Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Lontra canadensis

I set out from the south side of Elliot Bay in calm and sunny weather. The Salish Sea is big water and often too windy for an open canoe, so this day is a treat. The tide is falling and most of the trip will be in six feet of water or less. Two harlequin ducks, the most beautiful ducks of all, escort me almost to four mile rock, where the first goldeneye ducks take over. When I reach the shallow sand flats off of Discovery Park, I beach the canoe and make a quick walk-over to look for animal tracks. I've seen otter here before, but the tracks were poor on that day. It has to be a quick walk though, as with the falling tide my beached canoe rapidly moves away from the water.

Finding little, I wade with my canoe out into the sea until, about 200 yards from shore, I spot a river otter coming in. It has a small flat fish in its mouth and in the shallows it walks with its front legs only, letting the tail and hind legs float limply behind. Suddenly, it reverses direction and just as suddenly, an immature bald eagle sweeps in and makes a grab at the fish. So, the eagle harries the otter, but seagulls and crows harry the eagle, and soon the otter escapes with its catch into water deep enough to submerge. When that is done, it is time to drop the pencil and take the paddle as two more inches of water have left and the canoe is almost dragging bottom. I wade on to deeper water.

As I near West Point, I spot a wake in the water behind me, and soon, the head of the otter pops up. It passes me and I follow it, passing within 15 yards of 3 kayakers who are so busy chatting a storm that they don't see what I am so intensely following. It is not hard to follow as it leaves a trail of small bubbles even when there is no wake on the surface. Just on the north side of the point, the otter takes to the beach and clambers up into the rocks under the lighthouse and, disappears. I beach the canoe and find a nice set of tracks to cast in plaster. Nearby, I find a second, slightly smaller set and I make casts of them also.

Lontra canadensis - the North American river otter.

I have no inclination to return the way I came, so I continue north and then into the ship canal, passing through the locks and then portaging across Interbay from Fishermen's Terminal to Elliot Bay. I run into a newspaper reporter as I beach, and I tell him what I am up to, of course, and invite him to come out in the canoe - because only then is nothing lost in the translation.

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