By Jason Parks
For the past 14 years I have lived in Martinez with direct access to Hidden Lakes Park. I have walked my dog many times there and around the lakes.
The lakes have always been full of life. Fish, birds, even a family of turtles were living there, but I have not seen them in quite some time.
About 12 years ago I thought I saw an otter swimming in the lake. But I was unsure what it was and never really saw any evidence of otters ever there. This week, on a whim, I took my camera along with my dog for a walk.
While walking around taking pictures of the little valleys, morning mist, the sun coming through the oak trees I heard splashing in the lake. I went down to the edge and finally saw out in the open water the elusive otter.
I have been hunting for him for all this time and there he was out in the open swimming and having a great time. He just stopped and stared at me a few times while I tried to take as many pictures as I could to show my wife and kids what I had found.
Then I noticed him go over to the bank across from me and I saw his friend. Two otters are now living in the lake. What a discovery, for me at least.
The two otters kept diving, swimming, and finally came up with a rather large fish, then decided to do have a private breakfast in the bushes out of sight.
Needless to say I was happy to get their pictures. River otters are common to Martinez and its vast network of creeks and streams. The otters likely came to Hidden Lakes up from Grayson Creek and Pacheco Slough according to the county GIS maps.
In an article by Gary Bogue of the Contra Costa Times in January 2011 he states “Those river otters initially started out in the Sacramento (CA) River Delta, where there are LOTS of otters. They swam down the Sacramento River to where Pacheco Creek empties into the river at the base of the Benicia Bridge by Martinez, turned up Pacheco Creek and swam to where it turns into Walnut Creek. They continued on to where the creek branches into a multitude of little creeks that head off in all directions. These otters obviously followed the little creeks that eventually passed close by Lafayette Reservoir, where they crossed over to the reservoir. Otters have used the same technique to get to Heather Pond in Walnut Creek and Hidden Lakes in Martinez. A few beavers have also made that trip to the Walnut Creek area, where I know they cut down at least one little tree in the back yard of a very surprised homeowner. Clever creatures. It wouldn’t surprise me if there were otters in the reservoir in the 1950s. The river was there and the creeks were there, so the otters could have used them back then and probably even earlier. It should have been an easier trip back then because the area wasn’t nearly as urbanized as it is now.”
The residents of Hidden lakes are in for a treat if they ever get to see the otters swimming. Otters are more nocturnal in the summer months, but in fall and winter they are out more during the daylight early morning and evenings. Make sure to bring your binoculars or camera with a telephoto lens to see if you are lucky enough to catch a glimpse of them.