August 2018 Natural Mystery

posted Aug 10, 2018, 1:21 PM by Jonathan Poppele   [ updated Aug 10, 2018, 1:23 PM ]

Cedar Creek Summer 2018 Survey

posted Aug 8, 2018, 11:57 AM by Jonathan Poppele   [ updated Aug 8, 2018, 2:46 PM ]

On Sunday, July 15, our group of 15 trackers and naturalists headed out onto the sand roads of the Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve to look for signs of mammals and other wildlife on the property.

We divided o
Blue Jay tracks on East Bethel Blvd
urselves into three teams for the survey. One team headed to the area just west of the new bison enclosure—a part of the reserve that we have explored very little in our past surveys. Another team began in the North Unit, following the spur south of junction 69, then returned to the area around Lindeman. The third team also ventured into the North Unit, continuing north at junction 69 and heading up toward Field A.

Our southwestern team began its survey along East Bethel Boulevard, just outside the bison enclosure. East Bethel proved to be an excellent track trap, and was filled with bird tracks. The team got some good practice identifying bird tracks, and was able to distinguish the prints of sandhill crane, blue jay, American robin, and mourning dove. Heading into the woods west of the Bison enclosure, the team found surprisingly few tracks. They identified prints from domestic cats and domestic dogs--both distressingly common on the reserve--along with raccoon, deer and a few small mammals. Conspicuously absent were wild canine tracks. In addition to the house dog tracks, the team found one other canine trail, but could not say with certainty whether it was a fox or coyote trail--or even the trail of another domestic dog. The absence of coyote sign, in particular, came as a surprise.

The teams that headed to the North Unit found a great many more canine tracks--though again, no prints they could positively identify as coyote. At the beginning of the survey, just outside of Gate 7, the second team found a large set of canine prints. The tracks had a number of wolf-like characteristics, but did not look like the prints of the wolf our group has been tracking in the North Unit for the past year. Could these be the tracks of a different wolf? Or are they simply the tracks of a large domestic dog? Opinions were split within the group. Inside the gate, the team found a great many fox tracks. Red fox appeared to be moving comfortably in the open and along the roads. Meanwhile, the deer seemed to keep off the roads in the open--only following along the roads in the cover of the forest--and there were no signs of coyote in the area. This pattern of abundant fox tracks, no coyote, and wary deer is consistent with what we have seen when wolves are active in the area. And the third team did, indeed, turn up fresh wolf tracks.

Past j
unction 69, toward Field A, the third team identified a set of fresh wolf tracks. Like the tracks spotted outside of Gate 7, these prints appeared to be larger than the wolf tracks we had been seeing in our surveys for the past year. Some members of the team also thought they were seeing two sets of tracks, one slightly smaller than the other--but the tracking conditions made it difficult to determine this with certainty. The team also brought back sightings of skunk, raccoon and fox tracks, together with several small mammals. Like the other teams, they did not see any coyote tracks on their survey.

As always, our entire group enjoyed a rich day in the field. We answered a few questions, and generated many more. Has a new wolf arrived at Cedar Creek? If so, has it displaced or joined the wolf we have been following for the past year? Where are the coyote? While we were not surprised to find them scarce in the North Unit, given the apparent wolf activity there, we did expect to see them in the southern part of the property, near East Bethel Boulevard. Have they moved in with the bison? Headed across the road into the surrounding neighborhoods? Or just staying off the roads?

Our next survey will take place over the weekend of September 22-23. Come join us as we explore these and many other questions and deepen our connection with this special landscape.

Bird Langauge, Aug 4

posted Aug 6, 2018, 10:40 AM by Jonathan Poppele   [ updated Aug 6, 2018, 11:38 AM ]

Here are some notes from our bird language sit on Saturday, Aug. 4, at the Minnesota River Valley Wildlife Refuge. You may remember from last month that while we didn’t see or hear a Cooper's Hawk in the sit area, there were indications one may have been hanging around. Today a begging juvenile Cooper's Hawk was at the center of songbird drama. Our sit area included the upper part of the hillside trail, close to the Visitor's Center. The begging Cooper’s Hawk was audible from many parts of the sit area. Indigo Buntings were sounding alarm calls near the Cooper's Hawk. To the north and northeast song birds were actively singing along a perimeter some distance from the accipiter.

