River Otters

The past few weeks of fall weather have been so enjoyable for me. After a long summer of staying in Oklahoma City because it was too hot to enjoy being outside, we’ve been reconstituted and have returned to spending much more time outside in the woods. Trips to our Byars property have proved to be remarkable.

Migratory birds have not been that much in evidence, but other events have been rather fascinating. After over 30 years of “No Hunting” on our property, our son, Tim, and our granddaughter, Sydney, changed the tradition and dad and daughter became armed and potentially dangerous (for deer) on the first day of youth rifle season. They spent a long weekend hiking the woods and sitting in blinds. The deer population was exceptionally safe that weekend! An active 13 year-old girl who finds it next to impossible to stay still and quiet proved to be no threat.

On Sunday morning when they were walking back across the pond dam to prepare to come back to Oklahoma City, they noticed splashing and rippling in our pond, which had become little more than a small over-sized puddle during the summer drought. They stopped to watch and realized they were watching a family of four River Otters having the time of their lives catching 2-3 pound catfish out of the diminished pond! These feisty and so very cute pests were not to be deterred by the humans. They continued to splash and dive and chase each other as they captured the large fish and drug them out and voraciously tore them to pieces while Tim and Sydney watched from about 100 feet away. I might have accused them of trying to pull a fast one on me, but Tim had his camera and they took many excellent close-up photos.

When Sam and Brian and arrived the following Saturday, there was no sign of the otters, other than tracks. I really wanted to SEE them! I was torn between being thrilled to have the possibility of actually seeing otters on our property and knowing that our catfish would not survive the onslaught of these proficient predators. Several weeks have gone by and we’ve been out looking, but they have apparently moved on.

When I contacted Mark Howery at the ODWC to ask about the range of otters in Oklahoma, I was shocked to learn they were relatively well established in the Norman area and have even been spotted in SW Oklahoma City. Apparently when the South Canadian dried up, the otters traveled overland until they found ponds that still had water and fish. Our property is less than a mile from the river. The image of a family of River Otters possibly loping down the highway made me smile.

So, our otters moved on and the pond has been partially replenished with recent rains, but other predators have moved in that are anything but cute! About 3 weeks ago we found evidence of feral pigs! We had seen tracks once or twice in the past 5 years, but never had damage. Now we have rooted-up ground in the woods and in the wildlife plantings. We have critter cams out and while they’ve obviously walked past one of them, the camera did not capture their image. But our neighbor east of us captured two on his critter cam. I am so not lenient of sharing my space with PIGS! Now the hunting family members will be on alert and in pursuit of pork and venison.

A late evening stint in one of the critter blinds on Sunday, November 13, 2011, was an amazing way to wind up a beautiful fall day in the woods. As I sat watching for whatever came along, I saw a pair of Armadillos come out to forage; two flocks of blackbirds that made no noise as they flew into the setting sun; Cardinals and Towhees settling in for the night and the setting sun turning the clouds beautiful shades of pink and lavender. As I walked back across the pond dam, a Snipe and a Great Blue Heron flew away from the edge of the water. Two does had come out just east of the cabin and were calmly grazing. (They must have known I was armed only with binoculars.) Just before we left, a Barred Owl screamed out its presence. It was indeed a good day!