Outdoors with Jim Collins: River Otters
Linda and I were treated to a rare sight on Thursday morning, as we sipped our morning coffee on our screened back porch at our residence in Alba (located between Canton & Troy). At approximately 7:30 a.m., a river otter came out of our small woods, passed behind our two outbuildings, loped across our neighbor's freshly cut lawn, went across Cemetery Street and went through a horse pasture. No doubt the animal's destination was in the swamp between Alba and Cowley; which is full of water channels and ponds. What a treat for us to see this animal, if only for less than a minute in time. My guess is that the animal was a male, looking for a new territory.
River otters were native to Pennsylvania and were historically found in every major watershed in the state. Unlimited trapping during the 1800s and early 1900s caused the state's otter populations to decline and become restricted to the Pocono Mountains area in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Trapping of river otters was banned in l952 and continues today.
The Pennsylvania River Otter Reintroduction Project was initiated in l982 to trans-locate otters to portions of their former historic range. The results have been a true success. I would proffer the term "stunning." Today, river otters are commonly seen along the North Branch of the Susquehanna River and along Pine Creek in Tioga and Lycoming Counties. Kudos to the efforts of the Pennsylvania Game Commission, which assisted in the coordination efforts to reintroduce this valuable species to our areas of the state for the enjoyment of all citizens.
River otters were obtained for reintroduction from areas of the Pocono Mountains areas, the state of Maryland, and commercial dealers and trappers in the states of Louisiana, Michigan, New York and New Hampshire. Space is limited in this column to give the reader more information. You can read additional information on the internet. Simply type in "River otters in Pennsylvania."
I have been privileged to see river otters in the past; only twice. In the mid to late l980s, when the old Pennsylvania Railroad line, which went from Newberry Yard in Williamsport, to Elmira, New York, and was abandoned after tropical storm Agnes in l972; the railroad bed was still drivable by auto and truck from Alba to Cowley. I took my Labrador Retriever Lacey for a swim on a large pond owned jointly by Bill Case and Oliver Lutz, just north of Kelly Road where it intersects the railroad grade.
I observed five river otters in that large pond in one such trip. They were easy to identify due to their large size, coloration and behavior. The animals rolled to the surface of the pond, and while lying on their backs, proceeded to scold us; somewhat like a squirrel does. The difference was the sounds were louder; much louder. At a distance of less than 100 yards, and with my trusty 10 power binoculars, they were quite a sight. The show continued for at least 5 minutes, until the animals tired of it and moved on.
On another occasion, I observed a long river otter on a farm pond while fishing in the Granville Center area. Again, always with my binoculars while outdoors, at a distance of less than 100 yards, the otter was easy to identify. I still continue to marvel at the sleekness of the otter and how they travel almost effortlessly through the water.
A suggestion to lovers of the outdoors. When you go afield, take binoculars and a camera. If you cannot identify something that you see, research the subject. You will be delighted to add to your knowledge.
I take this opportunity to thank my father, Edward Joseph Collins, for teaching me the sport of hunting, and his mother, my grandmother, Helen Collins, for teaching me the art of angling. Finally, my thanks to God for my lifelong pursuit on the outdoors and the wonderful wildflowers, trees, birds, mammals and reptiles that He gave to us simply to enjoy.
Next time, the story of Waldo.
Jim Collins is an outdoor columnist for The Sunday Review. He can be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail at Outdoors with Jim Collins, HC, 1; Box 60; Alba, PA 16910.