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.
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!
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).
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.
Otters are such a joy to watch, their behavior is always fascinating. Such beautiful, fun creatures. I’m sure the ducks felt differently.
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 …
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!
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.
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.
i don’t have a lot of words right now. one morning at a place like this is the same as reading 1000 books, combined with touching 1000 textures, smelling 1000 smells, hearing 1000 sounds, tasting 1000 flavors, seeing 1000 treasures and feeling a 1000000 heart strings of life.
we were treated at the beginning of the morning just after sunrise to the five resident Otters foraging in the lagoon, and a visitor that I have never seen before in this immediate area … a golden Eagle!
the above picture was of a creature foreshadowing things to come – this red-legged Frog (?) was a precursor to SO many Frog tracks in the sand, along with many deer Mice and brush Rabbit tracks – appearing in the middle of bare sand dunes for reasons unexplained. I surmise the new moon allowed some expanded forays for these normally reclusive species who stick to the cover of the plants on the edges of the dunes during most times.
brush Rabbit tracks
Frog tracks (likely red-legged Frog)
river Otter scent marking on the dunes
Bobcat (on right) and some type of amphibian (Salamander) tracks on left – perhaps an Ensinitas?
deer Mouse tracks with tail drag
beautiful clear front tracks of a red-legged Frog (right) along with deer Mouse tracks on the left
great-horned Owl tracks leading into a take-off spot
great-horned Owl trail …
WOW! what a find!!!! the trail seen in the picture from the left is a great-horned Owl coming in for a landing (final landing spot seen in the center of the picture). you can see it’s wing and tail feather imprints in the sand. also you can see a Raccoon trail diagonally across the picture from lower right to left (occurring after the Owl), along with faint Frog tracks paralleling the Raccoon, and some two-legged tracks at the top.
another view of the great-horned Owl landing spot (along with feather marks in sand!!), and its trail leading away from the landing point – ultimately to a take-off spot around 10 yards away. again, you can see the Raccoon trail across the center, and many other tracks in the background.
great-horned Owl tracks
a beautiful black-tailed mule Deer trail
Sanderling trail (?) … though I’m open to other interpretations … and some faint deer Mice, Frog and insect trails – this was found in the lagoon sand dunes, far from the surf
more Sanderling (?) tracks
another (!) great-horned Owl trail in the sand dunes!
one of my favorites to see live (but seldom a dependable sight), there were plenty of north american river Otter tracks around
the turkey Vultures are always hanging around for a meal, and this (faint) track (among smaller shore bird tracks) showed that they are quick to come in on the remains of shore birds who are predated at the lagoon by a varied cast of opportunists …
Bobcat tracks in sediment / algae
Bobcat trail in sediment / algae
Bobcat tracks (nice shot of front and rear) – based on the size and the shape, we decided it was likely a male
likely a Bobcat scat – it contained almost purely feathers!
Osprey – one of the NINE raptor species that we were treated to seeing on this day (Osprey, northern Harrier, white-tailed Kite, Kestrel, peregrine Falcon, turkey Vulture, Red-tailed hawk, Ferruginous hawk, and golden Eagle!). My friends also saw a Cooper’s hawk as they were driving out.
Red-tailed hawk on dunes
these snowy Plovers, a highly endangered species, were using human tracks in the sand as wind breaks from the increasing gusts coming in from the ocean – it was pretty adorable
this peregrine Falcon was not welcome company for the Kestrel who was attempting to escort it out of the area
the “mud hen,” or Coot – top of the menu for many predators at this time of year here. when the Otters come by, they move to the shore and band together, waiting for them to pass
for reasons still not understood (by me), the Ravens were harassing the Red-tailed hawks as usual. perhaps it is for fun or to prove social status … fun, being something that the Ravens seem to incorporate into their lives all the time, evidenced by their frolicking in the air lifts caused by the oncoming winds into the dunes. seeing them play in the air is like watching Otters in the water, the energy is simply fun!
lots of black-tailed mule Deer around in the fields, where we also saw lots of Badger sign
a cool shot of some black-tailed mule Deer tracks in the sand (with some two different bird tracks on the right of the frame)
the only animal signs that I might have expected to see and didn’t on this day were the grey fox and jack rabbit. grey Fox sign isn’t often seen right in this area, but jack Rabbit is. curious.
what a great day out at Point Reyes National Seashore, this place is such a gift – may it be protected for all this diversity of life to thrive, always.
… in this odder month.
A few coyotes too on this beautiful day on the coast with sunshine and little wind with highs in the 60’s.
This otter, one of the five “regulars” at the lagoon, was chowing on a large bass. A few of them caught some large bass as a small number of wary coots looked on from the edge of the water (they are also on the menu). Usually we just see their sign on the banks, but lately I’ve been getting a show.
I spotted a raft of sea lions heading south in the water at a fast clip – they were taking turns breaching a few hundred yards off shore, often totally coming out of the water. It seemed they were feeding, as opposed to avoiding a large shark (also a possibility, as this area is in the “red triangle” aka great-white shark breeding grounds).
An otter day. And an otter moment. In a very odd month.
It was this one’s turn to use Nature’s all natural giant sand dune litter box.
This fella was really into the rut. The doe, not so much …
He was catching some serious air, hot in pursuit.
None of us did so well in our pursuits this month, it would seem …
Any day spent in Point Reyes National Seashore is a gift, and the fact that this land is preserved is quite a gift unto itself – and a testament to the forethought and sensibility of some of our forefathers. I am so very grateful for places like this.
