Last month, I got a call from a neighbor who lives next to one of our Platte River Prairies. I was a little nervous when I picked up the phone because I never know how a neighbor call will go. Sometimes they’re just calling to shoot the breeze or see how much rain we got. But other times, they’re calling to let us know that one of “our” hunters shot a deer on the wrong side of a fence or that the cows from our pasture are eating their corn. This time, it was even worse. He was calling to tell me he’d just seen a river otter.
I should have been excited to hear about a sighting of one of those cute, playful animals right next to our property, especially because they are considered an at-risk species in Nebraska. I should have been gratified that our neighbor was excited enough to call me and celebrate it. Well, I wasn’t.
I don’t have anything against river otters. In fact, I think they’re great. But I’ve never seen one in the wild in Nebraska, let alone on one of our properties. Not one. Not that I care, of course.
My failure to see an otter comes despite the fact that we own and manage a wetland that has some of the highest otter use in Nebraska. Several years ago, we even housed a research technician on our property who was trapping and implanting radio transmitters in otters. The researchers chose our site because of all the otter scat and tracks they found there. I’ve seen the scat. I’ve seen the tracks. I’ve even seen piles of dead fish scattered around holes in the ice where otters have been fishing during the winter. What I haven’t seen? One single stupid otter.
I spend a lot of time on our properties. I mean a lot. And the stream/wetland habitat where the otters hang out is also one of my favorite places to hang out. We should be buddies! The otters and I should be waving at each other every day on the way to work, exchanging pleasantries like good neighbors and friends do. Instead, they’re avoiding me like the plague.
Quite a few of the technicians that have worked for me over the years have seen otters. Even some of our volunteers have seen otters. Now the neighbor right next door has seen one too. The researcher tracked the otters up and down the river, and located their signal on our wetland countless times. He even showed me video clips of entire otter families tripping along the bank of the river and playing cute otter games in the water. I went out with him to check his traps, figuring it’d be a good way to see an otter. When I went out, he caught beavers, raccoons, and a skunk. Not that it’s a big deal either way.
I get to see other animals on our properties, and they don’t seem to mind me watching them. Notwithstanding my rocky relationship with prairie dogs (see my earlier post and a follow up to it), I’ve had pretty good luck with most kinds of creatures, including fairly reclusive ones such as Franklin’s ground squirrels, smooth green snakes, woodcock, and whooping cranes. Often, animals even pose pretty nicely for me while I photograph them. SO WHY DON’T OTTERS LIKE ME?
Maybe I’m trying too hard. Maybe if I stay away from their favorite wetland for a while, they’ll stop hiding from me every time I show up (the little dirtbags). Maybe I’ll spend more time with other animals for a while – animals that are just as cute as otters, but that have more generous dispositions. Maybe if I do all those things, I’ll eventually get to see a real life otter on one of our properties. Someday.
Not that I care.