Otter of the Year

(Burrowing Owl Update Below)

North American River Otter (Lontra canadensis)

I had to run to catch up with this one. It was swimming north close in to the east shore of the park, coming up for air in a few strokes, then disappearing and resurfacing far ahead. If it hadn’t been for the way that the Open Circle Viewpoint sticks out into the water, I might never have got any images better than the back of its half-submerged head. There, the otter hauled out on a projecting flat stone, a favorite perch for waterbirds, and took a break from swimming. It shook itself vigorously, spinning its head so rapidly that the camera caught only a blur, and worked its fur with its teeth. This is an energetic animal! After about ten minutes of nonstop activity, it slid back into the water and continued northward.

This is the fourth River Otter photographed in the park. I saw the first one in March 2019. Photographer James Kusz imaged a second one in November that year. Then Kusz and photographer Phil Rowntree photographed a third one in November 2021.

To summarize what was said previously about it: Contrary to its name, the river otter is at home in bays as well as rivers, in salt water as well as fresh, and is perfectly competent to travel many miles on land when it wants to move to a different body of water. It eats primarily fish and shellfish. We’ve never seen a California sea otter in or around the park, so the danger of confusing river otters with sea otters is slight. But just in case, the river otter is never seen floating on its back, and in fact is rarely if ever seen resting in water; it’s highly active all the time. Details on the River Otter Fact Sheet.

More about them: Wikipedia  River Otter Ecology Project  Bay Nature article On

Burrowing Owl Update

This chilly Monday morning, the Burrowing Owl switched back to Perch A, in the shelter of the California Poppy bush, out of sight of park visitors on the paved perimeter trail. I set up my telephoto camera in the Open Circle Viewpoint area, turned on video recording, and walked away, leaving the camera unattended. Eighteen minutes later I returned. During that time the owl remained on the same foot in the same spot. In contrast to Saturday, when I recorded a long period without head motions, the bird this morning showed a more normal level of activity, swiveling its head from side to side and sometimes upward with sky traffic numerous times. My YouTube video reproduces a minute more or less at random out of the 18-minute video take.

Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia) Dec. 19 2022

The bird’s movements between its two habitual perches continue to baffle predictions. Care to hazard a guess where it’ll be tomorrow? Here’s a spreadsheet showing its record to date. Hint: by the law of averages, on Tuesdays it’ll be at Perch B.

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2 thoughts on “Otter of the Year

  • What a great otter video!!! I loved seeing all that happy grooming activity, especially the way it repeatedly rubbed its head on the rock. I’ve seen river otters at the Grizzly Island Wildlife Area (Suisun Marsh) but never at Cesar Chavez and only rarely at other parts of the Bay. Grizzly Island had so many otters you couldn’t help seeing them all over the place! They were everywhere in the watercourses, which I assume were brackish if not totally salt water.

  • We saw the owl at Perch B this morning, from the perimeter path, around 9:30 am.

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