Thursday, October 30, 2008

Four River Otters

I start and end most of my apartment runs at a large pond behind my building. I love the pond. I sit and stare at it for hours sometimes.There is a man-made dam/bridge that separates the pond from a small creek. Additionally, there are two other ponds and dams upriver from "my pond". Eventually this water runs into Rock Creek Park via a giant underground tunnel that goes below Wisconsin Ave and later into the Potomac River.
"My pond" is filled with wildlife. In the summer, giant snapping turtles hover around the bridge waiting for passersby to throw them bread, chicken and small children. I once counted seven at one time. They are huge. One is as large as a Volkswagen. There are also schools of small fish, painted turtles, mallards, king fishers, herons and a scittish family of wood ducks; the most beautiful of all water fowl. A few times I've seen a giant beaver in the pond. It casually swims under Wisconsin Ave from Rock Creek Park (I've seen it!), up the creek, around the dam and into the pond. Knowing his route, I once positioned my video camera and watched as it waddled past it almost shrugging his shoulders at the notion of me wanting to film him.
This morning as I ended my run I came across a marvelous site. Through my pre-coffee eyes I noticed "something" in the water. I couldn't tell what it was at first. Then it hit me - a muskrat?! No, too small to be a muskrat and much too weasel-like. It was an otter! Two otters...three otters! They popped out of the water as if they each wanted to say "present". Like mini seal pups, these lovable little critters put on a show for me as they bobbed in and out of the water. They would dive deep into the pond and appear moments later at the surface smiling with teeth full of fish. They were eating breakfast and having great fun doing it. Eventually a fourth otter appeared and together they made their way from one end of the pond to the other. They "chirped" at me and I, a nature geek, chirped back. We chirped back and forth as I followed them along the bank. After 15 minutes of geeking with otters, I decided it was best to leave them be; it was 39 degrees, I was in shorts and I was chirping along a would be only a matter of time until police showed up and carried me away.
I returned after breakfast and noticed they were making a home under a tree in a more secluded section of the pond. I've never seen otters in the wild so this was a great treat. I intend to check up on them later and observe their routine as long as they stick around. I will hold a contest to name them. More on river otters below...
River otters have long, streamlined bodies, short legs, webbed toes, and long, tapered tails—all adaptations for their mostly aquatic lives. Their short thick fur is a rich brown above, and lighter, with a silvery sheen, below. Adult male river otters average 4 feet in length, including the tail, and weigh 20 to 28 pounds. Female adults are somewhat smaller than males.

Although seldom seen, river otters are relatively common in ponds, lakes, rivers, sloughs, estuaries, bays, and in open waters along the coast. In colder locations, otters frequent areas that remain ice-free in winter—rapids, the outflows of lakes, and waterfalls. River otters avoid polluted waterways, but will seek out a concentrated food source upstream in urban areas.

River otters are sometimes mistaken for their much larger seagoing cousin, the sea otter However, male sea otters measure 6 feet in length and weigh 80 pounds. Sea otters are acclimated to salt water, and come to shore only for occasional rest periods and to give birth. In comparison, river otters can be found in fresh, brackish, or salt water, and can travel overland for considerable distances.

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