Ooooo, Otters! 11-20-20

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.

California Black Oak, Quercus kelloggii

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.

Double-Crested Cormorants, Phalacrocorax auratus, and Mute Swan, Cygnus olor

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.

Beaver sign on a Cottonwood Tree

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.

Ayoung dark morph Mute Swan, Cygnus olor, “busking”

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.

A Mute Swan, Cygnus olor, busking at the Tundra Swan, Cygnus columbianus

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.

A male California Quail, Callipepla californica

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”!

Species List:

  1. American Bugleweed, Water Horehound, Lycopus americanus
  2. American Coot, Fulica americana
  3. American Kestrel, Falco sparverius
  4. American Pipit, Anthus rubescens
  5. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
  6. Armenian Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus [pink flowers]
  7. Audubon’s Warbler, Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Setophaga coronata auduboni
  8. Beaver, American, Beaver, Castor canadensis [sign on tree]
  9. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  10. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  11. Bull Thistle, Cirsium vulgare
  12. California Black Oak, Quercus kelloggii
  13. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  14. California Quail, Callipepla californica
  15. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  16. California Towhee, Melozone crissalis [heard]
  17. California Wild Rose, Rosa californica
  18. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  19. Cedar Waxwing, Bombycilla cedrorum
  20. Chinese Pistache, Pistacia chinensis
  21. Chinese Tallow tree, Triadica sebifera
  22. Chinese Willow, Curly Willow, Salix matsudana
  23. Cork Oak, Quercus suber
  24. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis
  25. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus
  26. Doveweed, Turkey Mullein, Croton setiger
  27. Eurasian Collared Dove, Streptopelia decaocto
  28. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  29. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  30. Golden Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia atricapilla
  31. Goodding’s Black Willow, Salix gooddingii
  32. Great-Tailed Grackle, Quiscalus mexicanus
  33. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  34. House Sparrow, Passer domesticus
  35. Interior Sandbar Willow, Salix interior
  36. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  37. Lincoln’s Sparrow, Melospiza lincolnii
  38. Liquid Ambar, American Sweetgum, Liquidambar styraciflua
  39. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  40. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  41. Mute Swan, Cygnus olor
  42. Narrowleaf Cattail, Cattail, Typha angustifolia
  43. Narrowleaf Willow, Salix exigua
  44. Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus
  45. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
  46. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii [heard]
  47. Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
  48. Poison Oak, Pacific Poison Oak, Western Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum
  49. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  50. River Otter, North American River Otter, Lontra canadensis
  51. Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Regulus calendula
  52. Soft Rush, Juncus effusus
  53. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus [heard]
  54. Swamp Smartweed, False Water-Pepper, Persicara hydropiperoides [pink]
  55. Tall Flatsedge, Cyperus eragrostis
  56. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  57. Tundra Swan, Cygnus columbianus
  58. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  59. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  60. Water Primrose, Ludwigia hexapetala
  61. Western Gull, Larus occidentalis [spot on bill, pink legs, orange circle around eye]
  62. White Tailed Kite, Elanus leucurus
  63. White-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys