Jan took a group of snowshoers on a hike last week and spotted something unexpected! Here’s here report:

This looks like fun!

Rivers otters, playful creatures that they are, have take advantage of recent snow to build slides down the steep southern bank of the Cedar River at the nature center.   A slide is more than just access to the river, it is a playground, just as a sliding board in the park is for children.   Otter romp, run, tumble and slide across ice and snow leaving tell-tale evidence of their antics.   When ice and snowcover permit, river otters have a unique habit of sliding on their bellies as they move along.  They make a couple of looping jumps, slide, jump and slide again leaving a very distinct dot-dash-dot pattern of tracks in the snow.

Last Saturday, our snowshoe group enjoyed watching several Lutra Canadensis play on the ice at the base of their bank slide.  Evidence of the otter’s shy presence has often been reported but actual sightings of this generally nocturnal creature have been rare! 

Otters explore their new home at release party

Seventeen river otters from the bayous of Theriot, Louisiana, returned to the Nature Center on Earth Day, 1997.  They were released along the banks of Indian Creek as hundreds of otter fans watched. Playful, sleek otters were once a common sight along Iowa’s streams but habitat loss, trapping, hunting, and the massive silting of streams after settlement caused otters to all but disappear.   Only a few remained in isolated pockets along the Mississippi River.  Recent updated conservation methods have improved our streams and restored fish populations that disappeared after settlement.   This year, as the Nature Center, celebrates its 40th Anniversary, it is only appropriate that otters show up to celebrate their own 16th year anniversary of returning to Indian Creek.  

A few months after the 1977 release, Jan received a small, plain envelope  in the mail; no return address but the cancellation was from New Orleans. She opened it to find a simple, type-written message that read…

Dear Jan and Denise:  All of us were darn tired of being in LeeRoy Sevin’s pens. And, Louisiana was getting boring. We enjoyed the trip north, although it was a bit crowded in the truck.
Seeing all those people when we crawled out of the cages was a real ego trip. We cruised around Indian Creek and the Cedar River for a few days. The carp were tasty and pretty dumb, but the water is real cold. A few days after you turned us loose, we had a committee meeting and decided to swim home. Fortunately, the rivers were high and fast, and we made great time getting back here. Thanks for the trip. We hope you have a wonderful summer.

A newly released otter takes its first look at Indian Creek

The letter was signed Susie, Helen, Janet, Mary, Katie, Maureen, Maggie, Bill George, Sam, Larry, John, Tom, Bob, Howard, Stan, and Ernie…the 17 otters on the Iowa Trek!  Who knew otters had such a sense of humor. Some of them obviously changed their minds and decided to stay.

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