Otter Spotting at River Bend Park, 04-11-22

I had to get some air, so around 9:30 AM I crated the dogs and left to take a walk at the American River Bend Park, even though it was windy, overcast, and drizzling outside. The rain was more like a fine mist, but the wind kind of drove it into you. I protected my camera from it by tucking it into the front of my jacket, and pulled it out whenever I wanted to take a photograph. Eventually, the drizzly-mist ceased and the clouds began to disburse, making for some pretty skies.

There were signs posted in different spots along the trailheads letting people know that there was a coyote den in the vicinity and advising everyone to keep their dogs on leashes (because coyotes can get aggressive if you interfere with their den or their pups.) Of course, out of all of the people I saw with dogs on the trail, only two actually had leashes on. Some humans are jerks.

Some of the Wild Turkeys are getting habituated to people again; they run up to the car looking for handouts. I would venture a guess that that’s because the homeless people, who live out of their cars and park their cars in the park during the day, feed the birds. The leucistic female turkey I see regularly at the park, came running up to my car, looking in the windows, for food.  And then she followed me down the road to one of the parking areas. This happened once before, a decade or so ago, and some of the turkeys had to be relocated to other areas, away from people, so they could “re-wild” and get used to feeding themselves again.

I could hear House Wrens singing loudly from all around me, and also saw several Audubon’s Warblers, Western Bluebirds, and Lesser Goldfinches. I saw one of the Goldfinches pulling up bits of spiderwebbing, which I assume she wanted for a nest.

According to Cornell: “…Females collect plant materials (oak leaves, catkins, strips of bark, grasses, yucca fibers, cocoons, and webs) in their bills, and sometimes hold a branch with their feet as they strip off fibers…”

I also saw a Canada Goose sitting on her nest on the little island in the middle of the river. That’s so nice to see… Can’t wait to see lots and lots of goslings.

There were Tree Swallows flying low across the river, trying to catch the insects that were waking up. Occasionally, the birds would collect in the top of trees to rest and vocalize with one another. Given the weather, I was surprised by the amount of birdsong I heard.

I saw quite a few tiny black mayflies clinging to the leaves of the trees along the riverside, and I came across the first – for me – Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillars on the pipevine plants. They were in various instars, some of them already quite large. I also found some of the butterfly’s eggs.

There were a few butterflies, as well, but in the cold air, they were pretty torpid.

Windmill Pinks (also called Hairypinks) just starting to wake up. But the clarkia isn’t showing yet. I saw lots of plants but no flowers.

I found a couple of Mugwort Weevils.  According to one study: “…The results revealed that, the weevil completes a single generation per year and overwinters as mature larvae inside the dried stems of host plant. Adults emerge from the dead stems, in [late April] early May. After emerging, they start to feed on the leaf tissues of the host plants and mate from time to time. Females then chew holes into the stem, and lay eggs singly in each hole. The eggs were covered with plant fibers by females for protection…”

In the river, I saw some Common Mergansers and a small group of Bufflehead ducks. There was also a Great Blue Heron standing on rocks in the shallows.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

While I was taking photos of some geese, I could hear a very odd, very loud “chittering” sound come from the other side of the river. I couldn’t pinpoint it at first, then I realized it seemed to be coming from the water. I could see a disturbance on the surface of the water, but because of the distance it was from me, I couldn’t really make it out. Then I could see what looked like the humped back of an animal in the water, and I was concerned, given the amount of noise it was making, that it was injured or tangled in something. I continued to track the movement as much as I could, but would often lose sight of whatever it was when it went down into the river.

Eventually, I was able to get to a spot on the trail where I could see the disturbance a little better, and then I could make out the heads of two otters. At first I thought maybe it was a mother with a youngster she was trying to keep afloat… But the otters were about the same size, so then I figured it was a mating pair. 

You can see the series of 6 video snippets HERE. Here is the one with the most action in it:

I know they can make a lot of noise during their processes; and this IS the time for breeding. At first the pairing seemed relatively benign, but then it became apparent that the female had had enough. She started chattering very loudly, and thrashing around, trying to get the male to release the grip he had on the back of her neck. She eventually rolled him off, and the started battering him with her front paws! Then they were flashing teeth at one another and chasing each other through the water. For all the commotion, I didn’t see any blood or evidence that anyone was getting hurt. The female then arched away from the male and headed for the bank. 

Eventually, they reached the bank and rushed up past the tules onto the rocky shore. I could still hear them, but they were hidden by the tules and I couldn’t much of anything. (Of course, I loaded this sighting into the “otter spotter” records at The River Otter Ecology Project. )

After I posted the sighting, I got this back from TROEP:  “…Hi Mary, Great sighting and description….exactly how otters mate. It always looks super violent and the females have quite enough of it … and yet they persist! In a couple of months we’ll start seeing little ones out with their moms… Thanks for the fun Otter Spotter! — Megan Isadore, Executive Director…” Cool!

Actually, all things considered, I saw a lot more than I thought I would. I was home by about 1:30 PM. This was hike #19 of my #52HikeChallenge for the year.

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
  2. Audubon’s Warbler, Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Setophaga coronata auduboni
  3. Broom, Scots Broom, Cytisus scoparius
  4. Brown Grass Bug, Irbisia californica
  5. Bufflehead Duck, Bucephala albeola
  6. Caddisfly, Net-Spinning Caddisfly, Family: Hydropsychidae [patterned wings like a stonefly]
  7. California Buckeye Chestnut Tree, Aesculus californica
  8. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  9. California Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana
  10. California Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta
  11. California Pipevine, Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia californica
  12. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  13. Camouflage Lichen, California Camouflage Lichen, Melanelixia californica
  14. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  15. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
  16. Common Merganser, Mergus merganser
  17. Coyote Brush Bud Gall midge, Rhopalomyia californica
  18. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis
  19. Cranefly, Marsh Crane Fly, Tipula oleracea
  20. Creeping Woodsorrel, Oxalis corniculata
  21. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  22. Gold Dust Lichen, Chrysothrix candelaris
  23. Grasses, Bristly Dogtail Grass, Cynosurus echinatus
  24. Grasses, Silver Hairgrass, Aira caryophyllea
  25. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
  26. Green Shield Lichen, Flavoparmelia caperata
  27. Hairypink, Pink Grass, Windmill Pink, Petrorhagia dubia
  28. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon
  29. Hoverfly, White-Bowed Smoothwing, Scaeva affinis
  30. Italian Thistle, Carduus pycnocephalus
  31. Kermes Scale Insect, Allokermes sp.
  32. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  33. Ladybeetle, Seven-Spotted Lady Beetle, Coccinella septempunctata
  34. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
  35. Lupine, Miniature Lupine, Lupinus bicolor
  36. Mallard Duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  37. Mayfly, Order: Ephemeroptera
  38. Meshweaver Spider, Family: Dictynidae
  39. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  40. Mugwort Weevil, Lixus fasciculatus
  41. Northern California Black Walnut, Juglans hindsii
  42. Oak, Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  43. Oak, Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  44. Otter, North American River Otter, Lontra canadensis
  45. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  46. Ruptured Twig Gall Wasp, Callirhytis perdens [on live oaks]
  47. Swallow, Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
  48. Towhee, Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
  49. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  50. Vetch, Hairy Vetch, Vicia villosa
  51. Western Bluebird, Sialia Mexicana
  52. Western Hoptree, Ptelea crenulata
  53. Western Redbud, Cercis occidentalis

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