A River Otter Experience

There is nothing cuter than a River Otter. However, they are excellent predators – speeding under the water just like a torpedo. A fish doesn’t stand a chance. Otters are one of the larger members of the Weasel family – 28” from nose to tail tip. Weasels are mustelines. All mustelines give off a protective odor (i.e. skunks).

Otters are very active and many of their actions appear to be play. Sliding down river banks seems to be a favorite activity. They are semi-aquatic and move well on land (up to 18 mph), as well as in the water. Their long tail and webbed feet are a great aid in their under water navigation. Thick, dense fur keeps them well insulated from the cold and those prominent whiskers are sensitive to surrounding situations.

Fish is their main food source but they will also consume frogs, crustaceans, insects, and occasionally water fowl and small mammals. They den on land and the female evicts the male before birthing. He will return when the young are half grown and help in their care. Their lifespan is usually 10 to 15 years.

On two successive and very chilly mornings, at South Davis Lake, Oregon, we pursued a family of three. It was September and the mornings were cold in the woods. My fingers were so cold that it was difficult to work the camera. However, the cold was overlooked because we were experiencing a rare (for us) event. Following that family group up and down the stream, as they sped after trout, kept us at rapt attention – from just before sunrise to about 11:00 AM each day. Those mornings provided golden opportunities to observe and photograph these lovable creatures.

Strange Things can Happen

If you are in the wild often enough, strange things will happen! Things will happen that you would never expect – things that are out of the ordinary – things that happen very rarely. We have followed wildlife for some time now – followed them long enough to have experienced events like: a chickadee landing on my head and in my hand; both Gray Jays and Clark’s Nutcrackers landing on an up-stretched arm to feed; a Coati Mundi coming to my feet to inspect me; Cactus Wrens, squirrels, and Raccoons coming into our camper; and most recently, a River Otter dusting and preening at our very feet.

Once we were walking on a paved path around a pond on the Bison Range in Montana. Suddenly, a Virginia Rail popped out of hiding and walked with us for a spell. This is very unusual, because rails are so secretive and seldom leave their cover. He did not seem startled. He just wanted to stroll with us.

On another occasion here at home, three big, fluffy baby Great Horned Owls came to visit us for the whole month of August. They were often seen on our lawn just outside our front window and even perched on a wheel that holds some bird feeders that is right next to our house. They were quite content to let us watch them at “arms length”.

The River Otter we encountered was unconcerned with us. In fact, we were the objects of his curiosity. Carolyn saw him swim toward us and urged me to hurry and get a picture. He disappeared into the cattails, only to reappear in open water in front of us. We were the objects of his scrutiny. He than reentered the cattails, and we were sure that he was gone for good. But, he calmly clamored up on the bank in front of us. He began to roll in the moist dirt and alternately look us over. It was an exhilarating fifteen minutes of interaction and photo session. I have gotten close to many wild animals, but rarely with one who cooperated so nicely.

The River Otter inspecting us between preening sessions

The River Otter inspecting us between preening sessions