Thursday, October 24, 2013

River Otters and A Red-necked Grebe

The title of this post sounds like the basis for a dumb joke now that I'm thinking about it. Anyway, you know I love birding, but encountering mammals and seeing them in natural surroundings and behaviors is a fascinating bonus that sometimes comes with birding.

One of my birding friends found a group of Northern River Otters playing in the moat that surrounds the Provo Airport (Provo, UT) a couple months ago. The otters weren't seen for a while so we suspected they had moved on since they are a rare sight in Utah County. From what I've read otters were more common in Utah Rivers many years ago in extreme northeastern Utah. I read a 1991 article about efforts of the Division of Wildlife Resources to reintroduce River Otters in eastern Utah via the Green River. Otters were being captured where they were thriving in Alaska, flown to Salt Lake City, and then released within hours in the Green River. I'm not sure how much has been done since that time, but they are a protected species so I hope they are able to thrive without threat from humans.

The same friend who saw the otters confirmed the presence of a Red-necked Grebe in the moat around the airport a couple of days ago. I had seen only one Red-necked Grebe before so I decided to try to locate it the next day before going to work. I didn't see the grebe where it had been reported when I first arrived so I made a quick drive around the the perimeter of the airport while keeping an eye on the moat. I had stopped at one point and heard what sounded like a large animal moving through the base of some phragmite stands across the moat from me. I know otters like to play on mud and/or snow slides near water. I noticed an area of open dirt between phragmite stands that could be used for sliding from the bank into the water. Based on that thinking I watched the dirt area and soon three Northern River Otters appeared. They were still hiding so I wondered if I could make a squealing noise with my mouth to make them curious. It worked and they entered the water and swam in my direction (I was using my truck as a blind so they could not see me). Moments later they all began to dive. They quickly resurfaced with large catfish in their mouths. They chomped and chomped and then swallowed the fish and dove for more. They would give low growls/snorts between dives. They repeated this process numerous times until they were satisfied with their breakfast. Otters are crepuscular so they are most active in twilight hours, early mornings and evenings.

Here is a series of images showing the possible slide area where they entered, swimming, eating, and leaving the water. I enjoyed the experience. The sun was just rising over the mountains and shining right into my eyes as I looked eastward toward the otters--too bad the sun was not to my back. They were back lit and in shadows the whole time so I've had to lighten up these images.

Northern River Otter in Provo Airport Moat in Provo, UT
Northern River Otter in Provo Airport Moat in Provo, UT
Northern River Otter in Provo Airport Moat in Provo, UT
Northern River Otter Eating Catfish in Provo Airport Moat in Provo, UT
Northern River Otter Eating Catfish in Provo Airport Moat in Provo, UT
Northern River Otter Eating Catfish in Provo Airport Moat in Provo, UT
Northern River Otter Eating Catfish in Provo Airport Moat in Provo, UT
Northern River Otter in Provo Airport Moat in Provo, UT
As I was leaving to go to work I came across some more friends who had located the grebe and were trying to get into place to photograph it. I didn't have much time so I took a few quick shots. It was a juvenile Red-necked Grebe so it still had some black and white striping on its head. It was not in breeding plumage so it didn't show the white cheeks contrasted by black crown and red neck. However, it was still an extremely rare bird for the state of Utah, let alone Utah County.

Juvenile Red-necked Grebe in Provo Airport Moat in Provo, UT
Juvenile Red-necked Grebe Preening in Provo Airport Moat in Provo, UT
Juvenile Red-necked Grebe in Provo Airport Moat in Provo, UT

2 comments:

  1. Great finds, Jeff! I looked for them one day last week but struck out.

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    1. Thanks, Ron. These guys are crepuscular so early morning and early evening would probably be ideal times. Unfortunately for me, I saw them in the morning and had to look right into the rising sun. I actually ended up putting my left eye to the viewfinder because it helped keep the sun out of my eyes. It's odd trying to use the opposite eye from your normal eye.

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