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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Otter, otter everywhere plus a drop of mink

I have a new class this semester, CON 113: Wildlife Field Techniques. Today we visited a river otter latrine in hopes of collecting some scat (see project described here) and checking a camera for a grad student at SUNY ESF. It snowed last night and this morning, so I was certain that any scat we did find would be fresh.

We arrived at Hi Tor WMA in Naples, NY at 2:45 and hit the trail immediately. It was not to be a pleasant stroll but a march with a mission. Tracking was kept to a minimum so we could maximize our time at the site. Will and Micheal, mentioned in my previous otter post, had checked this site on Sunday and Monday with no fresh scat to be found. They were not entirely sure the site was even still in use. I was anxious to have a look myself and see what evidence the camera had recorded as well.
Main latrine site on January 13th
The pond held what looked like fresh slides and tracks at the main latrine site, the one on the beaver lodge. I say fresh, but everything was coated with snow from the morning. We all agreed that the recent wind would have wiped this slate clean over the weekend. So despite striking out on fresh scat, we felt the site was still in use. And the camera confirmed our suspicion.

Elaina had not checked her Reconyx camera trap since mid-January. I pulled the SD card and we previewed enough of the photos to determine that otters have indeed been using the site regularly. We also found evidence of other visitors. Let's have a look (Nearly all photos are uncropped so you can see the date stamps that help tell the story):

January 14th: Will and his Dad glitter old scat

January 15th: Will is back to check for new scat deposited overnight

Jan 16th: Our first otter photos. Although there are only two individuals in this photo, we have multiple images of three otters together. The Reconyx is set to take photos in a burst of three images. Notice the 1/3 on the top of this pic. That means it is the first of three in this series. The camera than takes another burst of three almost immediately. The result is a lot of images (over 1300 in this set) and what amounts to a poor man's video.

I LOVED that otter standing shot. I have never gotten one personally. There are about a dozen shots of otters standing in this data set. Here is just one more (because standing otters are like potato chips --- you can't have just one)

Jan 17: Red fox. And snow.

Jan 25: Wild turkey. In between, we had many more otter pics.

Jan 26: Mink. Like the otter, mink are in the weasel family and like water. Note the obvious size difference though.

If you are not convinced that the otters are much bigger than the mink, here is a composite image of an otter and mink that should do the trick:

Jan 29: Note the time that this coyote showed up to roll in the stinky otter scat.

Jan 30: It didn't take long for the otter to emerge and investigate the new smell themselves

Although most of the otter photos were at night, some were in the day. Since the night pics are shot with infrared, the only way to see color is in the natural light of daytime. This was my favorite daytime photo

Jan 31: "Neither rain nor sleet nor dark of night shall keep these otters from their appointed rounds"

Feb 2: On Groundhog Day, these two coyotes made an appearance. We can assume they did not see their shadows in the IR flash...

Feb 5: The last otter photo taken before we checked the card at about 4pm on Feb 6th.

Clearly the otters are still using the site. So where are they deposting their scat? They don't HAVE to use the latrines, but why would they just stop? Or did they gradually stop and it only seems sudden? We were able to scrape away some snow to collect old scat for a simple diet analysis the class wanted to do as an outside project. Despite the lack of fresh scat, the trip was a success in my eyes. Field work is never a sure thing...


  1. Although I love all of your posts....this one has been my favorite. Incredible pics!

  2. Excellent post John. I also loved the standing otter images.

  3. Can I ask you a question? One time (when I was your student still) I wrote Eastern coyote on something. And you told me not to do that, because I was implying that the Eastern coyote was a different species than "coyote". And I see you tagged Eastern coyote on this post. Are you just trying for more blog hits? Seriously...

    1. I have some coyote pcs from Yellowstone, so trying to make the distinction between the the two. In the example you are giving, I seem to remember your assignment was to create a list of species. Eastern coyote was the only subspecies you had on the list... :)


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