CRITTERS AT BRAZOS BEND STATE PARK  Page 8--mammals--OTTERS!
This page was born 02/18/2008.  Rickubis designed it.  (such as it is.) Last update: 2/10/2014
Images and contents on this page copyright 2002-2014 Richard M. Dashnau

Here are my other Brazos Bend and/or critter pages:
 ----------------------------------------------------------------                  OR,  FOR OTHER ANIMALS:
Alligators at Brazos Bend State Park Introduction             Critters at Brazos Bend State Park Page 1
Snakes-nonvenomous 1------------------------------------------- Critters at Brazos Bend State Park Page 3
Snakes-nonvenomous 2-------------------------------------------------Insects, non-toxic
Snakes-nonvenomous 3------------------------------------------------Spiders
Snakes-venomous------------------------------------------------------Mammals
Birds-Waders----Birds-Raptors---------------------------------Lizards!--Turtles!
 

----------------------------------Rick on the trail. 12/31/2007
That's me on the 40-Acre Lake Trail at Brazos Bend State Park (12/31/2007). I was waiting for an otter to show up. It didn't then.
As I get pictures of otters at the park (and elsewhere), I'll be putting them here. These entries are in reverse-chronological order;
newest at the top.

February 09, 2014  When I got to BBSP at 8 it was foggy, overcast, cold, and damp. Visibility was limited, and I walked from the 40 Acre-Lake parking lot to the Observation Tower, moving on the
North side of the lake. I climbed to the top of the tower, intending to catch the view as the sun burned through the fog and lit up the park (as was predicted by the meterologists).
The sun never appeared. At about 8:43, I noticed a wave moving west in Pilant Slough. It was a "strong" wave, caused by something large moving quickly under the water.
As I watched, an otter surfaced, then continued moving West. I watched through my camera as the otter climbed ashore, then ran under the wooden bridge near the tower.
Because of my position in the tower, I couldn't see the otter immediately after it entered 40 Acre lake, but I was able to catch a glimpse of it as it moved near one of the islands.
I was, of course, quite excited, and after I lost sight of the otter, I turned away from the lake, and looked down at my camera. I intended to review what I'd filmed. I saw movement
in the Slough again.

ANOTHER otter was swimming West in Pilant Slough! (about 8:46) And, it was taking almost exactly the same path as the first otter. It also made landfall and ran under the
wooden bridge. This otter was also visible swimming out towards one of the islands in 40 Acre lake.
The two images below are frame captures from video clips that I shot during these events. 
The edited video is here:  wmv format 33.7mb   mp4 format 63.0mb

 


With the 2 otters out of sight, I stayed atop the tower, and started reviewing my video clips. Because the fog and the speed of the otters, I couldn't catch everything I'd seen--but I
did catch quite a bit. As I was looking through the files on the camera, movement below caught my eye again.
One of the otters had returned, and it ran down the trail towards the tower (North), and reentered Pilant Slough near the wooden bridge. It briefly swam East, then stopped and
moved around in the water near the weir. While I was trying to get that in focus, the other Otter ran down the trail (also moving North), and started to enter the slough near the
bridge.  The otter that was already there sped towards the otter on land-which turned and ran back along the trail, moving South, away from the bridge. The otter in the water also left
the water, and ran down the trail; apparently chasing the other one. They both entered 40 Acre Lake, and once again moved towards the islands. I could see their wakes moving in
the gap between the islands, so I hurried down to the trail. I thought that they might chase each other out of the lake, and maybe cross the North leg of the trail. I got to the trail and moved West.
I was hoping to see the otters.
I wasn't disappointed. One of the otters appeared on the island, then entered the water at the edge of the hyacinth, and it began swimming East-near the island. It passed me,
then moved towards the corner of the lake, near the Observation Tower. I could hear the otter making a kind of "chuffing" noise as it swam. It seemed agitated. It swam to the
bank, then left the water and ran onto the trail. About halfway across, it turned and looked at me, then ran towards me a few steps (I was at least 30 yards away); then it turned
and ran back into 40 Acre lake. It swam past me again (moving West), and moved towards the island. By then a couple park visitors were also able to see the otter, which was
still "chuffing".
Then we all discussed what we'd seen. As we were looking for the otter(s) to reappear, another park visitor walked over. He had come from the Spillway Trail. This visitor told
me he thought he'd seen some otters. I assured him he probably had, because two had just come from that direction.  Then this visitor told me that earlier he'd watched 2 otters
earlier that he'd thought were mating. He said that one was holding tightly to the other, from above and behind, and that they also were moving in the water together--sometimes
submerging. He said the he didn't think they were fighting or playing; and that it looked like they were mating. He told me he'd moved on so he wouldn't disturb them.
One of the otters appeared again. It was on one of the islands, then entered the water, and crossed towards the north side of the trail. I thought it would cross, but it turned around
and went South into the deeper water again. It appeared one more time, and I lost sight of it when I dove under the Water Hyacinth. By the time of this last sighting, it was about 10
am...so the otters had been visible (on and off) for about an hour and 1 half!
What a great morning!

