[Tweeters] Otters and a dipper

Rob Sandelin nwnature1 at gmail.com
Thu Dec 4 15:46:16 PST 2014

Many years ago I had a friend who had a farm way up the Tolt river. One
August day we put together a flotilla of inner tubes and a rubber raft and
headed for a leisurely trip down the river. At a meadow near a farm three
river otters came gallumping across the grass and down a well used slide
into the river. They immediately came out to investigate us. To our delight
they swam around our crafts at very close quarters muttering and chattering
in their delightfully liquid language of chirps and nasal hums. I was in the
raft and at one point one of the otters hopped right up into the front of
the boat and stared me right in the eyes. I sat transfixed under the
scrutiny of this wild creature. I must have passed the test as one otter
disembarked, another hopped aboard and stared at me. They reminded me of
wild children, innocent and full of curiosity. They all went back into the
water and they circled and dove and "talked" to us for several more minutes.
It was like we had picked up some local river guides who were telling us all
about the history and character of the river in a language we did not speak.
They would sometimes dive and go shooting underwater at high speeds,
sometimes chasing each other like silver torpedoes. One of them came up with
a modest trout and it immediately became a rugby scrum, all three tangled
together and there was some serious underwater acrobatics. The fish was
quickly demolished and it seemed like each of them got at least a couple of

At one point one launched towards a river bar directly at a bobbing dipper
on the far side of a glide. The bird seemed unaware of its peril until the
very last second and made a dramatic jump into the air with the otter
coming up just inches underneath. It was hard to say if the intention was
predation or play. An osprey flew over low to the water and our otter escort
scattered and sadly did not return. It was a remarkable encounter and we all
drove home in contented silence still sparkling from the presence of the
magic of the otters.

Rob Sandelin

Naturalist, Writer, semi-retired teacher

Snohomish County

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