Fall is in the air. Sometimes fall is blustery and crunchy; sometimes Indian summer slips back for several days; sometimes the weather does everything that summer didn’t. Today fall has a stillness, the quietness of waiting for winter. The air hardly stirs. Shadows are deliciously cool and hold dampness throughout the day. The sun’s warmth is welcome. It shines out of a vast expanse of blueness. No smoke. The air is finally clean after the wildfires of summer. The pond in front of me lies still, mirroring tall pines and a touch of red vine maple. Peacefulness hangs in the air.
Dale and I arrived at this little pond tucked in the Umpqua National Forest late in the afternoon. Shadows are already long, but half the pond still sparkles with sunshine. The cattails along the edge glow yellow and green. A few hardy dragonflies still fly.
When I first approached the water edge I glimpsed a dark brown lump sliding quietly under the water’s surface – an otter. The still pond barely moves, but a string of tiny bubbles heads towards the cattails. Gone, but I know where he is.
A kingfisher spots me. He is a noisy fellow as he flies to the far side of the pond.
I freeze. I don’t have long to wait. Gentle undulations disturb the dark water, and soon after the heads of three otter swim into the pond. This is surely a female and two large kits. She heads her family away from me. I hear a few nervous chirps before she relaxes. Otter can sound like a small bird.
The family soon relaxes and starts to feed. This pond offers easy foraging. Often all three slip underwater at once and usually at least one comes up munching on either a fish or a salamander. Sometimes all three are successful.
After feeding in the center of the pond for a while the otter start foraging along the far edge of the pond. They have a favorite spot over where they like to go ashore. Sure enough. Up onto the bank they go. All three tumble about in a knot like happy puppies. A little grooming and a little rough housing and finally the female scents the ground before diving back into the pond.
I know this pond well. Once of the things I like about it is that most of the pond edge is bordered with cattails or shrubbery … good cover for me. I quickly go to a spot where fishermen have beaten a path to the pond edge. Once I’m near the edge I only move when all three are underwater. Once in position, I stand still in the shadows, watching and waiting … and hoping they’ll continue their way along the shoreline, coming towards me. I’m still far enough from the otter that I didn’t catch their attention.
For a while my view is blocked, but I can hear the soft splash of their dives and crunching as they munch on prey. Slowly they come closer.
Oops! They come around the bend and see me. Thirty feet away. Suddenly I’m no secret. At least this time they don’t pull a disappearing act. The family just swims farther into the pond.
The female checks me out again, and soon goes back to feeding.
I sneak back through the bushes and some down to another spot near shore. This time I’m the one startled. A great blue heron was perched above me! The heron squawks and flies across the pond. It lands the very tippy top of a Douglas fir. I’m used to herons perching in trees, but this seems a little extreme.
No secret that I’m over here. I move on to the next spot. I have a while to wait. Not much sun hits the water. The pond seems almost asleep.
A song sparrow calls from deep within the cattails. Did I disturb it, or did an otter? The cattails are waving … and there still is no breeze. Finally I hear the otter approaching. They are a noisy bunch, clattering about amongst the dry cattails and talking to themselves. Otters can be very talkative when all is well. I hear lots of soft snuffling grunting. It a mellow, happy sound.
The otter continue to feed. Sunshine has left the pond. The heron catches the last of the sun up there on his high perch. Dusk will be here soon.