Some days start out well and get better. I love taking our partners out to seek otters. We don’t always see them, but we always see interesting and beautiful things because… it’s usually a national park. So it’s beautiful and it’s rich in a way that can only happen when land is protected, however imperfectly. It’s been set aside for the wild and for us, the people. Very little is set aside for either group anymore, and the national park workers and supporters are all doing our best to ensure the parks are preserved for the future. It’s harder than it used to be, and we need everyone to help.
The guest van pulled up right on time and disgorged five cheerful people who love every single thing about nature, from little dung beetles to what I call Christmas thistles, grayish green and the shoutiest bright pink flowers ever. The folks from Lagunitas Brewing Company have titles like “Beer Fairy” and “Pony Rides by Appointment.” I like that too.
We started out talking about the coolness that is California quail. They are our state bird, and yes, they are common. And oh boy, are they worth a second look or 10! Two quick quail facts: Mom and Dad quail talk to their chicks in their shells….so that the chicks can imprint upon their voices and come out knowing where safety is by their calls! And….the chicks communicate with each other while their shells are touching, and can slow down or speed up their hatch time so they all hatch together! When you are a tiny fluffball who needs to keep up immediately, these are important survival skills. Knowing this stuff keeps us happy all day.
Jim saw the otters first, two adults and a pup swimming in the pennywort, fishing and doing a bit of lolling and grooming. Suddenly the youngster peeled off from the duo and raced across the beach as only a small otter can, short legs pumping, putting everything into the dash. Out across the lagoon, an adult otter swam straight for the pup, and shortly there was a cheerful reunion. The adult carried a large-mouthed bass in her mouth; big fish! The pup grabbed it with greedy growls …”mine mine mine,” is how we interpret it. The adult seemed happy to give the little one the fish, gave it a couple of cursory nuzzles and headed back out to continue hunting, as the pup lay on the beach and ate steadily for a good long time.
The coyote sniffed at the fish, then rolled in it. So rude to get sand in any bits that were left for the little otter! Then s/he strolled away up the beach, again leisurely and relaxed. Coyote looked well-fed and fluffy. Otter pup followed the coyote all the way up the beach, about 10 feet out from the shore, until the coyote moved off up the hill. We wondered to each other…would the coyote have hurt the otter pup? The coyote showed no interest in the otter; only in the fish remains. Clearly the coyote and otters “know” each other. But in what way do they experience each other? So much of nature is a mystery, the kind that only unfolds to us over years of observation. We feel lucky to have generous supporters like Lagunitas Brewing Company contributing to our work. We’re also grateful to to our volunteers, Otter Spotters, remarkable photographers and observers like those featured in our pages, helping watch over our protected and unprotected places.