At the beginning of period 3, the Cooper's Hawk moved its position closer to the trail, which may have set off a cascading series of motion. First, the sit area became very quiet. Then we observed a Red-eyed Vireo and Gray Catbird move north away from the accipiter.

In regards to the Cooper's Hawk sighting, Donnie noted that she may have moved closer to our group to help shield or put some distance between her and the mobbing songbirds. (We think she's a she because she was quite large; raptor females tend to be larger than males.) Whatever the reason, several of our group were able to see her thanks to Gabby who was the first to spot the bird.

In the 4th period, a second Cooper's Hawk moved into the area and also sounded its begging call. Outside of the forest area to the north and west American goldfinches were active. In case you’re wondering what the code NORA stands for (find it on the second map!) it refers to two juvenile northern raccoons that climbed up a tree as Bob arrived at his sit spot. Thanks to all who came today and shared observations. We will meet again on September 8--note that is the second Saturday of the month instead of the first Saturday due to the Labor Day weekend.

July 2018 Natural Mystery Answered

posted Aug 6, 2018, 10:33 AM by Jonathan Poppele   [ updated Aug 13, 2018, 9:06 AM ]

It looks like folks know their feathers! We received correct answers to our July Natural Mystery from from everyone who responded, including Lars Roe, Kirsten Welge and Rob Grunewald. These are indeed tail feathers from an American Robin, which may have been killed by an avian predator.

Several of you made use of the US Fish & Wildlife Service's amazing online Feather Atlas in identifying these, and one of you also used Featherbase. Some used these online resources for confirmation, while others used them as a primary research tool.

Kirsten Welge starts us off, sharing her research process:

I started searching through Scott & McFarland’s “Bird Feathers”… and came up empty. Armed with the more comprehensive online atlas, I searched for black, gray, and brown, as well as unpatterned, dual color and white tip on the atlas, and cross-referenced each possibility against range maps from the Cornell Ornithology Lab site.

After looking at Wood Thrush, Rose-Breasted Grosbeak, Lark Sparrow, Eastern Towhee and Red-winged Blackbird, Kirsten honed in on American Robin, noting:

Feather size is the closest match so far, though the patterning of the notch is not quite right. The shape of the feather tips look closer to the mystery feathers than the Eastern Towhee.

Others of you were less detailed about your approach, but made some helpful observations. Rob Grunewald noted both that these feathers have an "S" shape characteristic of the tail feathers on some passerines; and also that "some Robin tail feathers have a white tip which gives them the flash of white in flight."

The only thing that tripped a few people up was the side of the body. As with wing feathers, the narrower vane on tail feathers is the leading edge. These feathers all come from the left side of the tail.

Thanks to everyone who sent in answers, and especially to Kirsten for sharing her process in such detail.

Bird Language, Jul 7

posted Jul 23, 2018, 9:20 AM by Jonathan Poppele   [ updated Jul 23, 2018, 9:20 AM ]

Here are highlights from our Bird Language sit on Saturday, July 7, at the Minnesota River Valley Wildlife Refuge. The air was warm and breezy, and there were quite a few mosquitoes. As we walked into the forest on the hillside trail and found places to sit, bird activity was fairly quiet except in the northeast where a small group of hikers and a dog seemed to elicit alarms from Black-capped Chickadees and a red squirrel. During the first period Black-capped Chickadees were active in the northeast, including the sounds of juveniles begging for food, which continued throughout the sit. In the southwest House Wrens were singing back and forth; during the sit they moved position a few times, but continued to sing almost the entire time. In the second period the songbirds became very quiet in the north, it was unclear what may have caused this. A large bird that flew overhead during the first period, likely a Red-tailed Hawk, was too high above to concern the songbirds. In the past, Cooper's Hawks have used the area for nesting; perhaps one was nearby. During the third period a hiker moved through in the southern part of the area which was followed by silence for a few minutes. We also heard American Goldfinches and Common Yellowthroats during the sit. Thanks to all who came, and we will meet again on August 4!

