Sunday, October 16, 2011

Otter Watching

Lake in the Woods, Douglas Co., OR, USA
Arrived 11 AM. After the wonderful otter encounters yesterday, we are back, hoping for more. Before we get out of the car we spot three otter on the far side of the pond, slowly heading our way. The otter are in and out of the edge of the cattails. Fronds sway and then one comes up in the open water munching on a salamander. In and out. In and out. Hunting is good. We wait quietly in the car, hoping the otter will continue working the edge of the pond and come right past us.

A mallard hen near us is becoming antsy. She swims from our left to our right. Sure enough. The otter are getting close. We hear the soft “plop” when each dives…. Then back into the cattails where rustling and swaying take over.

Can’t see the otter now. They are behind us. We are parked on the dike that impounds this pond, parked so close Dale would get his feet wet if he stepped out.

Suddenly we see a thin string of bubbles rising to the surface. The otters know darn well where we are. The string of bubbles draws a wavy line right past us, probably within ten feet. One by one the three pop up to our right.
A big Douglas fir log reaches into the pond just far enough away for the three to climb aboard. They shake first and then stare for a moment. When one turns I get to appreciate its long muscular body and heavy tail. It’s an adult and two youngsters.

Since the otter appear to be heading away from us we decide to go over to the other side of the pond. I get out of the car at midpoint while Dale drives to the far side. We both sneak down to the pond and wait.

Darn. I’m too late. The trio have already passed my spot. They are busy hunting salamanders out in the open pond. I don’t want to disturb Dale’s chances so I stay put and sketch. The pond is still. Air barely moves. High above me I hear far off white-fronted geese. The geese are migrating, soon to be in the Klamath Basin. Their high voices soon fade. Stillness hangs in the air …. Yet the water along the edge to my left is sending out ripples, probably a mallard feeding along the edge. Quietly I reach for my camera.
It’s a fourth otter, very close, but barely visible because of all the cattails. Underwater one moment and then water slipping off him the next. For just a moment he comes up on a log near me … never looks at me. I don’t think he knows I’m here. All too soon he continues on his way, heading towards Dale. I stay put and figure it’s a good time to catch up on my notes.

I’m nearly done writing when two mallards explode out of the cattails across the pond from me. Ah Ha! Maybe I’ll have another otter opportunity.

It is easy to watch the otter’s progress. I just look for swaying cattails fronds. I sit very still, full of anticipation. Soon the otter is close. I can’t see him, but I can hear him: cattails being pushed, the chewing of his salamanders, the plop of his next dive. Most of the pond is edged with a six foot fringe of cattails, but I’m sitting where fishermen have made an opening. Not a big opening, but big enough for a nice look if he swims past me.

That toadie! This one knows where I am. The tell-tale string of bubbles shows me he is swimming past my opening. Then, to my right, I hear more rustling and munching. Ah well. Just being so close is a treat.
Soon the otter are back out in the center of the pond feeding. Too far for good photographs, but I can sketch. I find it interesting that they sometimes hunt in the cattails and sometimes they hunt out in the open pond. The pond is full of weeds and apparently provides excellent salamander habitat in both places. This pond has plenty of fish too, but the otter are hunting the easy prey.

One last treat before they disappear into the cattails for a rest. The family comes out on a log across the pond from me. They have a playful tumbling match with lots of ‘chirping.’ If I didn’t know otter I’d be looking for a bird. Their cheerful calls carry easily across the still water to me. We’ve watched the otter enough to know they arrive and leave the pond from this location. The tiny stream that enters the pond flows just a few feet from this log.


  1. Thank you for that incredible visit! I've yet to meet up with "my" otter again since my last encounter with him.

    I also love the glimpses you've shared with us in your art.

  2. I loved your description of otter antics and your sketches and painting are wonderful! Lovely work, Elva!

  3. I always love reading your notes and these action sketches are fantastic.

  4. You have such a way of telling your stories....people watching otters and otters watching people. Makes me wonder what they wrote in their journals. Art is amazing as always.

  5. Enthralling, and that last sketch is SOMETHING, Elva!

  6. Elva,
    I have been enjoying your Field Notes for some time. I don't do it everyday, but when I do, it is like a personal visit to a place of quiet repose. But, in contrast, and at the same time, a time of excitement as I imagine myself observing the beauty and wonder of a wild place by your side.
    Thank you for sharing the wonder of it all. It blesses my day.