BALLSTON LAKE — When Drew Hamelink looked out the window of his Ballston Lake home on Tuesday, he saw something on the ice.
"At first, I thought it was a beaver, because we have those around here, but they're not active this time of year," he said. "As I got closer, I realized it was an otter standing on the ice munching away at something."
Hamelink has lived in Ballston Lake for the past 45 years and has never seen an otter.
"I was certainly surprised," he said.
Mike Clark, regional wildlife manager for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, said while otters are prevalent, they're not common.
"It's a great time of year to view otters," he said. "They're usually out on the ice or snow, so their coat stands out really well."
The DEC launched the New York River Otter Project in the late 1990s in an effort to restore river otters to the watersheds of western New York, which experienced a decreased otter population.
According to the DEC website, between 1995 and 2000, 279 river otters were live-trapped in the Adirondacks, Catskills and Hudson Valley regions and released at 16 different sites across the western part of the state.
Clark said otters mainly eat fish as well as crayfish and amphibians such as frogs and salamanders.
"They're usually around large wetlands, which Ballston Lake has," he said. "They also tend to eat their prey on the ice."
Hamelink said that on Wednesday his wife went out to the dock and saw a bloody patch of snow.
"I'm guessing it came back and had another meal," he said.
Those who observe river otters can submit an observation submission to the DEC on their website at https://www.dec.ny.gov.