The Nature of Cedar Mill
by Lauretta Young
Our house abuts a wetland near the Bethany Wetlands conservation area. This area gets water from Willow Creek and Bronson Creek. Over the years we have enjoyed seeing the typical birds as well as the occasion rarity. But this past month brought a new visitor to the visible pond—a North American River Otter.
When I first noticed movement and diving in the pond I thought it must herald the return of our Hooded Mergansers who come back in the winter. These diving ducks fish for tiny minnows and frogs. When I looked more closely it was apparent this was a HUGE animal. This animal was very active, moving rapidly across the pond and doing gymnastics, with its sleek tail appearing as it rolled around in the water. From my spotting scope I could clearly see it was a River Otter with a very large and furry tail and rather adorable facial whiskers.
This otter spent about an hour scooping up fish, frogs and possibly crustaceans from the pond. It would come up after going underwater with both paws full of something and would stuff its mouth. I could see it chewing with gusto in my scope.
In the 15 years I have lived here, I had never seen an otter. We have an abundance of another furry species—the Nutria. They look like “two lumps” in the water, moving slowly across the pond. Nutrias are abundant in local parks and along water ways. These animals are vegetarians—I often see them at the sides of the pond munching on grass and weeds and sometimes cattail roots. They move very slowly and have rodent-like tails. The Otter was fast, sleek, and had a tail that was thick and furry. What a treat to watch this mammal have its lunch.
I have not seen the otter since, and I imagine that with the large amount of rain it would navigate from where it usually lives. I read online about a Bronson Creek project to protect otter habitat. Generally I have seen otters more in wild places, such as when we are hiking along a river, or fishing, crabbing, or bird watching on lakes. I certainly have never seen one in a city but it makes sense that where there is water and food the otter might thrive.
Look outside and maybe you’ll be awed by something unusual.
Lauretta Young is currently the Medical Director of the Integrative Self Care Initiative for Students project at OHSU Medical School. She also has a custom bird tour business where she takes tourists and locals on bird watching outings to learn about the marvels of nature. See her website at Portlandbirdwatching.com.