November 27, 2011  It was a bit chilly at the park today. When I got there at about 8:30, I walked down to 40 Acre Lake, where I saw Chuck on the trail. He told me he'd seen 2 Bald Eagles a little while before.
So, I continued to the Observation Tower. I stayed at the corner of the trails for a while, watching for whatever would come along. 
Later, I walked to the Elm Lake water station, watched for a while, and decided there were more birds active back at the Observation Tower. So, I went back.
I went up to the top of the tower, and spent a few hours watching for Eagles and Otters, and getting cold. I finally had enough of the last part, and decided to make my way back to the Nature Center. This was just before noon.
Since the sun was high, and I was walking back to the parking lot, I decided to turn off my camera. I was pretty cold by then. I was near the center of the middle island when I looked to my right (at the current "ditch" in Pilant Lake)....
...and saw 3 otters swimming towards the Observation Tower (also, towards me).
I brought up the camera, remembered it was off, turned it on, waited the few seconds for it to come on...and watched the Otters. They came closer and were going to pass (I hoped) within about 15 yards from me! That's pretty close, and I was out in the open. I decided to shoot high-speed video to stretch whatever screen time I would get. I filmed the first clip without changing anything because I really expected the Otters to see me and leave, and I wanted to get something.
They didn't leave, though, and when they passed behind some brush, I was able to turn and zoom the camera. then, they "broke cover"--sort of. When they came out from behind the bush, they were underwater!!
I filmed anyway, just in case they'd pop up. I got nice video of 3 wakes. 
While they were underwater, I took the opportunity to turn and follow them for a few steps. I didn't want them to surface and see me moving though, so I didn't go far.
The Otters surfaced, and I was able to shoot a few more clips. But I wasn't fooling the Otters, and before they went much further, they turned and moved into the rice. Two of them did at first, and the third followed a bit afterwards. Altogether the Otters were near me for about 5 minutes, a couple of which they were behind cover. So, here is a link to the edited video. I left the underwater stuff in, since the wakes are pretty distinct anyway. The images below are frame grabs from the video clips

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October 23, 2011  It was about 8:00am Sunday morning, 10/23/11. I had just walked out of Snowflake donuts on Crabb river road when my phone rang. It was David, calling from the the park. He was near the observation tower, and he told me that he'd just seen an otter cross the trail about 100 yards east of the tower. It went from 40 Acre Lake into Pilant Lake I should have been at the park at that time. But even if I was, I might not have been where the otter was. Going to the park with the object of seeing an otter--an animal which is rarely observed there--and actually *seeing* it requires a large amount of luck. The park covers about 5000 acres. We have 7 lakes, a slough, and two rivers there. I believe otters have been observed in all of those bodies of water (except, perhaps, Hale lake) at some time. Aside from a few wonderful exceptions, most of the otter sightings I've heard of have been between 10 and 60 seconds long. So one has to be where the otter is for that *exact* 10 to 30 seconds. And...one has to be looking in the right direction. I've been told of an otter crossing the trail behind me while I was unaware--and I've seen them cross trail behind other people who were also unaware of the otter's presence.
But I arrived at the park with high hopes of seeing an otter on this day, anyway. Otters sightings at the park had suddenly spiked over the last month or so.  It happened that on this Sunday, the park was hosting the Brazos Bend Gator Run, so our trails were host to a number of folks running by at irregular intervals. I went to 40-Acre lake, and moved to a spot on the north side of the trail. I was near the bend in the trail, and thought--since the sun was coming out and the evening had been cool--that I could scan  the entire trail from the Observation Tower almost to Hoot's Hollow for any alligators that might decide to sun themselves where the runners were. If one appeared, then I intended to go near it and guide runners past it.
It was about 45 minutes later, and no had alligators appeared at all. I was facing 40 Acre Lake, scanning the trails to either side of me, and the islands in front of me. Of course, I was also checking the water, looking for an otter. While looking down the trail, I caught movement out of the corner of my eye--behind me, in Pilant Lake. I turned, and an Otter was coming out of the rice right behind me. There was a little water in front of the rice at that spot, and the Otter stopped, then slipped back into the rice when I turn around and raised my camera and shot a picture. Todays RICKUBISCAM is the picture I shot.
I took the opportunity, after the Otter left, to turn around. A few seconds later, the Otter reappeared, about 5 yards further west, near the deeper water. I was ready, and was focusing the camera when I heard a runner approaching. I shot a burst of pictures, and the runner came by, and the Otter moved back into the rice. This animated gif below is the burst I shot. And the single larger image is one from the same burst.
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A seconds later, the Otter came out again, even closer to the water. Once again I focused, and *another* runner came by. I shot another burst of photos, hoping for the best; and the Otter moved back into the rice. The animated gif below is from the second burst of pictures that I shot. And the single larger image is one from the same burst.
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After a few more seconds, the Otter came out *again*! This time, it moved to the water, and was starting to get in. I was sure that it intended to cross the shallow water, then cross the trail and go into 40 Acre lake.  I had the camera up, and was reaching for the video camera on the tripod--when a bicycle came from the other direction. This time, the Otter *ran* back into the rice and I shot some pictures of its disappearing backside. And this animated gif shows the Otter leaving.
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The Otter didn't reappear. There usually aren't this many people on the trail at this time on a Sunday morning.
So, the entire sighting lasted about 2 minutes (first image 9:12 last image 9:14), but the Otter only appeared for 10 seconds at a time.

