We otter know river visitor

To call the sightings “infrequent” would be a gross exaggeration for, in my twenty-plus years here, I’d say they total fewer than the fingers on my left hand. And those have been more mystery than mastery.

Gazing out at the open lake, my eye would catch a movement at the far side. Or did it? The “maybe” has disappeared. Doubting that I hallucinate, I now set aside my project (even lunch!) to gaze fixedly at the spot.

Yes, a dark round something, gone again as quickly as it appeared.

But then a second! And, I think, even a third!

It could be just one or perhaps two but I doubt if a spot can move that far, that quickly, underwater.

I watch in absolute amazement as the animals frolic, jumping up, twisting and then rapidly diving again. With a good 95 percent of their time (if not more) spent underwater, identification is difficult.

I know beavers live here and I know they frolic, especially at this time of the year. If I am lucky, I can watch them play. They swim back and forth, often in twos, sharing what to me seems like the pure delights of a gorgeous ice-free day in spring.

But danged if I don’t think these look and act like otters. How? Where? Why?

My tiny lake is fed by waters farther uphill and drains into the Cassadaga Lakes but only after an awful lot of meandering through neighbors’ yards, across highways and so forth. How would an otter much less three find me?

I don’t deny it’s a lovely place to stop and play but where did they come from? and where would they go?

A few years ago I contacted a man whose home on the shore of one of the Cassadaga Lakes had to afford as good a view as mine with lots more water there for observing. Had he ever seen an otter in these parts? I took his silence as a negative.

Finally, my patience paid off and I got a couple photographs to show I hadn’t been wrong. The animals are far away and the pictures aren’t that good but a Loch Ness monster it isn’t. An otter three actually it is.

Two years ago at this time Jeff Tome had an article on the River Otter’s Return in The Post-Journal. (All right, I confess: I felt better once I knew an expert backed my view.) “As part of the New York River Otter Project, 279 otters were released in Central and Western New York in 1996. Some were released into French Creek and fifteen were released at Audubon.” So that’s where and how they came to be.

“River otters are making a remarkable comeback,” he continues. “While they disappeared because of over-trapping, pollution and disappearing habitat over 100 years ago, the conditions here now are perfect. There is ample wild space, food and everything they need to survive here.”

Audubon refers to this wonderful animal as a “flexible torpedo” and says, while they can remain underwater for several minutes, they can also lope along on land for long distances and can even run fairly well. They’re after fish but will eat fewer game fish and more of the slow-moving kinds such as the bluegill which can be found in schools, increasing the odds of catching something.

It would have to be a terribly quick glance for me to mistake an otter for a beaver or muskrat but they are quite similar to a mink which I thought I had seen here. Maybe I’d better take another look at that.

Among the most playful of all animals, I know now they frequently visit the waters near Lily Dale. I welcome them back here anytime.

“Otters chuckle softly to siblings or mates,” says Audubon, “apparently as a sign of affection, and also chirp, grunt, snort and growl.”

Already sounds like home.

Susan Crossett has lived outside Cassadaga for more than 20 years. A lifetime of writing led to these columns as well as two novels. Her Reason for Being was published in 2008 with Love in Three Acts due this month. Information on all the Musings, the books and the author can be found at Susancrossett.com.