Long Island Mammal Survey Launched

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Have you seen a mink or a gray fox anywhere on Long Island? The State Department of Environmental Conservation is interested in determining the distribution of these and six other mammal species—river otter, skunk, long-tailed and short-tailed weasels, beaver, and coyote—here on Long Island, and they are seeking help from the general public to do so. Sightings, including roadkills, can be reported using a simple, user-friendly online form at the DEC’s website, www.dec.ny.gov.
The project is a result of lobbying efforts by several members of the Long Island Natural History Conference steering committee: former Brookhaven Town Natural Resources Director John Turner, Brookhaven National Lab ecologist Tim Green, and myself. We had met with the DEC’s Long Island regional director, Peter Scully, in 2011 to discuss what we felt was a glaring error in the hunting and trapping regulations for this region—namely, the inclusion of several species whose population status on Long Island was unknown or too limited in size to support a harvest.

Our efforts to correct the situation with a simple change in the regulations—as was done to adjust deer and Canada goose hunting season dates, remove the ruffed grouse from the allowable take list, and open a hunting season on wild turkey—were stonewalled. It appears that the state agency is more concerned with the impact of a growing anti-trapping sentiment than it is with protecting our wildlife resources, and is reluctant to make any adjustments that could be viewed as another anti-trapping victory.

That is a shame. The regulations will remain unchanged, and an unlimited harvest of Long Island’s very limited supply of skunk, mink, weasel, and gray fox will be permitted. Recognizing the need to get more information on these and several other mammals (otter, coyote and beaver) that are trying to get a foothold on the island, the DEC launched the citizen-scientist style survey. Please help with that effort.

Speaking of wildlife sightings, last week I received three reports of river otters. Charles Shearer phoned in on Thursday evening, May 16, that he found an otter carcass on the north shore beach of Shinnecock Bay in the Shinnecock Hills area. I have not found any evidence of resident otters or established otter territories anywhere on the South Shore of Long Island, so this was a surprise.

The carcass was in very bad shape, and the otter, a 43-inch-long male, may have been dead for more than a month. It was washed ashore directly north of the inlet, and it’s possible that this individual traveled far from its usual territory in search of a mate in late winter or early spring. Research has shown that some males will leave their normal territory for a short time during the breeding season to increase their chances of mating.

Where did this individual come from? Did it travel overland from the Nissequogue River watershed, or the north shore of Nassau County? Or did it travel along the South Shore bays from populations in New Jersey or the Hudson River watershed?

The other two otter sightings were of live otters, and possibly the same individual. Dan Skabeikif was birding in Arshamomaque Preserve on Saturday morning and stopped to check the small irrigation pond in the northwest corner of the preserve. According to Dan, an otter surfaced in the pond, realized it was being watched, and dove out of sight, revealing its large, unusual tail as it submerged. It disappeared, either into the shrub thicket at the far corner of the pond or into a muskrat bank den.

Very early the next day, while driving west on Route 25 and approaching the bridge over the Long Island Rail Road just west of Arshamomaque, David Moore spotted a river otter running across the road, from south to north. There should be lots of otter photos at my camera trap site in that area!

Best bird sighting of the weekend was reported (and photographed) by Juliana Duryea while paddling along Alewife Pond in Cedar Point County Park: an immature bald eagle! The white patch of feathers on its mantle (upper back) and mix of white feathers on its wings signifies that it’s at least 2 years old. The dark eye stripe that marks a third-year eagle also was discernible.

Bald eagles take five years to develop their classic adult plumage, and can live for more than 20 years. Despite being our national emblem, bald eagles were shot, trapped and poisoned for many years and, as with many other top-of-the-food-chain species, their populations were also impacted by pesticides.

In 1978, the bald eagle was listed as endangered. North American populations have recovered enough by 2007 to remove them from the endangered species list, although that action was hotly contested by some conservationists.

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