November 21, 2010 Most of the images below are frame captures from video clips I shot that morning, and which I edited into this movie clip (62 mb).
I was enjoying the quiet Sunday. At about 10:20am I was on the trail on West side of Elm Lake.  I'd just talked to two pairs of park visitors about Anhingas (one was standing on a submerged log right in front of me) and cormorants. Both couples had moved on, and were heading South, towards the water station.
As I was looking through my camera at the Anhinga, intending to film it diving, I heard one of the park visitors say, "Excuse me, but do you have otters here?"
Most folks who know me, know the effect the word "otter" can have--especially on me.
"Yes," I answered, "Why...did you see one?"
The visitor replied, "Yes, I think so. Right over there." And then he pointed.
"WHAT!?" I said, and walked quickly over to where the people were, standing  about 12 yards from me. "Where is it?", I asked. He pointed again.
"There are two of them." said the couple.
"Three! One ran in front of us and went towards them.", said the other couple as they walked up.
"WHAT!?  THREE!?" I said, probably losing any credibility I'd built as the cool observer of nature that I'd just built up not 10 minutes hence as I talked about the Anhingas. If that didn't do it, then when I said, "It ran right in *front* of you!? How cool is *that*!", probably did.
I looked where they were pointing, and sure enough, two Otters surfaced in Elm Lake, swimming around and making their way South. When otters swim, they sometimes move through the water with powerful undulating movements of their bodies; moving forward while diving and surfacing. I call this "porpoising" since-in my mind-they are moving like porpoises ("Dolphining" just doesn't sound right.) They were swimming pretty quickly, but I didn't want to run after them and scare them away. It seemed like they were heading towards our trail, so I hung back a bit to see if they'd cross the trail and go into Pilant Lake. They did, but they took advantage of cover around a slight bend to do it. I just barely got the camera up in time to catch a blurry view of the last one crossing the trail--just a bit North of the Elm Lake water station.
Since they'd already crossed, I quickly walked up and saw them swimming away from me in Pilant lake, along the Spillway Trail. I followed, walking fast.
The otters were still porpoising, spending just a second above the surface, diving, then repeating the cycle. While they were under, I tried to walk faster to get closer to them, then when they surfaced, I'd slow. They approached the floodgate just past the water station gazebo and I could tell by the water movement that they were right at that opening, but I couldn't sneak up to get a close look at them. As I slowly walked forward, two of the otters swam away from me. The third was ahead of them, and closer to the rice and the trees.
They moved close to the rice, and were swimming along the boundary until they got to one of the low islands. There, they stopped their swimming, and were craning their necks, raising their heads above the water and looking for...something.  Meanwhile, I tried to shoot some video, trying to catch the otters together, or pick one to film.
Suddenly, there was an explosion of water near them! They'd surprised an alligator--or the alligator had surprised them--and the three otters retreated a few yards. Then, they calmly regrouped and moved back towards the gator; and then moved into the trees and out past the islands where I lost sight of them. All of this took about 10 minutes. I had been concentrating on watch that Anhinga take off, and I would have missed these Otters that were just 30 yards away in another direction, if not for the park visitors.
What a morning!! The pictures below (except for the satellite view (from Google Maps) show the moment the Otters surprised the alligator (or vice versa).

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                 MAP OF THE ENCOUNTER                                  THEY KNOW SOMETHING'S THERE                                      SNEAKING CLOSER                                                   CAN'T QUITE SEE IT                     

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               I WANT TO PASS, BUT STILL...                                    UH, OH. I SEE IT NOW                                                  I THINK I'D BETTER....                                 ....WHOOPS!  (LOOK WHAT HAPPENS)             
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          (IN JUST THESE FEW FRAMES)             IT'S BEING A GROUCH! DODGE!             LEAPING AWAY                                   FOUR-FOOTED LANDING                      

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                      RE-SET TO LEAP AGAIN                                        SECOND LEAP! OUT OF RANGE.                        MEANWHILE, THE OTHER ONE WATCHES

 10/18/2009-  On Oct. 18 (Sunday) I had been out at Creekfield Lake since about 8:00 AM. I was hoping to see an Otter. I didn't have any luck, and I decided to go back to the VC. I met Sharon entering the trail as I walking out, so I decided to turn back and talk to her for a while. As we were crossing the footbridge, I caught a quick look of something in the water off to my left (towards the long pier). It was rounded, grayish, and about 4 inches thick. As I turned to look at it, it submerged. It was about 15  ft from the bridge. I looked around, but didn't see whatever it was break the surface again. But I thought I saw a couple disturbances in the duckweed moving towards the bridge. Meanwhile I was thinking (as many of us do), Was that an Otter? No *way* that could have been an Otter that close.  We stayed on the bridge for a few minutes, and as we talked, I kept looking around. I new I'd seen something. Finally, I noticed ripples right next to the bridge, but when I looked over the rail, I only saw a closing clear spot in the duck weed. Then, I saw some groups of bubbles moving away from us, indicating something under the water was disturbing plants, and it was moving quickly.

An Otter surfaced about 20 feet away! And it immediately dove, and kept moving away from us, surfacing briefly. I tried taking a couple pictures, but it submerged so quickly, I could barely focus. So, I decided to shoot slow motion video (since regular would shake too much). I got a few very short clips,
which only show the Otter briefly. In my haste, I kept moving the camera into slowmo video mode instead of high-rate photo mode. It seemed to be moving towards the center of the lake, so Sharon and I hurried to the long pier in the hope the Otter would pass us.
It didn't, but as we stood on the pier, Tom and his Creekfield Hike appeared near the bridge. Apparently someone on the hike saw the Otter moving back towards the bridge. And that was it.
Below are portions of the only two photos I got (the back of its head, and a side view) and some frame grabs from one of the video clips. I've edited the clips and put them online. Here's a link to the video clip (wmv,  11mb)

With the cool weather, and all the rain, I hope Otters will be popping up all over!

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                      THE BACK OF ITS HEAD                             THE HEAD FROM THE SIDE             RAISING THE HEAD OUT OF THE WATER           - ...AND BACK STROKING?

