Rare otter family sighting at Ruffner Mountain wetlands [PHOTOS]

otters at Ruffner Mountain wetlands
Three otters recently spotted at the Wetlands at Ruffner Mountain. (Rick Remy)

It’s not every day you hear about otters at Ruffner Mountain‘s Wetlands, so when naturalist Rick Remy’s photos started popping up on social, we had to find out more. Bham Now nature lover Pat Byington reached out to a few people, and here’s what we learned.

Rick Remy’s otter encounter at Ruffner

Otters on the bank of the Wetlands at Ruffner Mountain
Otters on the bank of the Wetlands at Ruffner Mountain. (Rick Remy)

This past Sunday, Rick Remy was out for an almost-daily walk at Ruffner Mountain. Here’s his account:

“Hoping to find a few early migratory birds, butterflies, dragonflies, or almost anything cellular, I set out for the Wetlands. My wife, Susan, usually accompanies me and has quite the eye for locating everything from mushrooms to Gnat Ogres. Unfortunately, I was on my own that morning.

When I arrived at the middle pool at the Wetlands, I noticed some commotion on the edge of the far bank. To my surprise, a North American River Otter emerged from the pond and was followed by another! They then returned to the pool and another joined them. I surmised they were a family group, judging their sizes.

From Rick’s photos, it looks like there were at least three otters.

“I watched with amazement as the trio frolicked in the pool for a brief time. They appeared to be playing and even were making sounds similar to birds chirping!  After playtime, they left the pool and entered some dense brush and that was the last I saw of them.

After that excitement, I texted Susan to let her know what I had witnessed and to express my sorrow that she was unable to be there.  We never tire of going to Ruffner because we can always count on seeing something neat and, occasionally, something totally unexpected like the Otter family.

This is the second documented otter sighting at Ruffner

otters swimming at the Wetlands at Ruffner Mountain
Otters have been seen at Ruffner Mountain once before. (RIck Remy)

Michelle Reynolds is another local naturalist who spends lots of time at Ruffner. She wasn’t surprised Rick was the one to spot the otters:

“The only other documented sighting was by Vitally Charny in May four or five years ago. Both Rick and Vitally are keen (and very quiet) observers. They both are huge contributors to the Flora and Fauna of Ruffner projects on iNaturalist.

Rick has 1451 observations with 579 species, and Vitally has 826 observations with 354 species on the Fauna of Ruffner iNaturalist project. It makes sense that these guys would be the only folks to see and document river otters at Ruffner!

Respect the otters, please

otters at the Wetlands at Ruffner
Otters are cute, but they need to be respected to keep them—and you—safe. (Rick Remy)

Jamie Nobles is the Conservation Director at Ruffner, and was both excited and cautious about the otters:

“It’s quite exciting to see otters at Ruffner. We’ve only had them on the mountain one other time four or five years ago—just passing through. I’d suspect the Wetlands probably would not have enough prey items to sustain long-term usage. There are plenty of crayfish, frogs, and turtles but the Wetlands do not have fish, which is typically the main food source for otters.

There have been other river otter sightings in the Greater Birmingham area.

“Near Birmingham, I’ve seen river otters in parts of the Cahaba and Coosa rivers. We even had one to visit a pond at the zoo right in front of the river otter exhibit several years ago. They prefer clean, healthy water and undisturbed habitats which may limit them to certain rivers, creeks, and streams. We should take this sighting as a compliment for the quality of habitat we are providing, even if these otters are just passing through.

That said, it’s important to keep your distance and keep your dogs on a leash.

“While it’s exciting when an uncommon species is sighted, there can also be issues when people flock to try to see it. Otters are quick and have strong jaws and sharp teeth so people should be aware of getting too close. Also, just another reminder that dogs should not be off-leash in the preserve.”

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Sharron Swain
Sharron Swain

Writer, Interviewer + Adventurer | Telling stories to make a difference

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