Walking out of the house in a T-shirt before 9 a.m. is the surest sign warm weather is here to stay.
At Durango Nature Studies, the onset of the season means the opening of the Nature Center to the public. Sure, we’ve had upward of 60 schoolkids out there each day since April, but May is the month the public also can partake in the beauty and diversity that the center offers.
As a follow-up to our school programs, we hope that parents will take their children to the Nature Center on a Saturday this summer to have kids show what they have learned. There is no better way to solidify natural science concepts than by proudly telling them to a parent or sibling.
To prepare the Nature Center for open public days, the staff and board members repair trails and picnic tables, update maps and train docents to staff our Welcome Building.
This year, our annual site cleanup day brought a welcome surprise. On a rock, under the bridge crossing the Florida River, was some river otter scat. This is exciting on a variety of levels. First, it is a reminder of the diversity of wildlife that travels through the Nature Center because of the health of its aquatic habitat. But, second, river otters in Colorado are a unique sighting since they have come back after a period of depletion. Forty years ago, not a single otter swam through the state’s rivers in search of its daily meal of fish because of human settlement, water pollution and stream diversions.
In 1976, the Colorado Division of Wildlife began a program to introduce 100 river otters to Colorado rivers and streams. Today, they are doing very well, moving from endangered to threatened to possibly being taken off the threatened list altogether.
Otters live primarily on fish, but also will eat crayfish, birds and small mammals. They like to forage in calm river pools and ponds, making the Nature Center a perfect habitat. Otters don’t excavate their own dens, but live in lodges and banks occupied by beavers. They get along well with beavers and share habitat.
Otters do lots of bounding and sliding. Part of this is play, and part is transportation. They do well in the winter, sliding down river ice on their thick, water-repellent coat or traveling in air pockets under the ice. They’re very strong swimmers, using their webbed feet, sleek bodies and powerful tails to propel themselves in an eel-like motion.
Otters are very intelligent and curious, adding to their playful nature. In fact, this description reminds me a lot of the kids who will soon be flocking to the Nature Center for summer day programs and camps. But, in opposition to the boisterous and curious kids who will be at the Nature Center, otters are very difficult to observe in the wild. They mostly make their presence known by their scat, dens and tracks. It would be an amazing happening, indeed, if these two species actually locked eyes at some point this summer.
firstname.lastname@example.org or 382-9244. Sally Shuffield is executive director of Durango Nature Studies.