02/08/2009--  Today, I was part of the group that had been organized to plant Willow trees around various lakes around the park. That was fun, and although I tried, I didn't fill my boots with water. Afterwards, I left the VC to go back to 40 Acre Lake to see if I could get lucky and see something interesting, like a Bald Eagle...or an Otter. And, perhaps because I did something for the Park today...the Park gave me a treat.
I don't remember what time exactly I got there, but I walked to the Observation Tower from the 40 Acre parking lot, and then just talked to people and enjoyed the wonderful day. There were two big FAT nutria lying around the "island" with the small tree directly north of the Tower. I wandered back West, and at about 1:50, I caught movement to my left, in 40 Acre lake.
There, between me and the island, was an Otter. It was just leisurely paddling along. It stopped, dove, and then reappeared a few seconds later. It repeated this cycle of movement. It was moving West, so I walked along with it--moving when it was submerged. There was a small group of people on the trail (about 6 folks), and I walked toward them. Finally, I called to them when the Otter was underwater. I pointed, and told them if they'd watch that area, they'd see an Otter. And when it popped up, they did see it. As the Otter swam, it looked towards our bank, then moved on. I knew it wanted to cross the trail. So, when I got a few paces past the group of park visitors, we stopped and waited. It was really cool. We watched the otter just cruise by.
Meanwhile, my video camera on tripod was folded on my back, and I didn't want to look down and get it. I feared I'd lose the Otter.
I decided to shoot video with the still camera instead of photos, assuming that it would cross quickly, and I'd only get still photos of it running. But without tripod it would be a bit shaky. So be it.
Of course, it couldn't be absolutely perfect, and I had a low battery alarm showing. (Of course! Some of you know how THAT goes.) So, I couldn't shoot continuously.
Meanwhile, the Otter moved a bit further along, and then swam towards our bank. It came to shore, paused, stuck its neck WAY up...slid up on the bank, and then moved up to the trail. Further to the West, and heading our way, another park visitor was just walking along quickly, while listening to music through ear buds.
The Otter crossed the trail. I filmed it...with my hands shaking with excitement (yes, I was really happy to see an Otter). Meanwhile, the Otter got to the other side, paused, and looked back at the approaching fast walker (as if to say "Hmph! Imagine that.!"), and then moved into Pilant Lake.  And that was it. Judging by the time stamps on my short short video clips, this all took about 4 to 6 minutes.
The park visitors were all *really* happy to see this. The otter crossed about 20 yards from us. The ipod girl coming from the other direction (her feet are in some of the pictures below) was also impressed...but she kept walking. So...no really clear photos from this encounter. But, some short video clips. I've edited them together into a somewhat large clip. You can see it by clicking on this link (wmv 6.7mb). Also, the images below are frame captures from the video clips. Clicking each one will allow it to be seen a bit larger.  I've also added a post-processed version of the crossing that shows the Otter in slow-motion. Here's a link to the video clip (wmv 3.6mb).

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02/08/2009--  I got to the park around 8:00. I headed down towards 40 Acre Lake.  Near the Observation Tower, I ran into a group of people, who told me I should have been there about 20 minutes earlier. An Otter had appeared from the Pilant Slough, crossed 40 Acre Lake trail, and entered the lake. It got on one of the islands, crossed it, and went to enter the water--where an alligator threatened it. It backed up, but eventually did enter the water where it was chased. It then crossed the North side of the trail in front of another photographer. AND I MISSED IT! I was really disappointed by the news--but at least the Otters are still around! Below is a picture taken during that confrontation, sent by Chuck Duplant, and used with his permission. Thanks, Chuck.

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-------------------------ALLIGATOR FACING THE OTTER
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3/09/2008--Otter sighting! I was on the Spillway Trail at about 10:30 when I saw a quick movement on the trail towards Elm Lake. It was an otter, and I was able to snap a few pictures, but only after it had crossed the trail into Pilant Lake. The image below left shows the otter before it went out of sight. Not long after, the otter (probably the same one) appeared on Otter Island. I was able to shoot a short video clip before I lost sight of it behind a tree. The other image below is a frame from the video. Click this link to see the short video clip (wmv 10.3 mb).

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                OTTER CROSSING 03/09/08                        OTTER PEEKING 03/09/08

2/10/2008--The weather forecast had promised a nice day, but when I got to the park this morning, it was still overcast, misty, and damp. I decided to wait around on the Spillway Trail to look for an otter. I had been there quite a while when I encountered one of our frequent visitors, and he told me he'd seen an otter cross the trail right near where I was standing earlier that day. It had crossed from Pilant Lake into Pilant Slough.  I had gotten to the area at around 9:30.  The visitor walked off.  As I waited, and watched, an alligator began bellowing somewhere off in the distance. Others answered, and for about 30 minutes I heard alligators bellow in irregular choruses. Not long after, I saw a quick movement and turned just in time to see an otter cross the trail some distance from me, and going from Pilant Slough into Pilant Lake between me and the Spillway Bridge. I only had enough time to watch it bound across the trail. I couldn't even pick up a camera. But, I was ready, and thought that it might make its way down the "islands" and towards me. Unfortunately, one of the Park Rangers happened to be driving down the trail about 5 minutes later, so I figured I wouldn't be seeing that otter any time soon.
Finally, maybe around 11:30, the Sun started to break through. The clouds burned off, and the temperature immediately increased. Alligators began moving onto the land. One came up onto one of the small islands. Another came up on the trail nearer the Spillway Bridge. Park visitors began passing by more frequently. I talked for a while with a nice  couple that sounded like they might be from around Australia or the U.K. We talked of alligators, and of course I mentioned I was looking for an otter.
A few hours later, I was discussing alligators with a park visitor, and I noticed that same "U.K." couple returning from the direction of the Spillway Bridge. I had just turned my attention to the visitors in front of me when I heard a shout from the couple. I looked, and AN OTTER WAS CROSSING THE TRAIL JUST BEHIND THEM!  It crossed again from Pilant Slough to Pilant Lake (the same direction I'd seen one cross earlier).  I didn't want to run over and scare it away, so I asked the couple to describe its movements to me. I finally saw it on one of the small islands, and was able to shoot a burst of pictures. And then the otter submerged and was gone.  I waited around the islands, but it didn't show again. The pictures below were the best I could get. Today's RICKUBISCAM shot is cropped from one of those photos.  Still, I got to see an otter twice (or two otters?) at different times today! Between those events, and the alligators bellowing and moving around, it was a great start to the day!

