Since late November, it has been the winter of River Otters here in the Radford stretch of the New River. I have found them a lot of mornings just before daybreak. They'd be foraging for crayfish, or small carp and other fish.
Most times I encounter a group of four, swimming near shore or lounging on a nearly submerged willow. Only once this winter have I seen one alone, and that one was shoving pieces of ice towards the boat landing two weeks ago. I don't know what that behavior was about. But once it saw me, it started making a strange raspy call that I heard for the first time about five months ago. I think it is a very agitated distress call of some sort.
I have learned to imitate that call, and it sometimes makes the otters swim towards me and utter this vocalization even more frequently and louder. It sounds like someone saying the word "otter" while gargling. And it sounds a bit like Golem mouthing his name "golem" several times in the Lord of the Rings movie, though not nearly as harsh a sound.
The loner two weeks ago made this sound, and I would say this sound back (or at least my rudimentary approximation of the vocal). I'm sure the otter considered it a poor voicing of something important. Anyway this one conversation lasted about five minutes before the otter swam away.
Early this morning (7 February) there were two groups of otters. One group of three swam down stream, swerving and gliding in and out of the water, much like dolphins. The other group was a pair of otters that swam near the far shore and headed upstream. The pair took a brief detour and swam quickly at a Horned Grebe which dived and disappeared. The pair then continued upstream.
I wonder if one of the group of four had left and found a mate.