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Mark Daul: A North American river otter or something else?

by jmaloni
Mon, May 26th 2014 07:00 am

by Mark Daul

Outdoors in Niagara

On about May 6, I received an email from Scott Clark telling me his co-worker's son, Bryan Frey, saw what looked much like an otter on the bank of a creek near his house.

Frey is an avid fisherman and hunter. He walked to the creek to see if the trout were coming in from the lake yet to spawn, as they always do this time of year. He spotted this animal, and said he wasn't sure if what he saw was an otter, a fisher, or a mink. He leaned toward the thought it was an otter. Luckily he had his cell phone camera with him and was quick enough to snap a couple of photos, one of which appears here.

When Clark emailed me, naturally I was excited and very interested to know if it was an otter. I emailed my friend Mike Wilkinson, a Department of Environmental Conservation fishery biologist, recently retired from the DEC office in Buffalo, and asked if there were any other otter sightings reported in this area.

Part of his reply is as follows: "As for the otter observation you mentioned in your e-mail, there were a limited number of them introduced into Western New York about 20 years or so ago, if memory serves me. The animals were trapped in the Adirondacks and released here. As I recall, most of the animals transferred to Western New York were placed in the more southern counties.

"To the best of my knowledge, there has not been much reporting or documentation on results of those otter releases, many years ago. I do recall there was a documented road-killed otter in the Town of Tonawanda, along River Road, several years ago. Also, one of my colleagues and I observed an otter swimming in an embayment of the Buffalo Harbor about two years ago."

DEC Region 9 Wildlife Manager Mark Kandel stated, "It's not outside the realm of possibility that an otter might show up in the area you describe." He said he would forward the information to Anne Rothrock, senior wildlife biologist in the DEC Alleghany office, so more information can be had.

Another source told me, "What people normally notice about an otter is the cocoa brown color, very deep brown, and their very long tail which is very wide at the base, where it joins the body." This source also said that the DEC released river otter in many areas of New York, one being the Tonawanda Wildlife Management Area (WMA) and another at the Hartland WMA in Hartland. Apparently there were others spotted in Beaver Island State Park on Grand Island. The Tonawanda WMA is a 5,600-acre wetland, located halfway between Lockport and Batavia along Route 77 spreading into both Niagara and Genesee counties.

After I sent the photos that Frey sent me for verification to Rothrock, she reported back. "The pictures you attached to your email are of a mink, not a river otter," she said.

That blew me away, all the while thinking Bryan stumbled onto something cool for our locals to keep an eye out for in our creeks and streams. Rothrock added, "Mink are quite common in Western New York, including Niagara County."

Emphasizing how important sightings are, Rothrock said, "I do very much appreciate your report, because if it had been an otter it would be an important entry in our database. As I stated in a previous email, we solicit observations of otter, bobcat, fisher, and weasels. We use this information to help assess how abundant and widespread populations may be, which in turn is used in writing management plans and making management decisions."

Rothrock continued, "Please be in touch in the future if you have any more sightings of any of these species to report and, if possible, please encourage the public to do so as well. They can call our office at 372-0645 and ask for Wildlife or enter the information online at http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/30770.html and then click on 'Upstate New York.' "

When I was told it was not a river otter but a mink, I felt as if someone just let the air out of my balloon, or like the kid that didn't get everything he wanted for Christmas.

So, there you have it, the animal in Frey's picture is declared a mink, and he hit it on the head when he said he wasn't sure if it was a "otter or a fisher or a mink" Thank you Bryan, and as I say a lot of times to everyone, "don't forget your camera!"


•If you are wondering what a "fisher" is, it is an animal related to the weasel family with similar traits. It is found exclusively only in North America. The NYSDEC states, "In New York state, fisher can be found throughout approximately 26,000 square miles of forested habitat within the northern, eastern and southeastern parts of the state. Recently they have begun to return to the Southern Tier of central and western New York, as some sightings and road kills have been reported from that region."

•The groundhog is also known as a woodchuck, or whistle pig, and boy - can they whistle loud! I spotted a "hog" on Tuesday of this week carrying a little brown furry thing in its mouth as it was running for cover across my neighbor's lawn. I caught it out of the corner of my eye, then watched it skitter under a shed where she figured she and her cargo would be safe. I know where she went, and I'll watch that spot intently with my camera nearby to see if I can snap a photo or two. If I get that picture, I'll tell you a story about these unprotected species of New York state.

Huge fireboat visits Youngstown

Most people didn't get a view of this 70-foot, 10-inch monster that stopped by the Youngstown waterfront on Wednesday evening, May 14. It was a fireboat manufactured by MetalCraft Marine, located along the St. Lawrence River. The craft was on its way through the Welland Canal locks, to Lake Erie and then across to Lake Huron and Lake Michigan to Chicago. Eventually it will end up on the Mississippi River, and after several stops on the way it will end up in the Port of Houston, which is one of the nation's busiest ports. The boat is No. 3 in the fleet of three the Houston Port Authority Fire Department acquired to replace its aging fleet. These fireboats come equipped with powerful quad diesel inboard engines for a top speed of 45 knots. The old fleet topped out at 14 and 16 knots only. The trip is scheduled to take approximately two weeks arriving at its destination about May 28. Anyone want to buy a used fireboat?

•If you see any strange critters while you are out in the woods or along the water, report it, and get as good of a description as you can. Let me know about the sighting or let the DEC know about it. We all want to know!

•So Smart sez: Now is the time to gather your night crawlers for the summer fun! Easy to catch, store in bedding in a cool, dry place.

And don't forget to take a kid fishing also don't forget, girls like to fish, too.

Suggestions, comments? Email [email protected] or Terry Duffy at [email protected].

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