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                   OTTER 02/10/08 1                                  OTTER 02/10/08 2                                    OTTER 02/10/08 3                                   OTTER 02/10/08 4             

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             OTTER 02/10/08 CLOSEUP

2/03/2008--Going into the park, I encountered Chuck on the trail. He told me of his otter sighting on Saturday, 02/02/08. He had seen an otter very near where I'd seen it on December 30, 2007 (see below).  So, I set up my camera, and waited in the area for a couple hours. No otter. I decided to head down towards the islands along the Spillway Trail (where I'd seen an otter a few weeks ago--look lower on the page) and see if I'd get lucky.
Today was pretty warm, though overcast, and some alligators were up on land basking in the lack of sunlight (ha!). By the way, this behavior made me wonder if it's the air temperature which is the deciding factor in determining if alligators will emerge from cold water. It obviously wasn't the sun, since there was none. Even in the coldest weather, alligators must breathe, and they don't hibernate. So, when they come up to the surface and inhale, perhaps there is some sensory input somewhere (in their sinuses, perhaps) which evaluates the air temperature and makes that decision to leave the water to gain heat energy. Just a thought.
I got near the islands, and had set up to wait. I later decided to move near the center of the islands, so I could monitor the entire length. Directly across from me was an alligator looking extremely comfortable (see FORM-FITTING, below). I turned on the video camera and focused on the alligator to adjustment the image. I turned off the camera. Some visitors came by, and we talked briefly about the alligator, and I might have mentioned that I was looking for an otter.
The small group had gone about 20 paces from me when I saw movement in the water, to the left and behind of the alligator on the island. It was an otter! It only appeared briefly and I couldn't get my camera up in time to catch both animals in frame. I called to the visitors, who came back, and I pointed to where the otter had been. But it had submerged. The visitors walked off, and I figured they thought I was making up stories.
The three had gone about fifty paces--and were right across from the large island--when the otter appeared and climbed onto the island! I called again (trying not to scare the otter) and told them to turn and look to their left. They did...and got to watch the otter! How cool is THAT?
Meanwhile, I grabbed my equipment and moved as quickly and quietly as I could towards the otter. I stopped some distance off so I wouldn't scare it off from where the visitors (more had come up after the otter appeared), and began shooting from where I was. Between the otter moving behind trees, and me moving my viewpoint, I got about 4 or 5 really short clips showing the otter on the island. It was really great to see the otter again. The other images below (not the alligator) are from single frames pulled from the video. The RICKUBISCAM image today is cropped from one of those frame grabs as well.

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Oh, yes, and of course there has to be a link to the video clip of the otter on the island (wmv 9.4 mb)

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          IT'S LIKE A FORM-FITTING MATTRESS!                        OTTER WALKS                                      WHO IS THAT?                                 AND OVER THERE?      

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               WHERES THE SUN?                              OK. I'M LEAVING!
 

This sighting helps illustrate something I've had on my mind since seeing otters on these islands the first time some years ago (there is some mention of the sightings further down on this page). It appears that both the otter(s) and the alligators find the islands useful. However, it seems that most of the time each creature is using the island when the other isn't. I can't be sure, of course, but it seems that the alligators use it for basking (and perhaps nesting) in the warmer months; and otters use the islands as a stopover and basking spot in the colder months. I've wondered what would happen if conditions were right for BOTH animals to use the island--hopefully for basking. I may have almost gotten a chance to see!

1/20/2008--It was pretty cold this morning when I got to the park. I decided I'd be looking for an otter again. I walked down to the Spillway Trail, where I set up my video camera. Then I waited.  I hadn't been there long when I noticed movement to my right. When I looked through binoculars, I saw a wake, and a round head. It was a mammal, and it was swimming towards me! I shot a few still images through the trees. One of them is below (NUTRIA SWIMS 1). This time, I turned on my camera, and then started recording  I didn't want to repeat what happened a few weeks ago. (see note 12/30/07 below). With mounting excitement, I framed the approaching swimmer in my video field and watched it through the camera as it swam past me about 20 feet away. It was a nutria, not an otter. The next image below (NUTRIA SWIMS 2) is a frame from the video clip (wmv 2.5mb). If you watch the clip, notice the nutria's movement through the water. There is no undulation (up and down body movement) and it almost seems like it is doing a fast "dog paddle". 

--------------------------------------------------
                                                                   NUTRIA SWIMS 1                                                               NUTRIA SWIMS 2

Although I was a bit disappointed that it wasn't an otter, I decided to follow the nutria for a bit; just to be sure. I followed quietly and slightly behind for about 50 paces. I left my tripod, and just walked with my still camera ready. The nutria approached some azolla (this is the reddish-brown plant that covers patches on the surface of the water. It is not dead duckweed, but instead a very tiny fern)--and then submerged.  I slowly moved closer for a few steps, looking for the nutria. I noticed some water disturbance on one of the islands, and took another step towards the disturbance. There it was! I spotted the mammalian head. And, it was moving back towards the other direction--towards where I'd come from. And...it was an OTTER!  I stood still and focused the camera, and finally snapped off three quick shots (OTTER SWIMS 1-3 below). The otter was moving a bit faster than the nutria. It moved towards the islands, and then moved around behind them. I walked quietly and quickly, trying to keep pace (and get ahead of) the otter moving behind the island. I made it to the camera a few paces ahead of the otter. So, I was up and ready to focus the video camera when the otter came into view. And I shot a short, short video (50 seconds) of the otter moving along one island. I followed it with the camera until I focused on a tree directly in front of me. The camera didn't recover focus when the otter passed until after it had re-entered the water and began swimming off through the trees in Pilant Lake.  Still...I got to see an otter again! The RICKUBISCAM image, and the last image below (HELLO, THERE!) are frames from the video clip (wmv 6.0 mb)  Although I didn't get video of the otter swimming (maybe someday), even the still images show the different profile the otter has from the nutria. The nutria seems to push through the water, while the otter glides through it. Also, at the very beginning of the clip, the otter is stomping with its back feet while holding the tail up. I believe that the otter is "sprainting", that is, marking territory. 

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                        OTTER SWIMS 1                                    OTTER SWIMS 2                              OTTER SWIMS 2-CLOSER                             OTTER SWIMS 3   

  -
                 HELLO, THERE! 

I gathered my gear, and started walking. I thought I might try to catch the otter near another lake. But, I stopped to film a Piliated Woodpecker drilling a tree. I had just picked up my gear again, and was turning towards Elm Lake, when a Bald Eagle flew right over me, fairly close. I had my hands full of equipment, so I couldn't grab any of my cameras. Not bad for a freezing morning!

