adventures in nature

Klamath Basin report II- the otter and the (dead) duck

There is a lot of wildlife in the Klamath Basin, and not all of it has feathers.

Sometimes you are in the right place at the right time, and this was certainly one of those instances. With the incredibly low temperatures that were present for the last few days, there was almost no open water around – it was all frozen. One canal had some exposed water around an outlet pipe, with ice starting to encroach but enough open water to attract a small flock of water fowl.

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green-winged teal / Lower Klamath NWR

I was out of my jeep watching a small group of pintails, green-winged teals, mallards and grebes in the small bit of open water, suddenly they “gently” flushed – they didn’t fly, but they walked out of the water. I didn’t flush them, but I couldn’t figure out what did. I turned for a moment to grab something in my jeep, when I looked back I saw what appeared to be a mallard duck struggling to get out of the water and onto the ice. Then I realized that it was actually the duck’s rear end that was out of the water! As my mind struggled to put the vision before me together, the duck slipped under the surface of the water. A few seconds later, a huge river otter popped up out of the water onto the ice with the (now dead) duck in its mouth!

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river otter and prey, a mallard duck / Lower Klamath NWR

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river otter with its prey, a mallard duck / Lower Klamath NWR

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river otter and dead duck / Lower Klamath NWR

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I watched it consume the duck for almost an hour, occasionally it would retreat under water (sometimes with its meal!) when other people drove by or came too close (which unfortunately some did come too close).

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quick hide! ignorant people!!

There were times that the otter appeared to nod off after so much eating, but he wasn’t about to stop – he just needed some dinner naps. I’ve been there.

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otter in a mid-dinner nap

Otters are such a joy to watch, their behavior is always fascinating. Such beautiful, fun creatures. I’m sure the ducks felt differently.

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During the time I was watching the otter, a northern harrier floated down the canal in the air and made a successful strike on a small bird – just 10 feet from the otter! I’ll put the series of pictures from that in the next blog …

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northern harrier subdues small passerine bird / Lower Klamath NWR

The show wasn’t over though. After that a prairie falcon came in and made an unsuccessful strike on a small duck in the canal behind me! This place was a hot spot!

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prairie falcon / Lower Klamath NWR

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prairie falcon / Lower Klamath NWR

The other water fowl seemed to realize the otter was satiated, as they came back into close proximity of the otter as it was eating and even afterwards while he was still in the area. After the otter finished, another harrier moved in to scavenge the duck as the sun set.

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northern harrier scavenging the duck killed by the otter / Lower Klamath NWR

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northern harrier scavenging a duck provided graciously by the otter in the foreground / Lower Klamath NWR

I imagine it wasn’t long after I left that the coyotes I heard howling nearby moved in for the rest of the scraps. Their tracks were all over the Basin area, and I saw four of them during my two days there, moving at a rapid pace through the preserves as they hunted.

 A ranger that I told about the encounter had been at the same location earlier and saw a bobcat. It was likely no coincidence that this spot was so active – the open water attracted the water fowl, which in turn attracted the predators.

Such a fun day. I stayed out past sunset watching everything unfold, and the temperature dropped quickly. I was happy to get back to town that night for a warm bed. Unfortunately I had some camera malfunction issues, so my shots aren’t as good as I’d hoped (auto-focus issues) – I learned the hard way to test new equipment more thoroughly before being out in the field! That is minor though – WHAT A DAY!!! It’s not often that you see this kind of show!! Very grateful to have the opportunity to be up there and that there are people protecting it. Check out KS Wild, one of the many groups helping the cause.

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a happy, gorged otter

6 responses

  1. Carole

    Hi Zach,

    Looks like you are having lots of nature fun. I am loving the photos and the commentary that you provide. I feel like you are talking just with me! 😊

    BTW, great bit of writing about the rain…

    Keep it up!

    Hugs, Carole

    >

    January 7, 2016 at 2:25 am

    • But I am of course! 😉 Thanks for the nice note and for following!

      January 7, 2016 at 9:34 am

  2. Zach:

    Great shots! You are going to end up with an incredible portfolio….and a video or book? js

    January 7, 2016 at 2:40 am

    • Thanks Jim, the portfolio is definitely growing!

      January 7, 2016 at 9:32 am

  3. Ann

    Trouble or not, Zach, your shots are great! I’m really enjoying your blog on Klamath. Please keep them coming! Happy New Year!

    January 7, 2016 at 4:05 am

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