July 2018 Natural Mystery

posted Jul 9, 2018, 9:48 AM by The Center for Mind-Body Oneness   [ updated Jul 9, 2018, 9:49 AM ]

June 2018 Natural Mystery Answered

posted Jul 9, 2018, 9:35 AM by The Center for Mind-Body Oneness   [ updated Jul 9, 2018, 9:47 AM ]

Several of you took on identifying these bird tracks--offering guesses that ranged from European Starlings to American Dippers and beyond. And, as several of you correctly answered, these are the tracks of an American Robin. Congratulations to Brendan White, Sue Mansfield, and Rob Grunewald who each point out some of the distinguishing features in their answers.

Brendan White notes:
"These tracks have the curvy outer toes and the top of the middle toe curves inward which is typical with Robins."

Sue Mansfield describes her straight-forward process:
"The tracks are slightly less than 2 inches so I checked Elbroch and Marks to see which bird tracks fell in that range.  I went back and forth between Gray Catbird and American Robin but settled on American Robin due to the bulbous toe pads evident in the tracks."

Rob Grunewald breaks down a few more details:
"The size falls in the range of the American Robin, Blackbirds, Startlings, among some others. Toe 2 on the left track is curving slightly backward, which is common for toes 2 and 4 for Robins. On the right track the line toes 1 and 3 make is curving inward, which is also characteristic for Robins. The metatarsal pad is also not registering."

One final characteristic that didn't make it into any of the correct answers is the skipping gait--which is characteristic for robins. 

Thanks to everyone who submitted answers. I learned a lot from reading through all of them--and am eager to get out and look at more bird tracks!

June 2018 Natural Mystery

posted Jun 12, 2018, 8:38 AM by Jonathan Poppele   [ updated Jun 12, 2018, 8:39 AM ]

May 2018 Natural Mystery Answered

posted Jun 12, 2018, 6:47 AM by Jonathan Poppele   [ updated Jun 12, 2018, 6:48 AM ]

Our May Natural Mystery was a trickster indeed. Guesses included bobcat, grey fox and domestic cat. In fact, this print was left by our nemesis, the common raccoon.

The most deceptive feature of the print may be the apparent double lobe on the leading edge of the palm pad. This cat-like shape is an artifact of soil movement combined with the way the shadow falls on the track. The lack of an obvious toe one is also confusing.

Despite it's trickery, the raccoon did still leave a few of its telltale traits in this print. The toes are long and narrow, rather than bulbous, and connect nearly all the way to the palm. Although they are obscured by irregularities on the surface of the ground, there are small claw marks visible in front of each toe. Finally, we can look at the shape of the palm pad. The leading edge of the pad is almost as wide as the trailing edge, and the trailing edge is unlobed and indistinct.

Thanks to everyone who submitted guesses for this trickster-transformer track. This time it really was a raccoon, and couldn't be proven otherwise!

Track & Sign Evaluation with Nate Harvey

posted May 22, 2018, 9:21 AM by Jonathan Poppele   [ updated May 22, 2018, 9:27 AM ]

We said we were taking May off of tracking club for "Staff Development." Here is what we were up to: Nate Harvey returned to Minnesota to offer a CyberTrcker Track & Sign Evaluation on May 19-20. Nine members of the tracking club participated, with eight earning certificates in Track & Sign identification. You can download the full-size photo of our smiling group with their certificates here.

The evaluation covered a wide range of track and sign. Saturday was an intensive day in the field. Nate put us through the paces with 40 questions, most of them difficult "level 3" questions. Questions covered insect sign, bird tracks, mammal scat, gait patterns, and foot morphology. Sunday was a more relaxed day with just 16 questions that skewed toward easy topics such as the ubiquitous deer trails and browse sign, and familiar woodpecker feeding sign. You can see most of the tracks and sign we were asked about on the Minnesota Wildlife Tracking Project iNaturalist project page. We finished up the evaluation before noon on Sunday and, after lunch, decompressed from an intensive weekend of ID by, what else, going tracking.

At the end of the day, eight of our members earned certificates in track & sign identification. Two members earned their first certificates, while another two moved up a level in their certifications. A warm congratulations goes out to the following members:

    Blake Southard handily earned a Level I certificate
    Kirsten Welge sailed to a Level II certification
    Brian Clough and Rob Grunewald each moved up to Level III certification

We are now looking forward to our next Track & Sign Evaluation, coming up at the end of the summer. Spots are filling fast for Michelle Peziol's evaluation on September 1-2. Please be in touch right away if you are interested in a spot in that event.

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