12/30/2007---Otter sighting! After I got to the park on Dec. 30, I saw Chuck on the 40 Acre Lake trail. He told me that Glen had had an otter sighting
Saturday (Dec 29), at around 1:30pm, near where we were standing on the 40 Acre Lake Trail.
This was somewhere in front of the second island, counting from Hoot's Hollow.  I was walking back towards my car at around 12:30, when I decided I'd wait around where the otter had been seen until about 1:30.  As I was in the area, talking to visitors walking by and so on, I decided that it might be good to try for
a video of the otter, instead of just pictures.  Not really expecting to see the otter, I leisurely extended and opened my tripod. I got my video camera out of my backpack. I changed the battery on the camera, and set it up.  Not long after this, I saw movement near the island, and I saw a head moving across the water away from the island, and towards the trail. It was an otter!
Heart thumping in my chest, I turned on the camera, and was able to get it focused on the otter.  As I watched, the otter submerged, surfaced, submerged, surfaced; and then paused as a visitor walked by. The otter was moving towards a tree at the water's edge. When the visitor walked by, the otter swam to the
bank, climbed out, and paused on the root of that tree. Then, it pawed around in the grass for a few seconds more.
Meanwhile, I was watching all of this through the viewfinder of my camera. I had zoomed in enough so the otter filled the entire field. The light was perfect!
The otter was in focus!
Finally the otter moved across the trail and into Pilant Lake. I panned across with it, following the otter easily with the camera. The entire episode took about 30
seconds. When the otter moved from sight, I was exultant! What a shot! Then I moved to press the stop recording button...
...And THAT is when it STARTED recording! ARGH! AAAARGH!  I did record the words I said when I saw that I'd missed the shot, though. We won't be hearing that.
I came back Monday (12/31/07) AND Tuesday (01/01/08) and stayed in that spot from about 10am to 2pm each day but the otter didn't reappear.

02/18/2007---Sunday was a beautiful day. I made my way to New Horseshoe Lake where I found an medium alligator (about 9' long) on the back side (past the bench) with some kind of mammal in its jaws. The fur was kind of coarse, with a reddish highlight, and the animal seemed sort of long (like--otter-shaped). I spent a little over four hours watching and waiting for the alligator to move the carcass enough to let me see what it was.
Considering how cold it's been during the evenings, it's surprising that an alligator is eating *anything*, especially something this large. I don't think there's any way to tell what happened, or even how old the carcass is. The alligator could have found it. The alligator could have killed it. With weather conditions as they've been, it's conceivable that the carcass could be many days old, with the equivalent of it being placed in a refrigerator every evening when temperatures dropped below 40 degrees F.
During all that time, I got a chance to interpret for many park visitors. Sometime in the mid afternoon, as I was describing what I thought the furred creature probably was (a nutria) and what I hoped it wasn't (an otter), a couple of park visitors nearly knocked me out with this set of statements:

"An otter? We just saw one."

"WHAT!?  Where?", I said.  And they told me. It was down on the Spillway trail, on the island which I like to call "Otter Island".

Of course, I gave my usual congratulations and explained that that's a rare event. I also thought, 'Oh, well, there goes another missed chance.'
Later, some other visitors also reported seeing the otter, and a some stated that it was just lying around on the island. I just had to go see it!
But I couldn't leave. I hadn't found out what the alligator was holding, yet.
Finally, the alligator moved forward one more time. In over 4 hours, it moved its feet a few times, lifted its head and grunted thrice in a row, slid forward
about one foot, then shifted forward again about a foot. That's it. Well, unless you count opening and closing its eyes. It did that lots of times.  I call
this "living in 'Alligator Time'".  Through my binoculars, I finally saw a broad, flat, "scaly" tail. The dead mammal was a beaver, and the alligator had it by the head.  Today's RICKUBISCAM shows what I saw.  Here's another, closer view, below (BEAVER'S END).  After the last few visitors cleared out, I hustled over to Otter Island.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------
-------------------------------------------------------------------                ---------------------------------BEAVER'S END
To my great joy, the otter was still there!  I watched it for about 30 minutes. For most of the time, it appeared to be sleeping, although every now and
then it would lift its head, and turn around (like a dog does), then lie down again. Some visitors passing by were unimpressed when I pointed it out to
them---since they passed by the otter already, and had seen it moving around.  How about that? Can you imagine being bored by seeing an otter?
Finally, it moved around, groomed itself, and did other things, before it swam off. Because it was dozing most of the time, of course I had to turn off my video
camera from time to time, and hustled to turn it on when there was movement. As a result, I have a lot of footage of a quietly breathing lump of fur. But, I
have a few minutes of ok video.  Was I lucky again?  Oh, yes. VERY lucky, especially considering my otter encounter just two Sundays ago! (Look lower on
this page for details.)
Below are some images taken from the video clips, and below those are links to some video clips. Let's watch an otter enjoying the day!

----
---                  ----SLEEPY EYES ----                              -------    ---------TURN AROUND---------                                       --------OOH, MY BACK....----                            -----------GET THE EARS, TOO-
-                  ---CLIP1(WMV 2.6MB)----                                   -----------CLIP2(WMV 8MB)--------                                       ------CLIP3(WMV 13MB)--------                              --------CLIP4(WMV 24MB)---

--
                         A VEGGIE SNACK-                                         GIVING THE STRAIGHT POOP
CLIP5(WMV 5MB)---------------CLIP6(WMV 3.8MB)

