Sometimes, finding otter scat is easier than spotting the otters.
Phil and I woke up very early today, about 4:20 a.m., and ate breakfast. We grabbed our daypacks and research equipment and walked down to the "boat ramp" on the edge of the Rio Negro. Fortunately, our boat driver showed up right on time, (yesterday the boat never arrived), and took Manoel, Helen's research assistant, and us to a baia, where we stopped and sat perfectly still for over an hour, looking for otters at sunrise. Despite our anticipation, we did not have the opportunity to see any. We headed to another location where we hoped to observe otters. The driver let us out on the riverbank where we each selected a position for studying otters. Otters can be hard to find this time of year when the water level in the river is high and many baias are full. We did not see anything for about another hour but in a split second that all changed! I was perched on the bank looking at the other side of the river through my binoculars, when all of a sudden I heard a splash immediately off to my right. I turned quickly and noticed ripples from some animal that just ducked under the surface of the water. I saw another movement out of the corner of my eye and when I looked, a small brown otter's head popped out of the water not ten feet away! It ducked back under as quickly as it had surfaced, and that is the last we spied of one another. Based on its small size, lack of any markings on the throat, solitary habit and elusive (rather than curious) behavior, I identified it as a Neotropical River Otter. Our patience really paid off! Phil and I learned that it can take a long time observing in the field to gain valuable data about where otters live.
On the way to observing otters today, Andrew and I spotted a toucan, black-collared hawk, and a stork. Though I did not see any otters I came upon a group of five or six peccaries. Otters are not easy to see. Manuel says that even gathering no data is helpful to the study as it tells us where they are not being seen during specific times of year. However, I would still really like to see and observe an otter! Fortunately, the Pantanal is so rich in animals and plants that there is always something to see.
Meanwhile, Adam and Lyssa ventured into the middle of the jungle with Vitor to check small mammal traps. We found 14 animals, which we tagged, weighed, measured, and then released. All of this data was recorded in a notebook for comparison and analysis. We drew blood on two mammals for Tatiana, a scientist and veterinarian, who will examine them in the lab for parasites. We will cover this study in more detail later in the week.
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