April 19th 2012 3:36 pm
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Sunday, April 15, 2012
It's wild times in the watershed.
The most happy-go-lucky denizen of Bay Area creeks is back, after a hiatus of at least three decades: the river otter.
"They look like they're having a wonderful time out there. It's really exciting to see," said Steve Bobzien, a wildlife ecologist for the East Bay Regional Park District. "Plus, it's a really good biological indicator of the health of the ecosystem."
From Antioch to Tomales Bay, park visitors have reported otters rolling in mud, gnawing on crayfish, sliding down rocks and generally partying on the creek banks. A Marin group has even created an Otter Spotter website, where the public can log their otter sightings on an interactive map and learn more about the charismatic carnivores.
"The more we look for otters, the more we find. It seems like they're everywhere," said Megan Isadore, a naturalist from Forest Knoll who started the River Otter Ecology Project and Otter Spotter website. "It's wonderful - everyone loves otters."
Otters were once found in almost every creek and lake in Northern California, but their numbers seriously dwindled until the 1970s because of hunting, habitat loss and pollution. Particularly harmful was mercury, which seeped into the crayfish, clams, mussels and other shellfish that otters dine on.
But the federal Clean Water Act of 1972, California environmental laws, antihunting regulations and open space preservation have helped make the waterways more hospitable for otters. They're still threatened, but they appear to be rebounding, biologists said.
"There's a lot of doom and gloom out there, but every now and then we get something right," said David Herlocker, a naturalist with the Marin County Parks and Open Space District. "We did something to protect our waterways, and it actually worked."
Marin seems to have the biggest concentration of otters, and the population there appears to have skirted the worst of the hunting and pollution impacts. Otters are in virtually every creek and reservoir but especially seem to favor water treatment plants and anyplace with lots of salmon, Herlocker said. They're so plentiful a few have even been hit by cars, prompting at least one "Otter Crossing" sign - on Lucky Drive in Larkspur.
But they're not ones to linger. Otters will scramble over hilltops and valleys, up to 25 miles a day, to find their next feast.
In fact, they usually don't stay in one spot for more than a few days. They might take over an old beaver den or foxhole to nest or relax for a while, but generally they like to keep moving.
In the East Bay, they've been spotted at Jewel Lake in Berkeley's Tilden Regional Park, Brooks Island near Richmond, Garin Park in Hayward, Contra Loma reservoir in Antioch and other parks. They're also relatively common in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.
Scientists don't know much about otters' population figures in the Bay Area - no official counts are available - but Isadore hopes to change that. With her Otter Spotter program, she's encouraging members of the public to help document otters' behavior and whereabouts so scientists can identify their corridors and ranges, eating and breeding habits and general population trends. That kind of information will help show a more complete picture of otters' health as a species, as well as a hint of the general state of Bay Area watersheds.
It's not an easy job, though. Otter spotters must be prepared to spend long, silent hours by a creek, notebook and camera at the ready, awaiting a sudden splash off a nearby rock or a furry head popping up from a quiet pool.
Cute as otters can be, however, people should keep their distance. They like to play with each other, but they're not crazy about humans. And they can at times display that displeasure with sharp teeth.
"They're nippy little buggers," Bobzien said. "You don't want to corner them."
The rewards of otter spotting are great, though. When they're in the mood, otters are like the Marx Brothers of the forest.
"They slide and roll and splash," Isadore said. "It appears they do this for no reason at all except to play. Or if there is a reason, they're not telling."
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This is a wonderful coincidence as I was reading a few weeks back that in UK the otters are claiming back their heritage sites too !!!!!!
I would love to see those critters in my creek that I stroll past evfurry day...
Wonderfur conservation story!
And looky! You have a diary pick today! Congrats!
Yeah! Another DDP day fur you, Jamaica!
Have a great day!
Thank you, Flicka, MrJackFreckles and Zoe!