Douglas County, Oregon, USA: Sept 29, 2011
As we head out of town this morning there is a surreal beauty. Smoke fills the Umpqua Valley. Fog is cool and grey, but this has a brownish tone and warms the yellowed grasses. Even the nearest hills are soften by the murky air and just a little farther the hills are shapes without detail. After a long dry summer we’ve finally had just a little rain and now heavy dew. The nearby ranchers have a brief window of opportunity to do their field burning before falls rains soak the ground.
At the eastern edge of the valley the air clears. Blue sky above and sparkling dew on every blade of grass and leaf. A slope on our right is overgrown with teasel. Amongst the tall stems are scattered a field of crystal lollipops. It’s actually webs left by orb weaving spiders, but in the crisp, clear air they look like crystals. The golden teasel and sparkling webs and low morning sun sing of the end of summer. Even the turkey vultures are responding to the end of summer. At least a hundred soar high above me, slowly drifting in a southerly direction.
Soon after arriving we spot an otter family. Here, they too are a sign of fall. We never see them here in midsummer. I think they den somewhere along the creek and only come to the pond when the pups are old enough to travel. Twice we have photographed the otter feeding on rough-skinned newts here (see my blog post Aug 2010: http://elvafieldnotes.blogspot.com/2010/08/newts-for-dinner.html ) . As a result of the photographs we sent to Dr. Edmund Brodie from Utah State University, some researchers came to Lake in the Woods this summer to catch some of the newts. Dr. Brodie is finding that the toxicity of newts lessens at higher elevations. A few years ago only one variety of garter snake was thought to be able to eat rough-skinned newts, but now they know of at least two other species including our otter.
Now that we have otter here again, we would like to see what they are feeding on … and, of course, we’d like to get some good otter pictures. I settle down near the pond edge while Dale goes to another spot. Three otter are in the center of the pond feeding. Soon two move on and I’ve only got one in front of me. By the time I start counting I figure I’ve seen this one catch 5 salamanders. Most dives are successful. Eight dives in eight minutes. Sometimes he munches on something small, but before long I quite sure he has eaten 15 salamanders! No sign of any of them being newts, but that does seem like one big Thanksgiving dinner.