FIELD NOTES: A GREAT DAY – December 2012

Jack ThumbnailBy Jack McShane

A really great day started with an ATV trip up to replace the CD cards in the trail cams. After distributing some table scraps to entice the critters to the cam location and rolling up the drippy plastic bag to put away, I got a real sharp pain in my middle finger – yellow jacket. Looking down at the rolled bag there he was looking up at me daring me to go near. He is now dead which in no way relieved the pain. Some pain cream I carry with me did not help, but what did was the rest of my journey in warm bright sunshine. Cruising around in a beautiful fall forest a number of deer and seventeen turkeys feasting in the corn-stubble field and yes, good heavens, puffing on a cigar, made for a splendid day. The turkeys were joined by at least a dozen crows, numerous mourning doves and unhappy blue jays.


In other trail cam news, Barry Gragg captured this shot of an eagle feasting on a doe carcass near Mary Smith Hill Road in Andes.

October 16th, 12 noon: just got a call from my son, Kris, with a tale that must be repeated: bow hunting near his home in Kerhonkson, and perched in a tree starting early morning, having missed a doe, passed up a small eight pointer and still vigilant, he spotted a medium sized raccoon heading toward him and, surprisingly, a very large fisher tailing behind and rapidly closing the gap. They were about 40 yards out when the gap closed and the fisher made a full-fledged attack. A raging battle ensued with the raccoon crying out and the very agile fisher dodging, weaving and slashing; all this in a flurry of leaves, eventually leaving the raccoon in death throes. This is real – the fisher backed off, laid down and appeared to yawn, got up, made a final bite, stood up on its hind legs, looked around and loped off leaving the kill behind. Kris caught all this on video; he retrieved his trail cam from another location and set it up over the dead raccoon. Will the fisher return to the kill or will other critters find it first? The cam will tell. I found this story truly amazing as it is hard to imagine a predator leaving a kill without some feasting. If the fisher does not return, it invalidates the theory, which I’ve long held, that predator on prey killing is a natural and sustenance-oriented act. Let’s see what the cam tells us.

Kris checked the cam two days later and sent me three pertinent shots. The first taken about twenty minutes after leaving the site, the same eight pointer that he passed up, staring down at the dead raccoon with an expression that could be read, “What the hell happened to you?” and two shots taken in the middle of that night, blurry and black and white, of the fisher dragging off his prey. In nature, as usual, nothing goes to waste. When reading this, some may be asking why any sane bow hunter would pass up an eight point buck. Well, the answer is because there has also been a ten-pointer around. As gun season approaches and Kris remains buckless, the eight pointer might take heed.

Another special day included sighting a large-racked buck, number of points unknown, a mature Coopers hawk gliding ten feet over my head and even though there was no “Barred on the bend” sighting, one of the best was the following: I had quietly pulled alongside one of the smaller and quite shallow ponds when I spotted a V-wake on the surface, on the far side. Immediately I thought muskrat, but then the head was a little too large; a beaver more likely, as we have had both species visit in the past. A glimpse of the tail which appeared long and slender got me really excited and with binoculars confirmed a first sighting for me in the Catskills, a River Otter! He easily spotted me and appeared more curious than afraid, as he swam across the pond directly at me, head high above the surface with beady eyes fixed on mine. At about thirty yards away I remained motionless and, eventually, after giving me at least a minute of full attention, he resumed his foraging dives, always surfacing with eyes on mine, as if to say, “I know you are there, but at this time I am not intimidated.” I watched as he successfully caught and ate four small fish and three frogs, most times returning to and holding his quarry against a stump, in the middle of the pond. After about thirty minutes of showtime I thought I could edge closer down the bank, but he would have none of it, diving and leaving a trace of bubbles, emerging at the weedy inlet to disappear upstream and through a culvert, under the road. All this and the battery in my camera was dead!

I reported the Saturday sighting on the following Monday to a wildlife biologist in DEC region 4 who was very appreciative as they keep an active record of such sightings as part of their mission to manage and protect. Lontra Canadensis or River Otter (the River part is to differentiate it from the Sea Otter whose habitat is the ocean on the Northwest coast) belongs to the family Mustelidae along with our weasels, mink and fisher. It is known for its apparent fun-loving nature, multiple antics such as sliding down muddy banks and conviviality with its peers. The River Otter range between 11 and 30 pounds, with mature males up to 3.5 feet long, and can stay under water up to 8 minutes. I would guess this guy was a male as he was at least 3 feet long, including tail. They are generally nocturnal with some crepuscularity; this guy was out at 11 am, breaking this rule and probably quite hungry as shown by his continuous successful foraging, fully aware of my presence, a potential predator. Real predators of the otter include bobcats, coyotes, bears, and, of course, man, through hunting, trapping and most importantly roadkill. They have a daily range of 2 to 3 miles and have been recorded ranging as far as 26, so there is a good chance we will not meet soon again unless he discovers the larder in the other ponds.


The fisher caught on camera.

It was Thomas Jefferson who said: “In matters of style, swim with the current. In matters of principal, stand like a rock.”  I would add that “only dead fish go with the flow”.~