One of my favourite things about nature is how it has the ability to make you forget about what you were thinking, or where you were going, and just mesmerizes you with a natural curiosity, like a child seeing something for the first time. Out for an afternoon stroll a couple of weeks ago, I had that experience when I saw two Northern River Otters playing on the ice and feeding at Nita Lake by the mouth of Whistler Creek.
The otters were slipping, sliding, and rolling on the ice then elegantly diving into the water. Even though they are known to be more nocturnal in inhabited areas they didn't seem to be bothered by my presence.
A member of the weasel family, otters playfully slide down river banks in summer and even toss their food up in the air or dive for pebbles. They range in length from 86-120 cm, and weigh between five and 14 kilograms.
They appear to be clumsy on land but, surprisingly, can outrun a human. Otters are very good swimmers and can hold their breath for up to five minutes. Other adaptations for aquatic life include webbed toes, small ears, nostrils which seal when they submerge, and fanlike dense whiskers to help sense movement of prey in murky water.
River otters mostly eat fish and small mammals but they also prey on frogs, crayfish, shellfish, aquatic insects, snakes, turtles, salamanders, earthworms and small birds. Predators of the otter include coyotes, bobcats, foxes and owls.
Excessive trapping for the Northern River Otter's thick, durable, and attractive fur greatly diminished populations. Since trapping has been reduced the otter seems to be slowly recolonizing parts of North America where it has been absent for decades. Due to their diet and habitat, otters may serve as indicators of the health of aquatic ecosystems. They favour life on the shores of deep, clean rivers, lakes, and marshes.
Otters are regularly spotted in the fall feeding on Kokanee salmon during spawning season at Crabapple Creek and the River of Golden Dreams.
Careful observations over long periods of time help us to better understand the living world around us. If you have a story to share please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org, or if you want to get out with some other nature enthusiasts join the Naturalists monthly bird walk Saturday Feb. 4 at the winter time of 9 a.m. Meet at the foot of Lorimer Road and the Valley Trail to walk to Rainbow Park and back.