See Otter? No–SEA Otter! (So What?)

You know those times when you get so ridiculously excited about something you just have to blurt to the first person you see?

(If no…I gotta say, congrats on your self-restraint, but really? Try it sometime.)

I had one of those the other day. Rushing back down the path from the gorgeous portion of National Monument that is my backyard, I met a stranger walking my way. “I saw a sea otter! Keep an eye out for it!” I blurted.

He gave me what felt like a patronizing look–and I should know, having given plenty of those myself. “Those are river otters,” he said, kindly enough. “They’ve taken over the marine habitat, but they–”

River Otter: cute! (photo by R.A.Killmer, courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

“No!” I interrupted. “I mean, yes, I know–you’re right, I’ve never seen a sea otter in these waters, but I just did!”

I went on to describe what I’d seen through my binocs (after zooming home and zooming back out again–don’t usually carry binocs on my walks): big creature, almost as long as a seal, floating on its back, flippery hind feet sticking straight out of the water, front paws on tummy, as though it were making itself into a floating tray. Silver face.

Sea otter: CUTER! (photo by Brian Wotherspoon, courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

The guy switched to Interest Mode and hastened down the path.

We don’t get many sea otters in the Salish Sea. In fact, in ten years of several-walks-per-week, I’ve NEVER seen one. Special as I felt, I wanted to find out exactly how rare they were. Here’s what I learned from an article posted July 2018 by Rob Ollikainen in the Peninsula Daily News:

Most sea otters are spotted off the Pacific Coast at places like Destruction Island and Cape Flattery, said Erin Gless, a naturalist with Island Adventures Whale Watching.

“A few individuals, however, seem to be exploring more inland waters,” Gless said in a Monday news release.

“While it’s too early to determine what’s bringing these sea otters in from the coast, their presence is encouraging.

Turns out the otter I saw–all by its lonesome, and it probably was, ’cause sea otters are super-social creatures–has already been adopted by some who’ve spotted it. According to this article and a couple of others I read, this guy is either “Ollie the Otter,” first spotted near Victoria in 2015, or else “Odin,” a one-eyed male seen more recently off San Juan Island. Since that’s much closer to me, I’m guessing Odin’s more likely–but I couldn’t quite see its eyes through my glasses. As for a close-up shot?

Let’s just say I’m considering buying a zoom lens for my phone.

By the end of the article, though, my excitement got its comeuppance.

Anne Shaffer, executive director of the Coastal Watershed Institute, which studies the ecology of the nearshore near the mouth of the Elwha River, said the recent sea otter sighting was interesting but not unusual.

“There are otters that are off our shore, off the central Strait, one or two a year,” Shaffer said Friday.

A semi-resident sea otter was known to be living off the San Juan Islands for years. An adult male was living in the south Puget Sound, Shaffer said.

“There certainly transit our shoreline but they’re not abundant,” Shaffer said.

“It’s an interesting observation but not necessarily ecologically astounding. But they’re cool animals.”

Well, excuuuuse me for being astounded. Cool animals are welcome to do that to me any day. I’m also constantly on the lookout for ANY good ecological news, and I reserve the right to receive this otter as exactly that.

Anyone else got an astoundingly-cool-animal-in-your-backyard story to share????

 

Road Trip IX: Let’s Get This…Brrrr!…Party Started

If you’ve been following Wing’s World for a while, you know that The Mate and I take a 6 to 7-week pilgrimage this time of year, from our little island in Washington’s Salish Sea, all the way across the country, back to our former lives (and my folks, and Tarheel basketball) in North Carolina.

If you’re new to this blog–well, now you know. Welcome! This is the only time Wing’s World morphs into a travel blog; please join me!

The Mate cleared out our bike garage in order to load up Red Rover without getting snowy.

That is, if we ever get going. When driving across the country in February and March, weather is always in charge of your route. Every year we’ve diverted around something. But we’ve never found ourselves stopped in our own driveway! We were planning to leave on February 12, but now it’s snowing like crazy, so that is NOT gonna happen.

I’m pretty much packed. Cleaned out the fridge. Nothing to do but go for a walk!

Snow falling on cedars…and salal…and bracken…

…and moss…

…and reindeer lichen…

…and even kelp!

You know what, though? This extraneous walk gave me exactly what I needed: the reassurance that, no matter where we go, there is no more special place than where we already live.

G’bye, Gorgeous…see you in the spring!

The rest of y’all? See you on the road…whenever we get there!

“Go on, already…we’ll take care of this place while you’re gone.”

My (Even Bigger) Backyard, Part 2: British Columbia’s Cortes Island

I’ve been wanting to visit Cortes ever since reading Ruth Ozeki’s novel, A Tale for the Time Being, one of my favorite books of the last few years, and discovering that one of the two stories it winds together is set on Cortes. It seemed, if possible, even more Lopezian than Lopez Island, where I live.

Although we were only there for two days, I think I can safely say I was right. With under 2,000 year-round residents, Cortes is a quiet place in the off-season. Its beaches and forests looked like ours, only more so.

Looking northeast, toward the Sunshine Coast

Manson’s Landing–such a sweet spot!

Granted, I’ve never seen a 5-fingered Madrona, even on Lopez!

Nor do we have cedar trees anywhere near this old. OK, Cortes, you got us badly beat in the tree department, bless you.

But the thing that REALLY blew our minds on Cortes was…

…You know what? I’ll get to that in a moment. It was pretty jaw-dropping. So I need to save it for last.

Before then, I’ll share a few pictures from where we stayed. Like Quadra Island, the local provincial parks didn’t provide campgrounds, so we opted for the well-recommended Hollyhock Retreat Center. I mean Centre. It’s famous for multi-day classes in yoga and writing and history and, gosh, just about everything, but you can also just stay there. I was amazed at how reasonable their rates were: $180 per night for two people, with a shared bathroom (which we actually had to ourselves), all meals included. That’s Canadian dollars, so it was really less than $150 U.S.–and the meals alone were worth that! Hollyhock is entirely off-grid and produces nearly all its own pescatarian food. I’m not a taking-pictures-of-dinner kind of person, but here are a couple of shots from their garden, so you can just guess how amazing the food was.

Must…eat…kale!

I just could not make myself stop taking pictures of that garden. Anyone want to volunteer-garden there? Send in your application!

The view from outside our cozy room

One of many cool buildings on their forested campus…who wouldn’t want to study something in here?

No classes were going on the days we were at Hollyhock, which was fine with us. We just wanted to hike and bike around and get a feel for Cortes, which is what we did. Well–not so much the biking part. It’s VERY hilly there, and the one day we thought we’d try riding on the flatter parts, the wind was blowing 22 mph. But hiking, yes.

And that’s where we discovered…this.

Oh, it looks like bridge over just another creek. But that creek…

…is no creek at all–it’s the ocean! Rushing at very low tide from an inlet out to the bay…

…in a SALTWATER WATERFALL. A saltwaterfall! Have you ever heard of such a thing?

I’m not kidding! Those are barnacles growing there.

We were so gobsmacked by this, we actually tasted the water to convince ourselves it was indeed the ocean. A little jellyfish only confirmed the answer. Then we were overwhelmed by our luck in just happening to be there at low tide. Had we arrived another time, we might never have discovered this phenomenon.

And speaking of which, how amazing is it that we HAD never heard of this special saltwaterfall? Are they that common in BC? Or is that just Cortes Cool?

Because it is. Cool. Even beyond what I had imagined. So please, everyone–stay away in droves and keep it that way. 🙂