DEAR JOAN: We frequently walk the Contra Costa Canal Trail between Oak Grove Road and Treat Boulevard, below Lime Ridge. We love observing the ducks and egrets. Lo and behold, recently we saw something unusual.
A creature -- definitely not a duck or an egret -- was swimming very quickly, nearly keeping pace with our walking. It avoided every opportunity to try to get out of the canal.
The flow was cut off earlier for the winter draining so the water is very low. This creature went under the bridge at Citrus Avenue and under the creek (amazing). It then went into the canal intersection and headed north toward Treat Boulevard. Then it climbed onto the straining forks and onto the collected debris. With a good view, we think it was a muskrat.
Where is his normal home? It certainly isn't in the canal. The normally heavy flow would have kept him from going under the two huge obstacles. Comments?
Anna Belle H.
DEAR ANNA BELLE: The Contra Costa Canal has a lot of wildlife visitors. My friend and I walk a section of the trail south of Oak Grove and we've seen some sights.
The water is pumped up from the Delta and so marine life often follows the food, using the canal like a watery highway to travel inland. Muskrats, beavers and otters all have been spotted in the canal.
Although muskrats are common, my guess is that you saw a river otter. There have been three spotted in the canal recently.
DEAR JOAN: On our bike ride through Heather Farm Park on Jan. 12, my daughter, Scooter, pointed out these otters. One was busy chewing on a fish or crawdad. We heard from other people who stopped by to watch that these otters are often there. It was a treat for us to be a spectator, too.
DEAR LYNDA: Thanks for the pictures. I've posted them on my "Bay Area Critters" Pinterest board (pinterest.com/gardenjoan) so everyone can see them.
The otters are frequent guests in the Heather Farm Pond, where they find a lovely assortment of food. And sometimes they swim over to the canal and check it out, too.
DEAR JOAN: I live in a hilly section of Orinda, near the country club, looking down on the Lafayette part of Orinda Downs.
On two separate occasions, two of my neighbors have seen wild pigs. They both swear to it.
I am writing to see if you have heard of any sightings of these creatures in this part of Contra Costa County. I don't know if they are dangerous or if they are destructive. Should Animal Control know about this?
DEAR SUSAN: No need to worry about the sanity or sobriety of your friends. They did indeed see wild pigs in the area.
Pigs are not native to California but were established here in the 1700s when they were introduced as livestock. Some of them escaped and became feral. In the 1920s, wild boars were brought to Monterey County to give hunters something new to hunt. Apparently the boars' ability to reproduce was better than the aim of the hunters and before long, they were hanging out with the feral pigs and producing lots of little hybrids. There are now wild pigs confirmed in 56 of the state's 58 counties.
The pigs can be aggressive and should be avoided. They are very destructive to the landscape and can spread disease. The only controls in place are state laws that permit hunting on private land and with a permit.
Contact Joan Morris at email@example.com; or P.O. Box 8099, Walnut Creek, CA 94596.