Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Otter Island

Before the arrival of Europeans river otters were found throughout Pennsylvania. But then the traps and firearms of the new arrivals, clearing for agriculture, logging of vast tracts and pollution of streams and rivers by coal mining reduced the otter population until, by 1920, the species was extirpated from all but a small portion of the northeast corner of the state. Otters hung on in the northeast because the soils were largely unsuitable for agriculture, there was no coal to be mined and pollute the streams, and there were large areas of wetlands.

By the 1970s attitudes had changed, trapping and hunting were regulated by seasons and limits, many farms had been abandoned and many streams were cleaner. And so in 1982 efforts began to restore river otter populations; over 20 years 150 otters, trapped elsewhere, were released in suitable habitat in northern and western Pennsylvania. Otters subsequently thrived to the extent that Pennsylvania now has a trapping season for otters.

H and I saw our first Pennsylvania river otter in the 1970s while we were canoeing on a lake in the far northeast of the state, well before reintroduction began. More recently I’ve seen otters much closer to home.

Walking along the river there’s always the chance of encountering a river otter. There are a lot of islands in the river, some quite large and some rather small. Those islands are often overtopped in high water events (better known as floods) and trap floating debris: large trees, logs, branches, docks, … Those piles of debris make ideal denning places for otters to rest or bear their young.

With ice on the river and snow on the island it was easy to see the most obvious sign of an otter’s presence – a slide created by an otter as it literally slid across the surface –

The otter also left tracks showing the typical staggered pattern of an otter’s loping gait –

Returning to the island on another day in hope of seeing the otter I saw another slide. This one led from an opening in the debris pile down to the frozen river and on to open water. After another snowfall, an otter had walked, not loped, up the slide to the opening in the pile –

The otter, or otters, using that island have remained out of sight but on another day an otter was swimming in the river about a mile upstream. 

Otters travel widely (a mile is nothing to an otter) perhaps this was the one from the island.

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

At the Tributary

Except for during big game hunting seasons, during the last two years I’ve had a camera trap at a spot where a wildlife trail crosses a small tributary stream. 

Other videos from the tributary were posted here. This year was no different with the camera strapped to the same tree from early last year until early November. Unfortunately several batches of bad batteries shut down the camera for a number of weeks in late summer.

If you really like white-tailed deer this video’s for you. As for squirrels, raccoons, both species of fox, birds of any kind, small mammals – not a one showed up on the videos taken by the camera.

Here come the deer –

The video clips display a wide range of white-tailed deer behaviors: bedding down several times beneath hemlock trees which provide important thermal cover on cold winter nights; that snow accumulates on their backs without melting due to the insulating qualities of deer hair; constantly testing the air for the scent of danger; repeatedly dipping their heads to test the air high and low and to simulate feeding to deceive a predator; repeated swiveling of the ears to pick up sounds and their direction; stamping the front feet when they're nervous to alert other deer and to signal a potential predator "I know you're there"; in the summer and early fall does travel with other does and their fawns and bucks form bachelor groups there's safety in numbers with more ears, noses and eyes to detect danger.

That was a young bear and not very large, probably 18 months old, chased away by its momma and looking for a new territory.

The eastern coyote was probably just testing the deer or they all may have been fleeing from something (possibly a human) but in my experience fleeing coyotes don't just lope along – they FLEE .

I like videos of deer as much as anyone, but enough is enough so next year that camera will be elsewhere to see what it can see.

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Looking Beyond 80 – the second three months

Last August 3rd I turned 80 – and in so doing I consider myself to be extremely fortunate. H and I are still happily together after 57 years, our kids and grandkids have become responsible adults and I can still walk in forest and field virtually every day (just not as far or as fast as I could 50 years ago). Two of my friends, both younger than I, died in the last year so I consider every day a gift to be savored.

Several years ago, inspired by a renowned nature photographer’s article in a major magazine, I undertook a project to take at least one good, or at least interesting, photograph a day. That one project became three (all posted on In Forest and Field) and now a fourth – it began on my birthday and will continue for the year. The first quarter’s photographs were posted here, this post is a collection of the photos from the year’s second three months (photos from a camera trap are indicated by #). Herewith the photographs –






















































































































































































































































































And so here we are, winter's two-thirds gone and spring's just around the corner soon the first migrants will be arriving, the first flowers of spring will be poking up through the soil, and trees’ buds will be bursting.

It matters not what humans think, the cycles of the natural world go on although we are messing them up to varying degrees. They have done so since before there were humans and will do so long after humans are gone from the earth. For now I'll keep taking a photo a day to post in early May.

#  from a camera trap