Eagle versus Otters, 01-07-21

I went to Mather Lake Regional Park and walked for about 3 hours.  I was looking for the osprey again, but didn’t find it. I was surprised by other things, though – including a Bald Eagle! 

It was foggy and damp, around 43° when I got to the lake, and the temperature didn’t change much while I was out there. Everything seemed to be made of varying shades of gray and silver and black. I took photos of a couple of kinds of lichen, including Poplar Sunburst, and some mushrooms, including Mica Caps (a kind of ink cap) and Oyster mushrooms.

The Mute Swans were out in force on the lake, but I didn’t see the Tundra Swan this time. I wonder if it moved on in its migration. There were also large numbers of Coots, some of them sticking together in large covers while they were feeding on aquatic plants. I also saw some of the usual suspects: Double-Crested Cormorants, Mockingbirds, Canada Geese, Pied-Billed Grebes, and a Great Egret.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

I caught a glimpse of a muskrat as it was swimming across the surface of the water, and also saw about five river otters. The first otter I saw was a lone one, but then I saw a group of four.  All of them were swimming and feeding on the fish they were able to catch. It’s always exciting to see them.  I was hoping they would come up onto the shore at some point so I could get some full body shot of them, but I guess they were too focused on breakfast.  Several of them popped up long enough to look directly at me and snort loudly at my presence.

I was following this same raft of otters in the water, then saw the Bald Eagle over my head in a tree.  Although eagles are historically not uncommon at the lake, they hadn’t been spotted there for years. So, I was very surprised when I saw it. More surprising, though, was when the otters gathered in the water underneath where the eagle was perched and huffed and snorted loudly at it.

Then the eagle swooped down off of its branch and flew low over the water. All of the otters ducked but didn’t fully submerge. The eagle approached one of them and literally raked its talons cross the top of the otter’s head before landing in a tree further down the bank. I didn’t get the impression that the eagle was trying to catch the otter; rather it seemed like it was flicking the otter hard on the head to show it who was boss.  Of course, my camera wasn’t focusing on anything at that moment; all I got was a blur, dang it! [When I got home, I made sure to log my sighting with the River Otter Ecology Project]

Other raptors noted today were two White-Tailed Kites, a Red-Tailed Hawk, and a Red-Shouldered Hawk (heard).

A White Tailed Kite, Elanus leucurus, with a very full crop

Along one part of the trail, I came upon the broken skull of what I think was a small vole. It was alongside some scat that I couldn’t identify because it was too degraded. It might have been from a coyote. I know mink eat voles, but I don’t know if otter eat them as well. The scat definitely looked “mammalian”; not something that was part of a bird pellet.

A small vole skull, I believe

As I was leaving, I came across a man with his unleashed, old, Yellow Lab.  The man was walking back to his car, and the dog was following its owner with a soggy tennis ball in its mouth.  At one point, the dog stopped and put its ball on the ground. The man, realizing that his dog was no longer following him, turned to look at the dog, and the dog started whining loudly and “mouthing words” at the man. 

“No, you can’t go in the water,” the man said to the dog. “It’s too cold. Pick up your ball and come on.” The dog picked up the ball and continued to follow the man to the parking lot. Even as much as I HATE seeing unleashed dogs in public areas, I had to laugh at that exchange.      

I walked for about 3 hours before heading home. 


In response to my “otter spotter” submission on the otter versus eagle moment today, Megan Isadore at the River Otter Ecology Project emailed me:

“…Thanks for that very interesting sighting! I’m not sure if you’ve seen our series on Otter and Bald Eagle at Jenner a couple of years ago? Here’s my favorite shot of the group; the eagle had tried to “share” the otter’s prey, which he’d dragged up onto the rock. The otter prevailed…”

Photo by Bill Barrett…Jenner, Ca.


Species List:

  1. American Coot, Fulica americana
  2. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
  3. Azolla, Water Fern, Azolla filiculoides
  4. Bald Eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus
  5. Beaver, American, Beaver, Castor canadensis [sign]
  6. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  7. Bluegill, Lepomis macrochirus
  8. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  9. Bufflehead Duck, Bucephala albeola
  10. California Quail, Callipepla californica
  11. California Wild Rose, Rosa californica
  12. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  13. Common Crow, American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
  14. Common Gallinule, Gallinula galeata
  15. Crisped Pincushion Moss, Ulota crispa
  16. Cytospora Canker, Cytospora chrysosperma [bright orange fruiting body, looks like frozen dodder]
  17. Dog, Canis lupus familiaris
  18. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus
  19. Downy Woodpecker, Picoides pubescens
  20. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  21. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  22. Gold Dust Lichen, Chrysothrix candelaris
  23. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  24. Great-Tailed Grackle, Quiscalus mexicanus
  25. Green Shield Lichen, Flavoparmelia caperata
  26. Himalayan Blackberry, Rubus bifrons [white flowers]
  27. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  28. Mica Cap, Coprinellus micaceus [an inkcap, tan cap, dark gills]
  29. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura   
  30. Muskrat, Ondatra zibethicus
  31. Mute Swan, Cygnus olor
  32. Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus
  33. Northern Harrier, Marsh Hawk, Circus hudsonius
  34. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
  35. Oyster Mushroom, Pleurotus ostreatus
  36. Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
  37. Poplar Sunburst Lichen, Xanthomendoza hasseana [on Cottonwood]
  38. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  39. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis
  40. River Otter, North American River Otter, Lontra canadensis
  41. Savannah Sparrow, Passerculus sandwichensis
  42. Say’s Phoebe, Sayornis saya
  43. Sheet Weaver Spiders, Family: Linyphiidae
  44. Shrubby Sunburst Lichen, Polycauliona candelaria
  45. Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia
  46. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
  47. Star Moss, Syntrichia ruralis
  48. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  49. Water Vole, Arvicola amphibius [skull]
  50. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
  51. White Tailed Kite, Elanus leucurus

Hike #1 of my #52hikechallenge. Miles: 1.32