Something was out there.
My breathing paused while my eyes switched from the well-thumbed Birds of Northwest Ecuador to the reflective waters of the pond. Subtle ripples confirmed that something was there, though there were many possibilities.
The masked water tyrants were nesting again, and they often patrol that section of the pond. I did not think that those birds were responsible for those ripples.
The white-ringed flycatchers were absent this week; their nesting cycle ended when the small bush holding their life’s work toppled into the pond during heavy rains. Hopefully the fledglings had fled before the nest’s baptism. Maybe they relocated to a favorite perch, the red ginger at the edge of the pond.
A striated heron stops in every so often, though it usually perches on dead limbs and waits in stealth mode. I quickly dismissed the heron from my list of suspects. Cute little swallows gather insects while practicing touch and gos during the last few hours of each day, but this was a sunny morning. Swallows were also quickly ruled out.
Ah! The blue-winged teal! They stopped by for a visit in December. Maybe they were back? Their presence added a touch of grace to the landscape.
The neotropical cormorant had been absent for a few days, thank goodness, as it gorges on tilapia throughout the day. I checked its usual spot – empty – and shifted my eyes to the mirror-like waters. Most likely the cormorant had returned. If so, it would surface soon.
My eyes darted to new ripples along the grasses, and the swift movement jolted me into action.
Otter! The otter’s back! Peering down at my polka-dotted fleece pajamas, I decided to change into outdoor clothes while retrieving my camera and freshly-charged batteries. Garbed in a gray turtleneck sweater, a blue and gray scarf and olive cargo pants, I stepped outside. With my camera in one hand, a clipboard of paper, a small notebook, pad, pencil and pen in the other, I was ready for an immersion in nature.
I coordinated down-the-hill movements whenever the otter dove beneath the surface. Remembering the last photo session with the skittish otter, I stayed down wind. (Last time it could not see me, but it snorted several times then vanished for the day!)
Tall grasses and young shrubs provided easy cover, but they also hindered my attempts at good photos. As if to boast, “Ha, catch me if you can!” the otter climbed upon the concrete wall, posed and quickly returned to its private swimming area. (Note to self: Trim vegetation in that area.)
Seeking new options for photos, I tipped along the trail then very quietly walked onto the footbridge. There! Yes, the new vantage point provided good light and new angles. The otter was so busy foraging that it paid no attention to my presence on the bridge. Every so often it ventured into the thick grasses that snaked across the surface of the water. The grass quivered, giving away the otter’s location. Like playing ‘Match!’ in the swimming pool, I watched from above and wondered where it would surface.
“Where did the otter go? Did it spot me? Will it hide for the rest of the day?” A bird swooped low near the bridge and soared over the water – a phoebe! – and after an aerial sally, it perched on the bridge railing. “Where’s the otter?” I silently asked.
“You’re getting closer…” the phoebe teased, then looked over its shoulder.
There! Oh my, the otter swam under the bridge and was so close that I couldn’t find it through the camera lens! Fumbling, I lost a great chance as the otter swam to the next section of grasses.
I wrapped my scarf mummy style around my head to mask as much of my face as possible. The pad and paper were abandoned, and I steadied the camera with both hands. Bracing elbows against my torso and leaning against the railing, I waited for otter to surface.
There was little wind; the sun peered over the mountain tops and flooded the pond with strong light. The nearby trees provided dense shade, which helped me blend with the surroundings. A camera-shy crake provided a soundtrack from nearby vegetation. So far I’ve only gotten fleeting glimpses when it passed through the dense grasses. “Another day, Mister Crake.” My visual attention was dedicated to the elusive otter. It patrolled the parameters of the grassy edges of the pond, and I attempted countless shots of its swift movements.
Every so often, I got lucky!
For another half hour, the otter and I oggled one another. Getting comfortable with my presence,it swam in my direction, and in one quick fluid motion – paused, reared in the water, looked straight at me, turned and raced away. Over and over we repeated that scene, and every so often it hissed as it paused. Feeling cocky, I hissed back, which prompted it to pivot in the water and return.
I grinned, and since it no longer seemed frightened of me, I chatted with it a bit before it grew bored – or hungry – and swam away to patrol the far edge of the grassy area.
Now watch him star in the video!