The Re-Wilding of Long Island.  Long Island  is experiencing something of  a recovery and return of  marine and land animals. It's a fragile and exciting moment that hinges on our nurturing of this renewal. I'll be attempting to document as much as I can with camera traps and traditional photography. 

North American River Otter, Shelter Island, NY. They have been swimming east from Nassau County and west from Fisher's Island, after fur trapping, habitat destruction, and water pollution dwindled their numbers....next stop the Hamptons! Is the return of this 3-4 foot,  10-30 pound mammal a harbinger of increasing good water quality? Is it about the plentiful food supply due to the regulation of Atlantic Menhaden? According to the National Zoo, otters have a low tolerance for polluted water. They are considered by some scientists to be a good indicator of aquatic habitat quality. Otters can sound the alarm for environmental degradation, making them great partners for riparian repair.

Above and below are at a scenting station in Orient, NY.


I got a great surprise when my witness camera picked up this otter checking out my camera trap rig. They have a great sense of smell, and their large luxurious whiskers are sensitive to touch. And he was pretty gentle with my gear! I say"he" because male North American River Otters  usually run in groups...note the second otter....and females are more solitary. What was this otter thinking about the information his nose and bristles were giving him? I'll never know,  but his curiosity and fearlessness  are  inspiring. 



This sequence shows three otters attacking my trail cam at one of their scenting stations. I was the intruder, and I stand corrected! Their curiosity, tenaciousness and fierceness are remarkable. Some otters, when they spot my equipment, turn tail and run. Not these three. Note the circulating otter breath at the end of the video.

An otter pup and mom showed up on my trailcam at Slyvester Manor Educational Farm in Shelter Island, NY. According to Mike Bottini Long Island's resident otter expert, "...pups are born Late Feb - early March remain in the natal den for 2.5-3 months  when they get their first “swim lessons” (they are “head heavy” at 3 months and tend to float head down-butt up…requiring lots of assistance from mom). Pups are weaned at five months but stick with mom learning fish and crayfish hunting skills until they are ten to twelve months old." Welcome little one, we are so happy to meet you.



Bald Eagle, Shelter Island, NY. By the time DDT was banned in 1972 the breeding population of eagles in New York  was  down to one pair.  The chemical caused eggshells to be so thinned the embryos would die. The charge to ban DDT  in New York State started with Long Island farmer  Marjorie Spock's lawsuit around 1957. She didn't win, but she did receive a life altering call from the writer Rachel Carson, mother of the environmentalist movement. The pressure continued thru the hard work of the United Farm Workers Union. After an extraordinary effort by the NYS DEC in 1975 eagles were reintroduced, and are thriving statewide. About ten years ago Long Island got its first two sets of breeding pairs, one landing in Shelter Island. Above is a juvenile looking out across the water at some tasty ducks....in the background upper left is an adult.

Red-Tail Hawk, Shelter Island, NY. They are everywhere now, this beautiful bird, but it wasn't always so. They too were affected by DDT and in the 1800-1900's were the subject of numerous bounties. Today their main threat is again from  humans in the form of rat poison. A 2020 study found that 100 percent  of the 43 hawks autopsied had rat poison in their systems.  Because a poisoned rat does not die immediately but continues to stumble around for a few days, the rat becomes easy prey for hawks and other predators, who then ingest the poison.  Red-Tail Hawk's main diet is rats and mice....they keep the balance. So think twice before you introduce chemicals into the food chain. Someone's life may depend on it.



Eastern Raccoon Orient, NY. Love them or hate them, this mischievous masked mammal is the brilliant clean-up crew of the animal kingdom. The common name, raccoon, is derived from the Algonguin word aroughcoune meaning “he who scratches with his hands”.The genus name, Procyon from the Greek meaning “pre-dog,” reflects the lineage the raccoon shares with the dog. They can keep your yard free of wasps, rats and mice. Take a look at their scat....berry seeds abound, making them a plant partner, distributing the new generation far and wide.

Raccoons are known for their unique five fingered hands. Though they do not have opposable thumbs like us, they can grasp a surprising array of objects, including and especially the lid on your garbage can. Their tracks remind me of childhood finger paintings.

Eastern Raccoons checking out an otter scenting station, Greenport, NY.

Virginia Opossum, Shelter Island, NY. There is all sorts of lore around opossums, but the truth is they are fastidious groomers, tick eating machines, and have some immunity to rabies. A study published in 2016 found that a molecule in opossum blood was able to “completely neutralize” certain snake venom, an impressive feat and a medical miracle. Opossums are devoted mothers, having 4-7 babies at a time, carrying them on her back until they are able to fend for themselves. They are omnivores and will spiffy up by eating stuff even raccoons won't touch. 

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