The River Otter (Lutra Canadensis=Lontra Canadensis) is a mammal, in the same family as weasels, ferrets and skunks. This family is Mustelidae. The full breakdown goes like this:
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum:  Chordata
Class:  Mammalia
Order:  Carnivora
Family:  Mustelidae
Subfamily: Lutrinae
Genus:  Lontra
Species:  L. canadensis
Adults can be up to 51 inches long (over 4 feet), and weigh up to 30 lbs.  Adult females and young up to one year old can form social groups, but males are usually solitary. The otter can swim 6-7 mph at the surface and it can travel 1/4 mile underwater before coming up for air. It can hold its breath for about 4 minutes.
The otter must keep its fur cleaned to keep its insulating properties. To do this, it will roll around, and also groom itself. When marking territory, the otter will sometimes "spraint", that is, use its feces as marking media. Think about this the next time you see graffiti defacing something--and be glad that otters weren't doing the marking.  Fellow Volunteer Chuck and I watched the otter "dancing" (see the last clip), and he thought it was scent marking, and I thought it was pooping. Turns out we were probably both right. I've had a few other otter sightings at BBSP, and you can read about them on this page.
 My sources for this information are various sites on the worldwide web.  I've tried to cross-reference and use what I thought were the best sources. Here are a few links to otter-related sites:     Animal Diversity Web    National Geographic    Otter Specialist Group  J. Scott Shannon's Otter Album

02/04/2007---An otter sighting.  February 4, 2007. I got to BBSP about  8:30 am.  It was a bit chilly outside, and I grabbed my usual equipment and walked down to the 40 Acre Lake trail, passing Hoot's Hollow. As usual--during weather like this--I entered the trail hoping for at least one of two things:
First--to see a River Otter. Second--to see a Bald Eagle.
I exchanged greetings with a park visitor who was trying out a new camera, and rounded the first bend. I could see the Bird Hike group in the distance. I
walked up the trail, looking around as usual. I got to within about 50 yards of the Bird Hike Group. When I looked towards them, movement on the water caught my
eye. To my right (this would be South), near the islands at Elm Lake, I saw a large wake moving towards me. This was some distance away. My first thought was
'alligator!', because that's usually what makes a wake of such prominence and speed. But, I remembered how cold it was and that--although I could make out a gray head--it was rather cold for an alligator...and that head was high in the water. Then I thought 'nutria' and at the same time as I thought *this*, it dove. The
dive was a smooth roll forward, like watching a porpoise or...
... 'an OTTER!'
Right about the time I had the thought, I heard Mark Garbutt call out "OTTER!".  I pulled up my camera, and began shooting. I had the camera set to take 5-shot bursts. The first series of photos here shows the otter performing another dive. See the tail up?

-----
--------   ---UNKNOWN CREATURE? -----                                   ------------DUCK THAT HEAD----------                               ---------  -SMOOTH DIVE---------                    -- ---    AND THERE'S THE TAIL--------------

  
                           OTTER AT THE BANK 

After the dive, it stayed submerged.  ' Where is it? ', I wondered. 'It's going towards the island.', I thought, 'Too many people on the trail'.
But then I saw the trail of tiny bubbles.
And they were headed...right...towards...ME!
I stood as still as I could, with my heart flipping.  The otter surfaced about 30 feet away. It came to the bank, and then a commotion near the
island made it turn and look that way.  I shot 5 pictures, but it didn't move much. Here is one of them (see OTTER AT THE BANK, above).
While the camera saved these images, the otter came ashore.  'HURRY camera. HURRY! ', I thought. The camera was ready. I shot again, without much time for focus.  Here are 5 more shots of the otter on the trail. 

-----
--           ----------STEPPING ACROSS ---                            ---------------   THE TRAIL-------                                   -----------  BUT WAIT.  WHAT IS...---------                                - --- ....THIS HERE?-------------      ---

My heart was in my throat as the otter is almost close enough to touch--with a really long stick, maybe, but still---an otter is RIGHT THERE!
You can see in this series that the otter takes time to smell the roses, so to speak. Chuck Duplant got a picture of me and the otter during this time, which he
was kind enough to send to me. Thanks, Chuck. (see THAT'S ME, below)
 

-----
         ----NOTHING HERE, I GUESS.----                                    THAT'S  ME WITH THE OTTER! ----                                     ----I'M READY FOR MY CLOSEUP  ---                    --------GOODBYE, OTTER 

Then the otter slid into Pilant Lake. I still stayed, rooted to the spot.  The otter stopped, laid out, and looked at me for a bit. 5 more pictures with little movement. Here is one of them (see I'M READY FOR MY CLOSEUP, above).  Finally, the otter leisurely slid over some more plant mat, and under the water into Pilant Lake. The last shot above (GOODBYE) is a shot of the otter leaving.  And that was my close encounter with one of our favorite park visitors. It will take a lot to top this.
I hope y'all enjoy the pictures.  Judging by the time stamps on my photos, the first picture was taken at 8:59, while the last was taken at 9:00. Everything
that I described happened within ONE MINUTE!
Something that I said some time ago applies here. I've said that BBSP will occasionally give someone a "gift". Sometimes the recipient is a first-time visitor. Sometimes it's a volunteer who's been out on the trails every week.  Regardless, anybody--at any time--could be the recipient of one of these "gifts". The gifts I'm talking about are those one-in-a-million--and maybe once in a lifetime--experiences with nature.  The more time you spend out on the trails, the better your chances of seeing something really, really wonderful.  But someone's first visit to the park could also yield something, too.  Can you imagine what someone from another, less tropical, country must feel if they happen to see a live, wild alligator walk across a trail 15 feet in front of them?  I've been fortunate enough not just to see the alligator cross in such a situation; but to see wonder in the faces of our foreign visitors when this happens. I'm twice-gifted on those occasions.
This morning, I was lucky many times over.  Lucky that I didn't go by 5 minutes later, or 5 minutes earlier. Lucky the otter came my way. Lucky that the camera stayed in relatively good focus. Lucky that sky was overcast (the otter was swimming towards me out of the sun). Probably also lucky that I had the camera set for burst mode because I had been trying to capture gnat catching birds hovering.  My reactions to what I saw, along with my experience, allowed me to take advantage of my luck, but that's minor compared to the number of conditions that just happened to fall my way.
This is not my first, or only encounter with a River Otter at Brazos Bend State park, but it is certainly one of my best encounters.  For descriptions of two other otter sightings, and more information about River Otters,  you can scroll up to the entries for February and March of 2004.

