River Otters and Beaver on the Russian River

Saturday July 11, 2015 Guerneville CA.

Today I decided to stay home and work on my van and putter around the yard, so that’s what I did.

Ken’s comment questions

This gives me a chance to answer Ken’s questions in comments from yesterday about beavers and river otters.

Ken’s Comment:
After reading this posting I was thinking about the young turkey vulture that went missing. Suspecting the otters as the culprits, many questions popped up: Do river otters feed on birds along the river as well as fish? Did the otters kill and eat the adolescent vulture because they are natural enemies or felt threatened by their presence?
Getting back to beavers and reintroducing them, you mentioned, “It’s happening anyway, it will just take a lot longer.” I was not aware of that happening on the Russian River watershed. This is very interesting, where might it be happening?

Let’s start with the river otters

The turkey vultures are not any kind of enemy of the river otters. It was there and it’s just food. That simple. The river otter’s will eat most anything it comes across, animal, fish, or vegetation it likes. or just about anything else it comes across as it prowls the river and it’s waterways.

River otters eat birds

And yes, river otters eat birds. I’ve seen them with dead ducks and one day I saw one take a seagull out of the flock while they were all sitting on the water in front of me. All the seagulls took off, except the one the otter was dragging off.

Main fish problem

Main problem with the Russian River fish population is, in my opinion, there are too many predators for the amount of fish. We killed most of the fish predators and now they are coming back, faster than the fish population. So fast that they are likely eating most of the fish in the river, and it’s not just the otters.

If I was to take a wild educated guess on the otter population, just on the main river, I’d take a very, very conservative guess at 200 river otters. I actually think there are likely a lot more than this, especially if all the river’s waterways are included. And otters don’t just stay in the same place, they go were the food is and a lot of times that means eating big fish. They are always eating small fish. Otters are always eating, most everything in the river system.

I don’t’ believe there are any river otter statistics any better than this from what I’ve heard.

Harbor seals and sea lions

There are even more harbor seals and sea lions feeding in the  rivers estuary then there has been in a very long  time. I think the Indians would have killed any seals or fur bearing animals if they hung out where they do now. Having these animals at the mouth is like having a wolf in the pen with the sheep. A few of them might be ok, but there are two hundred or more of them on the sand at the mouth of the river. However with these animals protected now, it poses a real problem of doing anything about it.

Bird predators

Bird predators of fish were also on the decline but have bounced back in large numbers, faster than the fish have, so they put pressure on the fish from coming back. There are many types of birds that eat fish in their different stages of life. Cormorants,s Great blue herons, Merganser ducks and many more birds eat fish.

I’d say Cormorants and the Great blue heron eat the most fish on this river as far as birds go. And Cormorants eat the most fish by far. One of the reasons the biologists want to keep the river’s mouth closed is to rise the fresh water level to help protect the small fish from bird predation, although, I don’t think it will help much to protect the fish from the cormorants.

Now let’s talk beaver

Beaver were in the river big time and started declining as they were trapped starting around 178o to my knowledge. This continued until the gold rush people finished most of them off around 1850.

Here’s a web page that tells about the fur bearing animals that were hunted down in California in the old days. I’d say the gold rush people finished them off as there wasn’t enough gold for everyone. Gold brought lots of people into this area around 1850.


Used to be lots of beaver in the Russian River

This means the Russian River watershed would have had a lot of beaver before they were trapped off which means the river system would have had a lot more water retention in it’s upper waterways before that time and may have had a lot to do with the fish population doing well in the river system. Water retention means more ground water stays in the river system longer  and helps keep the water tables higher throughout the year, especially during the dry season. More water means better fish habitat, ,both in water, feed and places of cover to grow big and strong to make it in the big ocean.

Why do I say the beaver will return even if we do nothing

If we do nothing the beaver will return and as far as I know, they already are. I heard there may be some beaver up in the upper reaches of the river, but I can’t confirm this, but, it’s likely. I also know beaver are in the Garcia river which isn’t too far north of the Russian River.

We aren’t killing off the fur bearers any more and the people climate has changed. If other fur bearing animals are returning as it appears they are, it follows that the beaver will find it’s way back into this river system, but it will take some time and we could help that happen, which we should as we are responsible for killing them off. I think beaver were part of the protected Coho salmon’s habitat, so by law we need to return them to this habitat.

I don’t know if we can crank up the biologists to re-introduce the beaver, but if not, private land owners may do the deed and help them along. I think the people hollering drought should be thinking about restoring the beaver too.

In my opinion, beaver cost the least to restore and can do the most to improve water and fish habitat in the Russian River water shed than anything else I’ve heard of.

Just think having all those little guys working for us twenty-four -even, around the clock.

Puttering around on the van

I spent the day mostly puttering, working on the old van.  I installed the water pump and thermostat and worked on replacing the voltage regulator which I had some problems with as the regulator mounts were all rusted up and broke apart when I tried to take them off. Now to find some more mounts for this.

Here’s where I had my head most of the day. In the van engine compartment.vanwork

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3 Responses to River Otters and Beaver on the Russian River

  1. admin says:

    Hi Ken,
    The more you think beaver, the more you’ll realize beaver needs to be restored to the system. My email is in the side bar on the right. bnoble@sonic.net
    Otters don’t have many enemies now that we aren’t killing them. Lots of bites to the face would indicate to me it might have fought with another otter and lost. I occasionally hear them fighting in the willows along the edge of the river.

  2. Ken Sund says:

    I like your argument for beaver. Your snake eating a fish picture is much better than the one I took. I found a dead otter floating in on the flood Saturday evening and took some pictures of it. How can I send them to you? It had it’s face bit up.
    Ken Sund.

  3. Ken Solbakken says:

    Good answer, easy to understand. When you get your book published I want to buy the first copy.

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