On this particular day, I joined several other trackers/naturalists to do some study on the landscape. As always, we saw a lot of fun things, some real-time and some emblazoned in the stories told by the traces and tracks left on the land.
As we explored the tracks and sign along the trail on our way out to the lagoons, we encountered some of the residents for which we usually only see their sign … river otters! As I mentioned in an earlier post, any day with otters is a good day, as far as I’m concerned. Unless they’re chewing my tires or something (thankfully, this has not happened to date). Everything they do seems to be fun. Probably anthropomorphic, but c’mon! There is a fun vibe to many of their antics. Don’t deny it any of you rigid science folk!! Of which I am one, so easy now.
After a great morning of tracking and learning, the group split up – I stayed out and saw lots of brush rabbit, mice and deer sign in the maze of trails in the dune grasses as I explored. Once I made my way out onto the beach, the waves were BIG but much of the sand slate was washed clean of tracks from the last tide. Still, there were some coyote trails along the dune grass / beach interface, and a lot more brush rabbit and plover(?) sign as well. I didn’t see one skunk track the entire time – interesting, because a month ago the dunes were covered with skunk trails (see my January post here).
At one point, I ended up stalking two deer on top of a bare hilltop above the dunes. I had seen the deer an hour previous, as I wandered below under their watchful eye, and was surprised to still find them there when I inadvertently found myself by them on the hill top. As a general rule I make a hefty effort to be unseen to any wildlife that I observe or photograph. But sometimes, as with the case with deer who are somewhat accustomed to seeing people in their areas, I’ll have some respectful fun. In addition to being just really fun to attempt to get close to them, it was a revealing close-up look at how they sense threats and movement. At one point I was about 10 or 15 feet from the younger of the two deer – after stalking within 20-25 feet, they got comfortable and actually moved towards me.
“Hey, was that flannel shirt, with a human in it, laying there on the ground this whole time?”
(five minute pause and stare)
“Uhh, I guess so I don’t know – look at this yummy grass though! It hasn’t moved so let’s keep eating.”
They kept browsing for a long while, and I was so close I could hear them chewing, with the backdrop of crashing waves for a bass line. Finally after a period of time the adult female laid down with her back to me, surveying the dunes below her, so I rolled down the backside of the hill (literally – a fun exit strategy!) and let them be (resisting the temptation to get closer – ooo, to touch one! someday …). Interestingly, during the whole experience they seemed most alarmed by my backpack as they approached me, which was sitting 30 feet behind me and sitting upright as I crawled on the ground. They were very curious about me and the backpack, but after a period of evaluation, from a close distance, they seemed to discount me as either a threat or anything other than a rock or leftover human gear.
I’ve also experienced that same sentiment in the past from girls at a bar, interestingly.
A great day out at Point Reyes.
Special thanks to John Brossard for facilitating a great morning – check out some of his classes at this link.
After finding myself in Walnut Creek with some hours of free daylight last week, I opted to wander a bit around a city park when I found out that some river otters from the Sacramento River had been frequenting two of the ponds there. I typically would have sought more calm and quiet at nearby Mount Diablo, but I had to brave the people to investigate. What is absolutely fascinating about this is the fact that the river is probably six miles away! How did they get here? Otters can travel long distances over land, but much of the land between the river and the ponds is densely developed by humans. There is however an irrigation canal (which occasionally runs through some riparian zones, but is generally just a concrete canal) that connects the two areas, but it’s a long swim.
My efforts paid off almost immediately. It was as if my coming was announced – upon walking up to a break in the tule reeds at the edge of the pond, I saw a form break the surface of the water with a backdrop of the setting sun. It was an otter! We checked each other out for a minute or so, then we continued on our ways after our formal hello. Photographs were prohibited by the lighting, and just seemed inappropriate at the time – though I did take one through the tules after our greeting ended. Any interaction with an otter always leaves me with a big smile on my face – they seem to have fun in every moment.
I thought it was an odd comment when, in an effort to learn more about the otters, I struck up a conversation with a local woman who reported her friend had seen a beaver here. I’ve learned to expect the unexpected when it comes to mother nature, but a beaver in that pond would have been like a mountain lion in downtown Berkeley. Oh wait, that happened! Regardless, it seems highly improbable.
After circling around the pond looking for otters and otter sign, I was initially duped when I saw another head pop out of the water – it wasn’t an otter. Was it the mysterious city pond beaver?! No – but it was a very busy muskrat! It was doing laps across the pond, and at one point it popped up onto the surface of the water right in front of me, conveniently when my vantage point allowed for full use of the ideal lighting for a picture. Perhaps it was looking for some of the spotlight since the otters were getting so much attention – muskrat public relations. Being close enough to see its tail undulate behind it for locomotion is fun to watch – it is its main source of propulsion which is uses with some help from its semi-webbed rear feet. The tail evolved to be flattened in the vertical direction and covered with scales, which makes it ideal for this use.
So what would cause otters to move down this way into an urban environment? And stay? A search for new territories is likely. More and more otters are being spotted around the Bay Area, so their range is expanding. Just a few weeks ago it was reported that a river otter had taken up residence in the Sutro Baths in San Francisco! And since they stock the one pond here with fish, I imagine the otters are hesitant to leave with such an easy food source available. There is an island in the northern pond that is inaccessible by people, and though it’s not big, it is probably just enough space so they don’t feel threatened.
Despite there being at least three otters at times reported living there, I have a feeling there are a lot of “otter” and “beaver” sighting there that are actually muskrat – an easy mistake for the untrained eye. I’m just happy people are taking time to appreciate these amazing creatures and engage their own curiosity and wonder in a way that is respectful to the animals, land and other users of the shared space.