mental strength to strike the otter, even to bring a swift end to it’s pain.

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