Storm stirs up otters
A ROMP OF OTTERS was spotted in Fryer Creek earlier this week.
A romp of otters was spotted playing in Fryer Creek last Thursday, with more sightings reported over the weekend. For observer Jerry Tuller, a 52-year resident of the neighborhood, it was a sight to behold.
“I’ve never seen otters there in Fryer Creek before,” he said. “It was a lot of fun.”
Tuller was on his way to City Hall, walking near Fryer Creek when he heard splashing coming from the stream. “I saw all this water commotion,” he said. “Then I saw three otter heads pop up. It was quite an experience.”
A little further downstream, he spotted another otter wandering up the side of the creek near MacArthur Street, where the Index-Tribune photographer was also able to spot the family of river otters on Monday. Officials at the Sonoma Ecology Center said North American river otters are year-round residents of the Sonoma Valley. It is possible that the rush of water from the weekend’s storm system could have drummed up something tasty that is keeping the otters around and active in that area of the creek.
“My guess would be some sort of a food source got stirred up and they’re very excited about it,” said Richard Dale, executive director of the ecology center. “We definitely have them. They’re all over Sonoma Valley. They’re great, a lot of fun.”
Weighing between 7 and 30 pounds and measuring between 30 and 50 inches long, the streamlined mammals are opportunistic hunters who can find food both in the water and on land. While fish is their preferred food source, otters will readily hunt small frogs, rodents and even birds. They’re inquisitive nature often leads them onto residential properties, where they’ve been known to empty out private Koi ponds, Dale said.
“They’re very well adapted to this area,” he said. “They help regulate the fish population.”
River otters are playful mammals that have adapted well to life in the Valley’s creeks. They often take over the dens of other animals along the creek bed, where they live alone or in family units of a female and her young. Mating season is just beginning this month, and will last through the early spring.
Dale said the ecology center has never specifically studied the North American river otter population in Sonoma Valley, but described it as “healthy.”
“We certainly track anecdotal stories on otters,” Dale said, adding that the center would be thrilled to have a graduate student do an official count on the local population. “It certainly would be interesting to see a study,” he said.