Garden City Park continues to surprise. Formerly a cluster of large and largely overgrown residential lots in north-central Richmond BC, in the early 2000s it was transformed into an urban park with a peanut-shaped pond. An attractive, arched foot-bridge was installed to span the peanut-pinch.
The pond was functional as well as ornamental, connected to and serving as a reservoir for the critical ditching and drainage system of this sea-level city. The park, especially the pond, quickly became a magnet for wildlife. Back in the heyday of blogging I regularly reported on the latest developments, the animal and plants appearing at the pond and within the birch and pine forest that surrounded it .
The first aquatic vertebrates to arrive were the usual urban castoffs, goldfish and red-eared sliders. Soon other fish, including stickleback and brown catfish (bullheads) found their way in though storm drain connections and along with the goldfish attracted herons, grebes, mergansers, and even an osprey, who became a regular, multi-year visitor. At some point cattails emerged and started taking over the shallows,but these were beaten back by a single pair of muskrats, who promptly ate themselves out of house and home and then disappeared.
That was a decade ago. Since then an "adventure playground" has been installed north of the pond, and much of the land surrounding the park has been developed into town homes and condominium towers, into which several thousand humans moved. As proof of the importance of green space to people, the park is now busy from dawn until nightfall with dog-walkers, joggers, tai chi practitioners, and families with young children. I no longer visit very often, because the park is no longer a quick and easy escape from hub-bub. It has become its own hub-bub.
However, I still pass through whenever I walk home from downtown Richmond. I did so last week on a cool morning after a night in which the temperature had dropped below freezing. There were no ducks on the pond, which was covered with a paper-thin, unevenly frozen layer of ice. As I was crossing the peanut-pinch footbridge I heard a noise.
Something had popped up through the ice.
An otter? How the heck did that get here?
They crunched their way through the ice to shore for a frolic.
Two minutes frolicking was enough, and they returned to the water. One returned with a fish in its teeth.
I watched them for a while. It can be hard to know what an otter is doing. There doesn't seem to be a lot of difference between playing and fishing.
How did they get to the pond? There are no open ditches nearby. Storm drains would seem the most likely solution, but from where? How far did they travel through dark and icky underground pipes? How large are these pipes? Did they have a clue where they were going?
Or maybe they came overland, loping down busy streets through Christmas shoppers, standing on each others' shoulders to push the walk signal at corners, wrapped in a trench coat and wearing a fedora.
A woman taking pictures of water drops on branches came along. I pointed out the otters, which were back out in the ice. She didn't know the word "otter," and all she could make out was a sleek head and sinuous body. "Is a snake?" she asked. "Otter," I repeated. I spelled it out--O-T-T-E-R. "Look it up on Google when you get home." She said, "Okay thank you."
Otters should be shared. They are amazing.
What was this group of three? My guesses are 1) a mother with two grown youngsters, 2) three siblings that have recently become independent from Mother Otter, or 3) a roving gang of bachelor otters, which apparently is a thing.
Who knows how long they'll stay. A hard freeze may force them to move on, or, more likely, they'll eat all the fish. It's all fun and games until the fish run out.