In a previous post on camera trapping, I mentioned that the unveiling of the camera images back at the office often elicits awe. What have been my greatest moments of oohing and aahing?
River Otter! I’ll admit, I turned to Google to confirm what I was seeing, since I have never encountered a river otter in real life. River Otter are part of the weasel family, usually weigh between 11 and 34 pounds and measure 36-55 inches in length, with their tail making up about 30-40% of that length. They are carnivores and primarily eat fish from both salt and freshwater habitats1. Otters frequent “latrine” sites on land where they form scent mounds, deposit scat, sniff around, groom, rub, roll, and play1,2.
I was excited to learn about nearby research done by BiodiversityWorks, a Martha’s Vineyard organization that conducts wildlife research and monitoring, to establish baseline data on the river otter population on the island. According to Liz Baldwin, the Assistant Director of BiodiversityWorks, “otters can move great distances across the landscape and use latrine sites to communicate about mating opportunities, food resources, and even finding an old friend.” In their study, BiodiversityWorks identified 150 latrine sites on the island and selected 20 of the sites where they set up trail cams for a whole year3. From their data, they found Martha’s Vineyard to have a healthy population of otters2! Check out more of their results here!
Fisher! One of Will (BLT’s Land Steward Coordinator) and my dreams for the camera was to capture an image of a fisher cat, which are fairly elusive and neither of us have ever seen. So, we were stoked when we recorded close-ups of a fisher exploring a stonewall! Fishers are also members of the weasel family. Averaging 32-40 inches long, they are a little smaller than river otters. They are mostly carnivorous, eating mammals ranging from mice to raccoons as well as amphibians, insects, and reptiles, but will eat fruit, too3. Fishers, who live in forested habitats, were extirpated from Massachusetts in the early 1800s when much of the forests were cleared for agriculture. They’ve since repopulated the area without being reintroduced by humans5. I’m excited to have found them in the woods of Barnstable!
Birds of prey! I was giving an update on the camera to my sister and commented that I didn’t think I had ever seen a buck, at least an antlered one, in real life and that I was hoping to get a picture of a large bird on the wildlife cam, though that seemed like a stretch goal. Well, within a week I had seen two bucks run through my yard (we’ve also gotten some photos of bucks) and a red-tailed hawk had landed in front of the camera! I’ve since expressed how interesting it would be to get a photo of a bobcat, but I haven’t had the same luck (I am unsure if there are any bobcats on the Cape now, although video was recorded of one in Falmouth in 20136).
Raptors, including birds such as hawks, eagles, owls and osprey, have three distinguishing traits: sharp eyesight, hooked beaks, and talons. These features are essential to these carnivorous birds’ hunting and eating of prey7. So far, we have only captured two birds of prey on the wildlife camera. Above, you can see pictures of a red-tailed hawk. Red-tailed hawks are common and thriving across Massachusetts and are widely distributed across the United States and into Canada and Central America. Red-tailed hawks inhabit open spaces with tall places to perch, thus doing well in edge habitats. They will eat a range of animals, primarily consuming small mammals like rodents and rabbits, but also eating birds, reptiles, amphibians, and insects8,9.
We also got images of an owl. Mike and Casey at the Bird Watcher’s General Store in Orleans kindly helped me with identifying some of the birds captured on our camera. The owl pictures are a bit too unclear for a definitive ID, but they feel it is probably an Eastern Screech-Owl, which are the most common owls on Cape Cod. They are small owls, similar in size to a robin. Eastern Screech-Owls live in wooded areas with available tree cavities or nesting boxes. They have adapted well to suburban environments. Like Red-tailed Hawks, Eastern Screech-Owls will eat a variety of animals, including small mammals, birds, insects, reptiles, and amphibians. They are mainly active at night and hunt from perches10.
Raptors are important members of ecosystems and I hope for more camera captures of other species. On the Cape, the list of potential sightings could include osprey, great horned owls, bald eagles and more!
As we continue to run the camera in Barnstable, stay tuned to our social media feeds for more animal pics!
1) “Coastal River Otter Natural History.” BiodiversityWorks. 7 Feb. 2019 <http://biodiversityworksmv.org/coastal-otter-research/coastal-river-otter-natural-history/>.
2) Baldwin, Elizabeth, Jon Atwood, and Luanne Johnson. “Activity Patterns, Behaviors, and Population Status of the North American River Otter (Lontra canadensis) on Martha’s Vineyard, MA.” 7 Feb 2019 < http://biodiversityworksmv.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/RiverOtterActivityPatterns.pdf>.
3) “Coastal Otter Research.” BiodiversityWorks. 7 Feb. 2019 < https://biodiversityworksmv.org/coastal-otter-research/>.
4) “About Fishers.” Mass Audubon. 7 Feb. 2019 <https://www.massaudubon.org/learn/nature-wildlife/mammals/fishers/about >.
5) Miner, Bradford L. “The truth about fishercats.” The Telegram & Gazette. 27 Feb. 2015. 7 Feb. 2019 <https://www.telegram.com/article/20150226/NEWS/302269512>.
6) Myers, K.C. “Was that really a bobcat on Cape Cod?!” Cape Cod Times. 22 Aug. 2013. 7 Feb. 2019 <https://www.capecodtimes.com/article/20130822/News/308220334>.
7) “Explore Raptors.” The Peregrine Fund. 12 Feb 2019 <http://peregrinefund.org/explore-raptors>.
8) “Breeding Bird Atlas 2 Species Accounts: Red-tailed Hawk.” Mass Audubon. 12 Feb. 2019 <https://www.massaudubon.org/our-conservation-work/wildlife-research-conservation/statewide-bird-monitoring/breeding-bird-atlases/bba2/find-a-bird/(id)/1264>.
9) Kaufman, Kenn. “Red-tailed Hawk.” Guide to North American Birds. Audubon. 12 Feb. 2019 <https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/red-tailed-hawk>.
10) “Eastern Screech-Owl.” All About Birds. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. 12 Feb. 2019 <https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Eastern_Screech-Owl/overview>.