.......and Reflections

Saturday, March 2, 2013

......because I have to.

I have been asked by many why I am driven to go birding so see the same birds over and over again. The short answer is "River Otters". I am pretty sure that answer begs more questions than it does answer a straight forward question. So here is a longer answer that will shed some light on my short answer.

When I was just starting to attend The Ohio State University I had no idea what I wanted to study. In the mean time I went fishing with friends in Ontario, Canada on remote lakes via vintage DeHaviland Beaver and Otter float planes. On one of those expeditions I wandered away from camp and happened upon a bluff above a creek. As I stood gazing at the stream a Lynx walked into an opening and took a drink. It was amazing. I had never seen such a creature.

I had already seen plenty of wildlife including bears.....but the Lynx was something different. What I witnessed for the first time in my life was wilderness. I have never seen another Lynx again, yet the Lynx remains the cornerstone of my passion, humility, and reverence for all things wild. The Lynx is a secretive cat that is threatened because of sensitivity to human disturbance. It is a poster child for wilderness and the threat we humans are to their fragile existence.

I figured out what I wanted to study in the boreal lakes of Canada. I had no idea where that career would take me nor could I have imagined what a profound impact it would have on Larry Richardson. I am still discovering the effects of a chance and brief encounter nearly 50 years ago.

Now I have a much better understanding of wildlife, wild places, ecology, natural history and myself, thanks to my education, mastering a career path in natural resources, and practicing environmental and natural history education. But I am, what I am, for what I have learned in the field (the middle of nowhere).

Northern River Otters are a beacon of hope in Ohio. This species was practically if not completely extirpated from the State. The Ohio Division of Wildlife introduced  the Northern River Otter back into selected, appropriate areas of the state with great success. The problem that threatened otters was pollution and their reintroduction a success, in large part, because of improvements by managing for clean waters they require.

This makes River Otters one of Ohio's signature species for moving in a wilder direction. It is unlikely that human disturbance will ever permit any portion of the state's return to wilderness but it is certainly a program that shows all of us how important it is to compromise what humans need with what wild things need. Improvements in biodiversity is just as important to over all human health, as it is for wildlife.

This River Otter pair I took pictures of raised a family on this pond in Mosquito Creek Wildlife Area last summer. They will do the same this year. Spring is coming soon to the beaver pond and Otters are fueling up for things to come. These guys were munching on catfish they caught under the ice and the thin veneer of slush forming on open water because temperatures are hovering at freezing.

I wouldn't have seen the Otters if I hadn't been exploring the wildlife refuge. I do my exploring by watching birds. It's true that I enjoy seeing the birds, but the fact is that I am a serious "discovery" addict. Very few days are a disappointment. The cool things I see by exploring these places are staggering. Serendipitous discoveries are the spice of my life.

So why do I go birding all the time and visit places new, old, near, and far. I love birds, and more importantly, I love wildlife and wild places. I am what I am thanks to a chance encounter with the Lynx, with wilderness, and with my own destiny. The reason I go girding over and over again is.....because  I have to.

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