I got up around 6:30 this morning and headed over to Mather Regional Park. It was 47° and very foggy there when I first arrived, but the fog burned off as soon as the sun came up a little bit more.
There was also frost on the ground in the shadier places, and I got some photos of ice crystals on the leaf litter. The glassy-smooth water made for some pretty reflection shots, there were examples of “fall color” all around.
I had gone there because someone in a birding group had said they saw a Tundra Swan in with the resident Mute Swans in the lake. At first, my photo-taking efforts were thwarted by having the rising sun in my eyes, and the birds not being at all cooperative. I was getting frustrated. Then I started getting photos of the swans, the small flocks of Coots, and the Pie-Billed Grebes. I noticed there were a LOT of cormorants around the lake, more than I’d ever seen there. So, I walked over to where I could get a better view of the little island there the cormorants usually hangout in the dead tree there, or sun themselves on the shore.
CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.
While I was there, looking at the cormorants I could hear some odd vocalizations that I couldn’t quite place coming from the island. Then I saw them… a cadre of River Otters!
There were four of them, and I got the impression that one was the mom, two were the nearly-adult kids, and one was the dad. Dad had something big that he was eating. It was difficult to see what it was because he kept it close to the ground in the overgrowth, but I think it was a catfish. He wouldn’t share it with anyone and kept dragging it off whenever the other came near. Mom nuzzled and groomed the younger ones and climbed around the snags and plants on the bank of the island.
The presence of the otters didn’t seem to bother the birds in the water near them. At one point, three swans floated right next to where the feeding otter was. They each pretty much ignored the other.
Eventually, all of the otters left the island… with Dad still chewing on a chunk of meat. He had to stop twice, to chew it down before he could swallow it and catch up to the others in the water. They disappeared down the side of the lake, moving so fast that I couldn’t keep up with them.
On that same side of the lake, though, I came across a cottonwood tree that looked like beavers had gotten to it. I haven’t seen any beavers at the lake, but they’re reputed to be there. Some of the trees are girdled with chicken wire to keep the beavers from eating them. I didn’t think to look for beaver scat among the shavings around the base of the tree, dang it.
I did finally get to see the Tundra Swan, who was moving along quietly, singularly, while some of the Mute Swans sought to harass her. There was one immature grey-morph Mute Swan that tried “busking” at the other swans, until it was put in its place by another adult Mute Swan.
When approached or “busked” at, the Tundra swan didn’t give up any ground and just floated away from the aggressors. It’s odd to see single Tundra Swans; they’re social birds and usually travel in large flocks. They also mate for life, and so they travel with their mates once they’ve established a pair bond. I inferred, then, that this lone swan was an unattached younger or less-healthy swan that couldn’t keep up with its flock, and sought out the lake as a place of respite.
I also saw quite a few White-Crowned and Golden-Crowned Sparrows, a few House Sparrows, Great-Tailed Grackles, and Killdeer, some Starlings, doves and Scrub Jays. I also got some photos of a Lincoln Sparrow, a Kite in the distance, and a small covey of California Quail among other birds. So, overall it was a good nature walk.
I was out for about 3 hours and headed back home.
Report Your Otter Sightings!
Don’t forget to report your otter sightings to the River Otter Ecology Project. Be an “Otter Spotter”!
- American Bugleweed, Water Horehound, Lycopus americanus
- American Coot, Fulica americana
- American Kestrel, Falco sparverius
- American Pipit, Anthus rubescens
- Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
- Armenian Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus [pink flowers]
- Audubon’s Warbler, Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Setophaga coronata auduboni
- Beaver, American, Beaver, Castor canadensis [sign on tree]
- Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
- Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
- Bull Thistle, Cirsium vulgare
- California Black Oak, Quercus kelloggii
- California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
- California Quail, Callipepla californica
- California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
- California Towhee, Melozone crissalis [heard]
- California Wild Rose, Rosa californica
- Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
- Cedar Waxwing, Bombycilla cedrorum
- Chinese Pistache, Pistacia chinensis
- Chinese Tallow tree, Triadica sebifera
- Chinese Willow, Curly Willow, Salix matsudana
- Cork Oak, Quercus suber
- Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis
- Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus
- Doveweed, Turkey Mullein, Croton setiger
- Eurasian Collared Dove, Streptopelia decaocto
- European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
- Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
- Golden Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia atricapilla
- Goodding’s Black Willow, Salix gooddingii
- Great-Tailed Grackle, Quiscalus mexicanus
- House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
- House Sparrow, Passer domesticus
- Interior Sandbar Willow, Salix interior
- Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
- Lincoln’s Sparrow, Melospiza lincolnii
- Liquid Ambar, American Sweetgum, Liquidambar styraciflua
- Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
- Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
- Mute Swan, Cygnus olor
- Narrowleaf Cattail, Cattail, Typha angustifolia
- Narrowleaf Willow, Salix exigua
- Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus
- Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
- Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii [heard]
- Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
- Poison Oak, Pacific Poison Oak, Western Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum
- Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
- River Otter, North American River Otter, Lontra canadensis
- Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Regulus calendula
- Soft Rush, Juncus effusus
- Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus [heard]
- Swamp Smartweed, False Water-Pepper, Persicara hydropiperoides [pink]
- Tall Flatsedge, Cyperus eragrostis
- Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
- Tundra Swan, Cygnus columbianus
- Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
- Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
- Water Primrose, Ludwigia hexapetala
- Western Gull, Larus occidentalis [spot on bill, pink legs, orange circle around eye]
- White Tailed Kite, Elanus leucurus
- White-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys