Posted tagged ‘animal’

I LOST MY NANNY!: The True Story of a Baby Mountain Goat

September 30, 2013

The_Enchantments_Summer-1240Playing with my best friend Zy

I had just laid down on a fluffy bed of soil near Nanny. We had spent a long summer day eating wildflowers and licking salt near the campsites of those two-legged things, and Nanny decided it was time to chew our cud. I thought we were going to spend the night there, though it was really close to one of those colorful caves that the two-legged things crawl into when it gets dark. Their snoring sometimes scares me in the middle of the night, so I wish we could have been farther away.

The_Enchantments_Summer-1171I was ready for bed; but then my friend Zy came along with his mother

The_Enchantments_Summer-1206So I got up and joined Zy

I was quietly chewing, with my eyelids getting heavy, when suddenly my friend Zy came walking down the trail and sees me. He broke into a run toward me with a big goaty grin on his face. He’s about my age, because we were born just a couple of days apart back in April. We have played together lots of times, especially “king of the castle.” We each gallop to the top of a rock and try to shove each other off. Sometimes I win; sometimes he wins; but it is always fun. Nanny said that these games help us to be good Mountain Goats, so she tolerates all the rough play. I think she’s keeping an eye on us most of the time, even though it looks to me like she’s just stuffing her four stomachs.

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The_Enchantments_Summer-1214We had the most fun ever–trying to push each other off this rock

My name is Tee, and my mommy’s real name is Nanny, but she’s not a real nanny because she doesn’t work for rich old goats. Zy’s mom is also named Nanny. I don’t know who my daddy is, but it could be some big guy named Billy who sometimes comes around and acts all bossy and mean. I want to be just like him someday.

When Zy ran over to me, we both zoomed around together until we found a big rock that was nearly as high as those two-legged things. Then we spent a long time jumping up on the rock and butting each other off. I’ve never had so much fun.

Then we crossed the river with Zy’s mom and started dashing around in the meadow until we got tired. Then we grazed side by side for a while. After a couple of minutes, we scampered around again and went ’round and ’round the meadow until we got tired again. Then we had fun dashing down a big snow field. I love running downhill on the snow; my legs get all floppy and I jump along for joy.

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The_Enchantments_Summer-1234After we crossed the river, we enjoyed some grass together (not THAT kind, we’re too young, even in Washington State!)

The_Enchantments_Summer-1259Running to catch up with Zy and his Nanny

Then I remembered my Nanny. Where could she be? I don’t remember her crossing the stream with me and Zy and his mom. I looked around and she was nowhere to be found. I started bleating like I always do when I’m scared and apart from Nanny, but she didn’t bleat back like she normally does, so I couldn’t find her. Maybe the stream was too loud for me to hear her.

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The_Enchantments_Summer-1267When I realized that my Nanny was nowhere to be found, I left Zy and his Nanny and ran over snow fields and cliffs looking for her

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The_Enchantments_Summer-1289I crossed the raging river on some precarious logs and rocks and headed up the other side

I ran to the top of a cliff and looked back across the river. She wasn’t there. I bleated. Nothing. I ran down from the cliff and ran back and forth along the river bank, trying to find a way to get across. It was hard, and I finally found a place to cross on the rocks while a couple of those two-legged things watched but didn’t help. I was glad when Billy nearly pushed the one with the camera-thingy off a big rock and into the river.

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The_Enchantments_Summer-1295I climbed high atop a granite cliff so that I could look down the whole valley below

When I got to the other side, I looked around but still didn’t see anybody from my band. So I ran uphill and climbed to the top of a ridge, so that I could look down. When I reached the top I bleated as loudly as I could. Still no answer. I nervously paced back and forth. Finally, I spotted one of the band down below. I thought it was my Nanny, and ran down to her as fast as I could. But it wasn’t her. Then I ran farther down the meadow toward another one of my band members that I could see in the distance. This time it WAS my mom and I was so glad to see her.

I wanted to nurse to get some comfort food, but she didn’t want any part of that and kicked me away. Sometimes Nanny is like that. She calls it “tough love,” but I love her anyway. I started grazing alongside her and all was well with the world after my little adventure. I’ll try to remember to stay closer next time I play with Zy.

For more information about hiking in The Enchantments, go to Washington Trails Association and Recreation.gov. To read my other blogs about The Enchantments, go to The Long Ascent,  Mountain GoatsForests of Gold,  Aasgard Pass and the Upper Enchantments, and Lower Enchantment Lakes.  There is also a good web site that is based upon the autumn experiences of the Starks and another couple called 50 Years in the Enchantments.

To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com (just ask to email you a small version of a particular photograph you like if you can’t find it on the site; my website is not up to date) 

To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website

YOHO NATIONAL PARK: The Day of the Wolverine

October 13, 2010

Wolverine carrying a dead Hoary Marmot

Karen and I were hiking to Lake Oesa, a turquoise gem in a mighty mountain cirque, on our first morning in Canada’s Yoho National Park, along with three companions who were behind us on the trail. We had stashed our gear in the Elizabeth Parker hut, then set out on the trail, first rounding part of Lake O’Hara, then climbing the switchbacks up the trail to a high bench studded with lakes.

At the first viewpoint, we paused to rest after the climb. While gazing out toward a tarn at the base of Yukness Mountain, I saw a large, dark animal crossing a sedge meadow next to the tarn, but within a couple of seconds it disappeared in a willow thicket. Karen caught a passing glimpse. My mind went through the possibilities. Black Bear? If so, it was a small bear, but it moved more nimbly than a bear. Wolverine? We couldn’t get that lucky–or could we? The legs were short, but the body relatively long. We thought through the two options, deciding it had to be a Wolverine.

The Wolverine ascended a steep boulder field

I went back along the trail a few yards and called to our companions that we had just seen a Wolverine. They laughed at my presumed joke and I said, “No, really–you’ve got to come and look for it!”

Anticipating the animal’s movement, Karen and I struggled to climb over rough talus to where we could get a better viewpoint if it continued to move along the base of the mountain. Bingo! We sighted it again. It was moving quickly among the sharp boulders at the base of the mountain. Hand-holding my 500mm lens, I managed to get a lot of photographs in a short time as the Wolverine made its way up through the boulders. It appeared to be carrying something heavy, which we decided was a big, fat marmot. Like a human making the same journey with a heavy pack, the Wolverine had to frequently stop and rest.

Setting down the marmot to rest during the steep ascent

For perhaps five minutes, we watched the Wolverine ascend the steep slope up to the next bench, and it disappeared from sight. Later, we talked to a photographer who was at the first lake on the bench, and he excitedly said that he had seen a Wolverine moving quickly past the lake, heading for higher country. We didn’t see it again, but I consider this to be one of the best wildlife sightings of our lives, since Wolverines are relatively scarce and rare to see.

Karen created video of the Wolverine while I did photography. To see her short video of the Wolverine in action, go to Wolverine Video.

Before I go on, I should mention that I am a Wolverine. Or at least that I grew up in the Wolverine State–Michigan–and graduated from the University of Michigan, where the sports teams are known as the Wolverines. But the namesake animal had not been seen in the state since the very early 1800s–until 2004, when a biologist saw and photographed a lone Wolverine ambling across a farm field in Michigan’s thumb, a most unlikely place to see a fierce predator. Before that, most of the Wolverines in the Wolverine State were furs that trappers to the north brought through the French-named ports of Sault Ste. Marie and Detroit.

Wolverines are opportunistic predators that can take down much larger animals in deep snow, and they are known to dig marmots out of dens. For an excellent synopsis of Wolverine ecology and biology, go to the University of Michigan’s Animal Diversity Web.

From all the days and weeks we spend outdoors, there are a few moments we could never possibly forget. Our Wolverine sighting at Yoho National Park was one of those times, and was the highlight of our trip to Lake O’Hara, which I believe is the most beautiful place we have ever experienced in North America.

The color pattern on the fur is distinctive

The Wolverine was adept at finding its way through the maze of boulders

Wolverines often enter deep into a hibernating marmot’s den to snatch the marmot for a late fall or winter meal

Wolverines have a reputation as fierce predators who can defend their prey against bears and wolves that try to steal a free meal

This Seattle Mountaineers photography trip into the Canadian Rockies was ably led by Linda Moore. Yoho National Park is, in my opinion, the most beautiful place in the Canadian Rockies and perhaps in all of North America. For more information about Yoho National Park, go to the Parks Canada web site.

For another entry in my weblog about Yoho National Park, go to Ice.

To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com.

To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website.

 

MOUNT ASSINIBOINE: A Grizzly Bear Tale

September 30, 2010


A hard-eyed gaze at the intruders.

On a chilly September pre-dawn, three of us hiked down the dark trail to Lake Magog through a thick spruce forest, intent on photographing dawn alpenglow on Mount Assiniboine and other high peaks in this high cirque of the Canadian Rockies. Ed, in front of Karen and I, was quietly singing “Where oh where is the Grizzly Bear; where oh where can he be?”  We were strung out a bit on the trail, and Ed turned back to Karen and said he saw an animal ahead that looked to be about wolf sized. Karen didn’t see it, but she told me. I stopped and looked into the willows just behind us at this point and clearly saw the rounded shape and grizzled gray hair of an adult Griz. Then I saw a second, which was a cub accompanying its mother. We were too close, so we backed up along the trail, watching as the mother and two cubs crossed the trail where we had just been.

Looking and sniffing across the lake at what may be a distant threat.

The bears ambled closer to Lake Magog, and were perhaps 100 yards from us. Then the mother bear rose to her hind legs and looked intently down to the lakeshore, where we had seen a brace of dentists fly fishing the previous morning. She walked around on two legs, like a gigantic human, gazing in that direction and looking agitated for perhaps ten seconds. At that point she hurried to cover, where she again stood up. Then, apparently satisfied, she returned to the business at hand. With her cubs, she began digging into the ground, going deep to try and extract a Columbian Ground Squirrel from its den. In examining the videos, we can’t tell for sure if she got a ground squirrel, but she may have.

Karen had an emergency whistle with her, so we decided that she should repeatedly give three blasts of the whistle to warn other people in the area to be aware. Three other members of our group soon joined us, and people at the lodge and huts later told us that they had heard the warning whistles.

At one point, the mother Griz stopped, briefly looked directly at us, and got into what looked to me like an aggressive stance, on all four legs, head raised, mouth open, and restlessly moving around a bit while gazing at us. At that point I took out my bear spray, just in case a charge was imminent. But mama Griz decided that our whistles and talk and camera clicking were just some more bewildering human behavior, and she went back to tending her cubs. Shortly thereafter, they disappeared behind some tall willow bushes, and we didn’t see them again.

Later in the day, perhaps two miles up a trail, a Canadian couple saw what we believe were the same three bears, so they had been on the move since our early morning sighting. The Canadians also saw a lone bear during the same hike. I later showed the dental convention participants my photos of the bears, which produced a lot of amazement, since many of them had fished near that very spot on previous mornings. But none had been there during our grizzly experience.  Which leaves the question, what was the mama Grizzly looking at when she was standing on her hind legs? My theory is that she had smelled or spotted the lone bear that was seen later; after all, male bears are a major threat to cubs and a mother bear has to vigorously defend her offspring to make sure they won’t be eaten by a big male. Alternatively, the bear might have seen some wolves, or perhaps a backpacking camper down along the lake. We’ll never know for sure.

When we came to Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park, bears were on our mind. After all, we had just bought two aerosol cans of pepper-based bear spray prior to the trip. Canada’s parks don’t allow guns and, in any event, pepper spray is almost certainly more effective than a handgun against a fast-charging bear. In the car on the way to Canada, Karen read out loud about Grizzly Bears on her iPhone. We learned that they can eat 250,000 Buffaloberries in a single day (biologists who learned this important fact had to count the seeds in a grizzly bear’s daily output of scat–I can just see Mike Rowe of America’s Dirtiest Jobs taking a Canadian side trip and digging through the still-warm piles!). So, when we got to Banff, we learned to identify Buffaloberries, which we don’t recall seeing before. I even tasted one of these berries, which has a soapy texture and a slightly bitter aftertaste–if I was a bear, I’d move to a place with huckleberries instead. We also learned about bears turning over rocks to look for insects beneath, and about digging sleeping ground squirrels out of their underground nests. In fact, a Grizzly Bear’s big hump on its back contains the muscle attachments that, along with the 2″ claws, gives a Griz its ability to dig fast and deep into stony soil. High in some areas of the American Rockies, bears gather to eat the larvae of moths.

When we arrived in Banff National Park, we observed two Black Bears feeding on Buffaloberries along the highway. One had a blue ear tag, so he was either a bad news bear or a reseach subject. When we stopped to see these Black Bears, it was just like the bear jams of Yellowstone National Park, with people getting out of their cars to try and get photos at close range with point and shoot cameras. Those of us who respect the power of bears stayed safely in our cars.

While hiking near the Assiniboine huts, we encountered a man backpacking with his yellow Labrador, a really sweet dog. He said that the dog had aggressively protected him during three prior encounters with Grizzly Bears. He camped in the campground about a mile away from Assiniboine Lodge that night. But the next night, he moved into one of the Naiset Huts near ours. It seems that a Grizzly Bear had come into camp that morning and unnerved him. My theory is that his dog ATTRACTS Grizzly Bears, leading to these confrontations.

As for the beautiful alpenglow on the snowy peaks? I hardly noticed, with my attention locked like a weapons system on my target, the bears. Alas, it would have been a beautiful photograph. Next time.

I’ll close with one good bear story. A year or so ago, in one of the Canadian parks, a man encountered a bear at close range along a trail, which came aggressively toward him. Fumbling with his can of bear spray, he managed to spray it backwards, directly into his own face! At which point he began screaming and dancing around waving his arms in extreme pain. The now-scared bear thought the guy was totally insane, and ran in the other direction. That is one way to make bear spray effective!

Lake Magog sits in the cirque of Mount Assiniboine.

Bitter and soapy (to humans), Buffaloberries are a critical part of a bear’s diet in the Canadian Rockies. A Grizzly Bear can consume 250,000 of these berries in one day!

Columbian Ground Squirrels are a crucial source of protein for Grizzly Bears, who have massive muscles that allow them to dig quickly into the dens of sleeping or hibernating ground squirrels. On our visit, most of the ground squirrels had already entered hibernation.

Standing on hind legs gives the bear a chance to better sense a threat.

This mother bear had two cubs accompanying her (only one shown here).

A shallow hole, with claw marks, where the Grizzly had been digging and eating the roots of Sweet Vetch.

This impression represents the shape of a rock that had been pried up and tossed aside as a bear searched for insects beneath. It was one of half-a-dozen we saw along a short stretch of trail.

On this rainy morning, the Grizzly tracks soon filled with water.

A deep hole dug to get at a hibernating ground squirrel.

A menacing stance …

We will never forget the morning of the Assiniboine Grizzlies.

This Seattle Mountaineers trip into the Canadian Rockies was ably led by Linda Moore, whose love of all things wild in Canada is clearly evident. Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park is a British Columbia park wedged between Banff and Kootenay National Parks in the Canadian Rockies. We flew by helicopter into the park and stayed in the Naiset Huts, while others stayed in the relatively luxurious Mount Assiniboine Lodge or camped in a hike-in provincial park campground about a mile from the lodge.

For more information about transportation to and facilities in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park, go to the British Columbia Parks website.

For a primer on Grizzly Bears, go to the National Wildlife Federation website.

To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com.

To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website.



I Am the Walrus

September 8, 2009

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Pacific Walrus male portrait showing tusks and nodules

I am the Walrus, or at least the best looking Walrus, on Round Island

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You strange two-legged creature:  I’ve seen you watching us from that high overlook, and as long as you stay right there I’ll tell you a bit about myself, since you are so curious and you’re probably going to stay there unless I reveal a bit about me and hundreds of my closest friends.  Just wait a minute while I jab my neighbor with my ivories for no particular reason.

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Pacific Walrus threat postureWe like to give each other the evil eye and threaten each other with our favorite weapons–our gleaming white ivory tusks!

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Yes, my ivory tusks are long, and they are closely related to your puny canine teeth.  Those of us who believe in evolution–and that’s surprisingly few among us Walruses–think that we had a distant bear-like ancestor who decided that swimming and diving for clams wasn’t such a bad way to live.  In fact, I can’t imagine any better way to live than mucking around the murky ocean bottom, 200 feet down, probing in the dark for clams hiding in the mud.

Did you know that all of us here at Round Island are males?  Yes, I suppose you had guessed that by the tough guys surrounding me right now, several of whom

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Pacific Walrus haulout along Dragon's Tail

Hundreds of us gathered on the shore of Dragon’s Tail, on Round Island.

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are giving me the evil eye.  “Back at you, one tusk!”  The testosterone is thick here, but with my 4,000 lbs. and 36″ tusks I can fight ANYONE on the beach and win.  At least I think so.  And I’ve got some major league scars to prove it.  But even I am reluctant to tangle with Orcas and Polar Bears.

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See all these big bumps on my neck and shoulders?  Only we males have them, and they develop in our maturing years, kind of like your teenage boys get a big Adam’s apple and whiskers.  In contrast, our ladies have shoulders as smooth as silk–or at least smooth as thick leather.  We males call our bumps “bosses;” remember that term for your hardest crossword puzzles!

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Pacific Walruses battling for dominanceThere is a time to rest, and a time to fight (I think it says so in Ecclesiastes).

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Here comes a big pale male named “Ghost” emerging from the ocean.  He looks like an albino, but really he is just cold from spending so much time in the ocean depths, and the blood retreated to the core of his body to keep his heart warm.

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Pacific Walrus pale upon emerging from the Pacific OceanGhost is a pale male who just spent the morning groping around the dark sea floor

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Did I mention that we have warm hearts?  When he climbs up here and snuggles close to the rest of us, he will warm up and turn to a bright cinnamon color as his blood rises to the skin.  Much more attractive, don’t you think?  Human, how come you’re so pale?

When the guys get together each summer, we make a lot of noise.  With the ladies up in the arctic this summer, we can belch and burp and sneeze and snuffle and splash and pass gas to our heart’s content, and nobody’s around to turn up their disgusted noses at us.  But we can make some sweet sounds too.  When I was in the ocean this morning, I inflated the air sacs around my neck–they’re kind of like the life vests that I’ve seen on your boats–and began practicing the song I am going to sing when we get together with the ladies again.

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Pacific Walrus singing using inflated pharyngeal sacI sing sweet songs using my inflated pharyngeal sac (my very own life preserver)


Oh, you heard it?  What did you think?  Some of us think it sounds kind of like bells, but I prefer thinking of it as a sweet violin song.  I bet you didn’t think a big, fat, old guy like me could play a violin ever so sweetly, but there you go.  Another mystery for you to contemplate.  And you think you humans know everything!

I like seafood of all sorts, but especially clams.  My buddies can tell you that I’ve eaten 6,000 clams in one morning!  That was a personal best, but I also like sea cucumbers and crabs and shrimp.  Some of my buddies like to catch and eat seals, but that seems like too much work; plus, it’s a bit too much like cannibalism, don’t you think?

You live up there on rock while I spend most of my time in the deep ocean, where it’s dark and cold.  Yeah, I’ve got nearly four inches of  blubber to keep me warm.  Human, I don’t mean any disrespect, but you are carrying quite a bit of blubber too.  What’s your excuse?

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Pacific Walrus using flippers to rub his headI awoke with a headache after a long nap

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Speaking of you, human, I see you have a beard that is showing a bit of white.  Kind of like my whiskers, is it?  No?  Well, my whiskers are actually connected by nerves and muscles to my brain, so I can use them to “feel” the gravel bottom of the ocean.  With my little eyes up pretty far on my head, they are of no use 200′ down at the bottom of the Bering Sea.  So I use my whiskers–actually I call them vibrissae–to help me gather food by touch.

Pacific Walrus climbing up on a rock at Round IslandThey are the most sensitive part of my body, with one exception, hey, hey, if you know what I mean!  Oh, sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you; I think I’ve been spending way too much time with the guys.

You’re probably wondering why all of us guys like to snuggle together on the beach, when we don’t even like each other all that much.  On a cold day, it helps keep us warm and it gives us a lot of eyes and ears and noses to look for trouble.  The downside is all these bloody patches on my shoulders where I’ve been stabbed by young toughs.  That’s not to say I don’t get in a few jabs of my own; when I raise my head with these fierce tusks and sharp glare, most of my lessers will back off pretty fast.  My biggest nightmare is losing one of these tusks in battle; that would be so humiliating!  Talk about a blow to a guy’s ego!

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Pacific Walrus with broken tuskOne of the saddest experiences you’ll ever know is losing a tusk.

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My tusks are useful for other tasks that you might not know about.  During the winter, I can come up over the edge of floating ice and sink my ivories into the ice like one of your ice axes; with that grip I can then raise my whole body up over the edge.  Some of your kind, I think they were called “Eskimos,” used to call us “tooth walkers” after seeing what we could do with these babies.

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Pacific Walruses showing threat postures in haulout on Round IslResting with my peer group on Flat Rock (though, in reality, I am peerless).

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Pacific Walrus hind feetDid you know that I have tiny toenails on my flippers?

Do I miss the women and children?  Well, sort of, but we said our goodbyes shortly after mating and that’s all right by me.  She can raise the kid all on her own and I would just get in the way.  Isn’t that how a lot of you humans live?  Oh, sorry, I didn’t realize that was such a sensitive subject …

I’m getting kind of warm laying out here in the hot July sun, so if you don’t mind, I’m just going to roll off this rock and into the ocean.  Watch the big splash!

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Pacific Walrus entering oceanSee ya later, gator!..

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Oh, and why don’t you come and visit me next winter!  I’ll be on an ice flow several hundred miles from here, and you can take a combination dogsled and boat tour.  Just ask around if you have trouble finding me:  my Walrus name is Goo Goo G’Joob.  Everyone knows me by reputation.  Meanwhile, let me say goodbye to you with my favorite bubbly Bronx cheer.

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Pacific Walrus exhaling with a cloud of sprayI bet you wish you could hear me right about now!..

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Pacific Walrus waving flipper while restingBye now!..

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To view three other weblog stories of our Round Island trip, go to:

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4th of July in an Eskimo Village

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Puffins and Auklets and Murres, Oh My!

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Experiencing the Walruses of Round Island, Alaska

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To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com

To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to myPhotoShelter Website

January 12, 2009 Four Otter Morning

January 12, 2009

This morning I watched a family of four River Otters swim along the  shore of Fawn Lake, where I live in Mason County on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington. When I stepped out  on the deck to watch from above, I watched and heard one otter’s jaws crunching a fish after emerging from a dive.  Whenever I see a family of otters here, they dive closely together–usually just a few feet apart–not spreading out as they fish the lake. When they dive from the surface, it is an act of grace with barely a ripple, the tail arching as the animal slips into the depths.

Also today, I watched a Common Loon out on the lake.  Closer in, a  Double-crested Cormorant spent the night in the ragged Bigleaf Maple in front of our house on the shore, 60 or so feet away from the roost where many of its “colleagues” routinely spend winter nights. Then, this morning, a Sharp-shinned Hawk attempted to raid the feeder and  perched on my deck railing a few feet away, showing off its bright yellow feet.

A good wildlife day on an otherwise dreary day at home.

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