Big Bend Chat

Random Bits from the Outside World => Non-BIBE Trip Reports => Topic started by: ambersdad on March 06, 2012, 09:48:35 AM

Title: In Search of River Otter @ WMWR
Post by: ambersdad on March 06, 2012, 09:48:35 AM
In 1999 and 2000 Fish and Wildlife released around 12 river otter in the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge.  Waiting on an email with the exact number. There have been sightings in different locations of the refuge over the years that seemed to indicate they were still around and had not perished.

This winter sightings increased dramatically in different spots at the same time. So they were reproducing and spreading.  The last month I had spent about 30 hours in search of otter.  On 6 occasions I spotted one to three of them but couldn't close the distance enough to take decent photos.

I headed down to the refuge Thursday morning planning to stay through Sunday with getting photos of otters my top priority.   I got there right at daylight and fiddled around with the camera shooting a few elk. When I drove by the corrals, I saw this chopper. The bio's were doing their yearly bison and elk count.
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I drove on to French lake and parked. I bumped into a photographer in a small boat that told me he had photographed 3 otters in the lake the evening before and had heard there were 2 others below the dam in the chain of the Fish Lakes.  I knew without a boat, getting photos of otters in French would be a crap shoot.  It would be too easy for them to swim to the other shore as soon as I was spotted even though I was wearing camo.

I dropped down below French Lake dam and spotted an otter in the distance swimming to the next dam.  So I jumped back on the Bison Trail and headed after him.  Got to the 2nd inpoundment to see him fishing and not in a hurry to move further downstream.

I left the trail and headed uphill to cover ground without being seen. Once I was about where he should still be, I dropped back down to the waterway.  Sure enough, he was still on lunch break.
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After about an hour, he swam to the bank near the next dam and dropped down to the next impoundment.
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I decided at that point it was time to get ahead of him hoping to get better pics. So I left the trail again going uphill to stay hidden and ran as fast as I could about 100 yards downstream and then popped back down to the waterway.  I tucked myself in next to a cedar on the bank and waited. 

In just a minute or two he suddenly popped up on a small rise in the water way, looked around and shook off.
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He could hear my shutter and looked at me for a few seconds.  Then he dropped below the surface and swam to the bank just across from me.
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The shutter seemed to bug him so he dropped back in and swam downstream about 10 yards and climbed up on a oak deadfall next to the water. My side of the bank had plenty of cover so I moved downstream just across from him.( (
He seemed more relaxed here and my camera didn't chase him off. Probably took another 100 photos before he dropped down into the water and entered an old beaver den right behind the oak log. I was pumped.

I climbed back up to the trail and back to the Yukon.  I went by Doris and set up a tent. Then drove over to the bunkhouse and showered.  The rest of the evening was laid back.  That night it was very windy which made sleeping easier. No camp noise and the wind drowns out the coyotes in the middle of the night.

Next morning I met a friend at the Visitor Center. We headed over to the Dog Run Hollow Trails.  We spent all day on the Bison Trail pruning back branches and limbs to make the trail easier to navigate.  That evening I stayed at the bunkhouse since it was empty.

Saturday morning I was back on the Fish lakes but never got any decent photos of otters.  I did see 6, but was never close enough to take photos.  Played with the camera some on ducks and then drove back to the bunkhouse that evening.

Next morning I heard turkeys at daybreak and decided a few shots of a Tom were in order.  I love spring when Toms are trying to impress the ladies.  They are easy to find and easy to photograph.
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Went for a hike around Lost lake but didn't see anything of interest. So I headed back to the Yukon planning to pack up and head home. Near the Burford Turnoff I spotted a very young longhorn calf that looked distressed. I pulled over and investigated.  The calf hadn't eaten in days. All of it's ribs were showing, it's nostrils and gums were were beet red instead of pink, and it looked to be blind in both eyes. So I drove over to the VC and reported it.  Then drove back to the location and met one of the bio's there. He looked the calf over and called him coyote food. He decided to let nature run it's course.  The calf was only a few hours from death, so really nothing could be done. He wasn't too keen on killing it either.  It was far enough from the road most visitors to the refuge wouldn't see it.  He thanked me for the heads up and I headed home to have lunch with my girls.

All in all, a very good trip. Will go back down in a few days hoping to see otters and toms again.  At the end of the month I will head over to Cedar Lake in southeastern Oklahoma for a few days of maintenance on my section of the Ouachita Trail. Then the next weekend I'm headed to BiBe. Life is good! ;)
Title: Re: In Search of River Otter @ WMWR
Post by: mule ears on March 06, 2012, 10:05:21 AM
Awesome shots!  I love the one running across the rocks.  thanks  :13:
Title: Re: In Search of River Otter @ WMWR
Post by: SA Bill on March 06, 2012, 06:22:01 PM
Very nice ambersdad!  :eusa_clap:
  Thanks for sharing!
Title: Re: In Search of River Otter @ WMWR
Post by: chisos_muse on March 06, 2012, 08:28:41 PM
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WOW, what a cutie!  :eusa_clap:
Title: Re: In Search of River Otter @ WMWR
Post by: trtlrock on March 06, 2012, 10:11:39 PM
This is awesome! I don't know diddly about otters -- while I'm sure they're ruthless killers, they sure are cute!
Title: Re: In Search of River Otter @ WMWR
Post by: ambersdad on March 07, 2012, 06:14:24 AM

Otters will eat about anything they can catch around the water. The photographer I talked to found a pile of turtle shells near a spot he was shooting.
Title: Re: In Search of River Otter @ WMWR
Post by: ambersdad on March 21, 2012, 06:21:55 AM
I went back down a few weekends ago wanting to watch the otters again.  Found two in Crater lake.  I was surprised at how big a catfish an otter can catch.

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The same otter swimming around with a jaw of a catfish playing with it like it was a toy.
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Title: Re: In Search of River Otter @ WMWR
Post by: chisos_muse on March 21, 2012, 08:14:51 AM
Good eats, AND a toy! These little guys are livin large!  :eusa_clap:
Title: Re: In Search of River Otter @ WMWR
Post by: ambersdad on March 21, 2012, 09:13:48 AM
Definitely good eats.  ;)

Forgot to mention The email I got from Jeremy, one of the bios at the refuge.  The introduced 15 otters. Two were hit by cars in a matter of days.  One of them miles from the refuge.  He believes there are more than 16 on the refuge right now. They are hard to count because they are always moving and cover a lot of ground quickly.