March 07, 2004 (revisited)  The image below left (OTTER!) shows one of our most popular--though rarely seen--park visitors, a River Otter (Lutra Canadensis). In my previous note on March 7 (see below), I mentioned that we had seen a river otter on one of the Pilant Lake islands; in fact I'd seen one there about a week before.  I also mentioned that one of the other volunteers, Dylan Lawrence, had gotten some video footage of the otter. Now...that footage is only about 15 seconds long, but it has caused quite a stir among those of us who enjoy Brazos Bend State Park.  The otter is clear, and fills the screen with wet, furry goodness!(Yes, I meant to write that.)
Well, Dylan has managed to digitize this clip (in 160 x 120 mjpeg format), and he's allowed me to use a copy of it (yay! Thanks, Dylan!). Working from that, I was able to expand it to 320 x 240 resolution, and still keep it clear enough to see. Along the way I was able to brighten it a bit. You can see a flv video version of the expanded clip here (flv video, 572 kb), also. The four other images below are also from the expanded clip (all of this probably would have been clearer if the file was originally made as a 320 x 240, but there you go.). I'd considered posting a flv video version of the original file, but the file size is about the same, and the video is half the screen area.  So I didn't.  Expanding the video has caused it to "fuzz" slightly, but it's still clear enough to see. 

-- -
                              OTTER!                                                            AMPHIBIOUS CARNIVORE                                         IS THAT A VIDEO CAMERA?                             HERE'S LOOKING AT *YOU*         

      
                             MOVING OUT

The otters that occur at the park have generated a few interesting stories. For one thing, many park visitors, when told that River Otters show up at the park, are surprised and/or skeptical.
A couple that has been coming out to BBSP for a number of years looked at me very oddly when I mentioned the otters. Basically, they said that not only had they never seen one, but they had never *heard* that otters lived at the park in all those years that they've been visiting. I thought I could detect a healthy amount of skepticism. I didn't blame them. The otters have attained somewhat mythical status even among those that *know* they live here. I think it was about 3 weeks after our conversation when the otter in this video clip showed up.  Guess who the two people on bicycles were that spotted the otter and called us over?  I guess they aren't skeptical any more.
One visitor told our naturalists of some beavers that he'd photographed at the park, only when the photos were viewed, we saw that they were otters!
David Hienicke, one of the park naturalists had a wonderful 20-minute interaction with an otter (see the story on the official park volunteer page click on the "It really happened" link).
On a sadder note, one of the otters was killed by a car on our "Mile Stretch" last year; and I'd like to give this reminder: Folks, follow the signs and instructions at the park. The speed limit signs are there not only for the protection of our human visitors, but for our animal inhabitants as well.  The park is their *home*. Please respect it, so that they'll be around for everyone to see and enjoy.
Otters are interesting to me (yeah...I know, just add it to the list of animals I think are interesting), for a number of reasons. At Brazos Bend State Park, it's interesting to *me* that they seem to share an ecological niche with the alligators. Otters move around on land and in water without too much problem, although they have evolved over time so that they work more efficiently in water (like alligators have). They hunt all kinds of aquatic animals (like alligators do). Some of the time, they wouldn't hesitate to make a meal of a alligator that is small enough (and an alligator wouldn't hesitate to make a meal of an otter that is SLOW enough!).
It's also interesting to compare the range and population of these two similar predators. A large number of alligators can be found in a habitat like Brazos Bend State Park, and they can live there comfortably, with the alligators themselves regulating population density (that is, if there's enough food). On the other hand, the number of otters that would be found in an area the same size would be *much* less. According to some sources, the range of a single otter can cover miles. This could be an illustration of the comparison of prey density to predator density. Cold-blooded predators generally consume less food then their warm-blooded counterparts, so a certain amount of food in an area will support more cold-blooded predators than warm-blooded ones.
Or, it could just be that female alligators make more offspring than female otters do (20-60 young for alligators; 1-5 for otters). Or, that mature alligators (6 feet long or over) can eat otters of *all* sizes (since they hunt in the same environment, and so could cross paths), while adult otters can only eat immature alligators *below* a certain size. Perhaps, as seems to be the case with ecology, it is a complex balance of all these factors, plus some we don't know about.
I'll take a slight detour here to mention something about whales.  Whales are generally thought to have evolved over time from related mammals that were terrestrial; that is, they lived on land. There was an ancient mammal, ambulocetus natans, which is thought to be a sort of "crossover" animal form between the land-living mammals and those that became fully aquatic. Certain elements of its skeletal anatomy show a relationship to ancient whale species. That ancient mammal was about 12 feet long, and it is thought to have spent most of it life in the water, ambushing prey at the shoreline--much like a crocodilian would.
Otters, to me, seem to be a similar type of creature. That is, a mammal that hasn't lost its ties to land living, but is only a few steps away from doing so.
To learn a bit more about River Otters in Texas, go to the Online Edition of the Mammals of Texas.

February 29, 2004  Today's weather was overcast and rainy, but some alligators came out anyway. After checking on some of them, I was moving down the Spillway Trail. I moved down the trail, and started looking on one of the Pilant Lake islands for another really big male alligator that basks there sometimes. I didn't see him, but I saw the quick, furtive movement of a small dark mammal. I thought it probably was a nutria, but I hoped it was something else. It looked like it from the corner of my eye, but I couldn't be sure. I got my camera ready, and decided to shoot a video clip, because if I saw it again, it would be moving quickly. There! A dark, wet form was undulating over the ground! It was AN OTTER! I think I saw it for about 6 seconds, and caught this glimpse with the camera. See the clip HERE (flv video 222kb) or HERE (mpg 1363kb). Yes, otters do appear at the park, and for almost 2 years I've been looking unsuccessfully for one.  I've finally gotten to see one! And now, you can see one, too! (although very briefly).

If you'd like to know more about the park follow these links:

Brazos Bend State Park   The main page.

Brazos Bend State Park Volunteer's Page  The volunteer's main page.
 

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