Whidbey Citizen Scientists Capture Rare Footage

Provided with permission: Jill Lipoti, April 15, 10:30 am

Mating Season on Whidbey is typically in April and May (give or take a month). These two amorous otters were observed by Jill Lipoti off Scatchet Head beach on the southernmost tip of Whidbey Island.  

Provided with permission: Jill Lipoti, Scatchet Head Beach, April 15, 2020

One of my trophy cameras situated near a den site on Lake Pondilla, Fort Ebey State Park also captured mating otters this May, though the footage is not nearly as good as Jill’s.

Though river otters typically mate in the water, courtship occurs throughout the day for several days. “Dinner and a movie,” may occur under residential decks. Be mindful, as limerence can sound more like fighting raccoons, with hissing, snarling and growling. Rest assured, this is part of the courtship process and if they found a love nest in your yard, they do not typically stay there for more than a day or two.

Provided with permission: Kevin Shambaugh, Kennedy Lagoon, Coupeville, May 6, 2020

This exciting video of two coyotes (one on either side of the shrubbery) and a lone otter was captured by Kevin Shambaugh along Kennedy Lagoon in Coupeville. It is hard to know from such a brief video what is going on, it could be play, or what I think is perhaps more probable is den site guarding. Although the coyotes’ posture does not necessarily appear aggressive, coyotes mate in February to April with a gestation of approximately 60 days. Litters typically consist of 4 to 5 pups. Conversely, the otter may be a female trying to gain access to her own den site. It is difficult to know for certain; though the footage is wonderful. Thank you Kevin Shambaugh and Sue Sell for sharing!

If you have footage you would like to share of local wildlife, please email me with permissions to share your wonderful nature experiences, island@pacificu.edu

Wilderness Recovery in the Time of Corona

With global quarantines, stay-at-home orders, and less industry, wildlife are taking back the suddenly vacant urban spaces across the globe. Here is great article in The Guardian about how this small respite in human activity has bolstered wildlife (Singapore’s Small clawed otters), water quality (Venice canals), residential deer, coyotes, raccoons, etc.

On Whidbey, the coyotes are just ending their breeding season, as such, they have starred in all the infrared camera activity. The otters typically stop or slow down their latrine activity during this time, from January through April.

Lone Coyote,
All photos from March 2020
Coyote Breeding Pair, Admirals Lake, Whidbey Island
Surprised Coyote – Infrared Camera, Whidbey Island, Admirals Lake

Warmest Wishes in the New Year!

A Christmas Surf Scoter

It is the new year and as if to provide one last “hoorah for 2019,” on December 25, a lone otter caught a Christmas Surf Scoter for breakfast in Admiralty Bay. The images below are not exceptional given the low light, but you can see the wing, part of the head, and the bright orange feet in the images. Note there is a drake surf scoter looking on, rather unperturbed during the hunting sequence.

River Otter Diet Data – Research Phase 1: Completed (December, 2019) and To Be Presented (February, 2020)

The last of the diet data was completed in December of 2019. The samples are drying for analysis through Pacific Identifications for a final interpretation of our Whidbey Island river otters’ seasonal foraging and diet preferences across the island. This data comes from latrines as far north as Strawberry Point to as far south as Clinton, as well as Lake Pondilla, Crockett Lake, Admiralty Bay, Admirals Lake, Bush Point, Mutiny Bay, Greenbank Farm, and Deer Lagoon. I will discuss the findings of phase 1 of this project, Density, Distribution, and Diet of Whidbey Island’s River Otters at the Sound Waters University Conference, Saturday, February 1, 2020 in Langley. Here is a link to that exceptional community of conservationists, scientists, and educators – Sound Water Stewards Conference. Among the 60 different classes and presentations during this conference, Sarah Schmidt will be presenting her work with Whidbey Island bats, Dr. Greg Jensen, will discuss his research of Salish Sea marine invertebrates, and Dr. John Calambokidis of Cascadia Research provides the keynote address, Changes in Large Whales of the Salish Sea and Recent Mortality and Threats. Register here.

Ever Grateful to You, Otter Spotter Supporters

Special thanks to Pam Stein, Jan and Karl Smith, Jill Cooper, Bob Wilbur, Cathy Miller, Rebecca Jaffe, Janet Johnston, and Jeanine Granstrom for their recent river otter reports, and support.

Have a Joyful, Successful and Healthy 2020!

Whidbey Island Research Station (WIRS) Updates

Patches is back!

This is an image capture from an infrared video along a den site at Admiralty Beach on November 27, 2019 at 2:35 am. She is traveling to Admiralty Bay to feed in a romp of 3 other otters. Although she has not been “missing,” her last confirmed citing was in August of 2019.

Muzzle markings provide identifications…

Patches in May of 2019 (in estrus), notice the two distinct spots under each nostril in both photos.

Appreciation and Project Updates

A friend suggested a blog in place of a newsletter, as it is a more contemporary, paperless approach to sharing information and updates. It also allows you to control your updates and membership. So, welcome to the WIRS first blog post! This one will be longer given I have a lot to report, subsequent blogs will be much shorter. Also please let me know if you would like more information about something specific.

Appreciation: A quick shout-out to Jan and Karl Smith (Bush Point), Susan Carpenter (Bells Beach), Pam Stein (Strawberry Point), Barb Nichols, Bob Wilbur, and Kurt Blankenship (Admirals Cove), Janet Johnson (Goss Lake), Doug Clark (Clinton), and Sherri Hedman (Freeland) for their correspondence of otter presence, scat collections, and/or infrared video placement on their property. Also a big thank you as always to the folks at the Whidbey Camano Land Trust and Whidbey Environmental Action Network, I am so grateful for your support.

Research Update: The Whidbey Island River Otter Research project is in the second year of data collection. We have one month left to collect diet data. If you would like a quick introduction to the defined goals of the WIRS river otter research, please click the link here for a summary. Below is a graph-to-date of the prey diversity of the Whidbey river otter populations across the island.

Grant funding has also begun. A smaller grant was sent off this week for the genetic fingerprinting protocols – that is, through scat collection we hope to run genetic fingerprints (like you see on CSI) to identify individual otters across the Island. This is the most benign, nonintrusive approach to clarify population range and foraging distribution. A second larger grant proposal will (hopefully) be submitted by the end of spring for scat analysis of endocrine disrupting chemicals, including brominated flame retardants (see Seattle Times 2017 for information on Whidbey Island watershed contamination), stress hormones, and parasitology. We also hope to include students in summer research at WIRS.

Scat Collection and Otter Spotting Volunteers Needed!

If you have otters in your area, please report them to the WIRS Citizen Scientist Otter Reporting Website here (you can also find the Citizen Scientist Otter Reporting link on the Home page). For the truly industrious and committed, I have specimen collection kits prepared for those who have active latrines along their property. Please contact me if you would like one, I will deliver it to you! I am on Island from December through the end of January. Further, if you have “problem” river otters occupying your decks, boats, or boathouses, please do not hesitate to contact me, I am interested in finding a solution for you and the otters. I would also be happy to plant an infrared camera in locations of heavy otter traffic – I share all images with the property owner.

Citizen Scientist Collection Kit

Holiday Shopping?

How about river otter greeting cards for the holidays? WIRS river otter cards (two different image options) are for sale at the Langley Whale Center. All proceeds for the sale of the WIRS cards go to benefit whale conservation.