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Carlos Avery Story of the Day

posted Apr 14, 2020, 12:39 PM by Jonathan Poppele   [ updated Apr 14, 2020, 1:00 PM ]
Our Cedar Creek Spring Wildlife Survey was scheduled to take place on Saturday, April 4. But social distancing guidelines in place, and Cedar Creek shut down all non-essential activities, it was time to improvise. We moved the survey to the nearby Carlos Avery Wildlife Management Area; invited trackers to head out on their own and share observations through iNaturalist; then gathered for a Zoom conference call to share stories and answer each other's questions. It was our first dispersed, asynchronous tracking event--and it was a tremendous success. Here are a few highlights from the weekend.

Our trackers got out on the landscape on both Saturday and Sunday, recording 86 observations of 34 different species including a dozen species of mammals. You can see all of our observations from the weekend here, and weigh in with your own identifications. The weather could not have been better, with sunny skies and temperatures climbing into the mid 50s. A rain system had moved through on Friday, washing the sandy roads clear. Despite the perfect substrate, animals hadn't had much time to move around since the rain ended and we recorded only a few clear mammal tracks like these crisp deer tracks. Some other tracks were made as the rain was ending, such as these mink tracks that showed up as patches of dry sand on top of the road. We couldn't see any details, but the transverse lope track pattern is clearly evident. The habitat, size, and details of the track pattern all point to these being mink rather than skunk tracks.

The fine weather also brought out an unusually large number of dog walkers. By mid-day on Saturday, many of the most easily accessed roads were covered with the tracks of people and dogs, which made it quite challenging to identify the tracks of wild canines. Some of the domestic dog tracks we found closely resembled coyote tracks, while some others were remarkably wolf-like. Despite the confounding tracks, we found solid evidence of wild canines on the landscape. In addition to fox track, we found scat from both fox and coyote. The scat confirmed the presence not only of fox and coyote, but of meadow vole and eastern cottontail as well. We found the partial jaw bone of a meadow vole in a fox scat, and the partial jaw bone of an eastern cottontail in a mass of fur and bone fragments. We didn't reach a consensus on what the cottontail jaw came from, and invite you to weigh in!

Our trackers also identified the presence of a variety of birds from their tracks, sign, calls, live sightings, or from their carcasses. Our trackers recorded tracks of turkey, sandhill crane, and mourning dove; signs of woodpecker activity; spotted migrating songbirds, cranes, waterfowl and raptors including this Northern Harrier; and even found the almost completely intact cacrass of a barred owl (check out the feet!). The trackers that found the owl carcass also found the mostly intact carcasses of a common goldeneye and of a coyote.

The wetland habitat and spring weather also offered a background chorus of frog songs, and we were able to capture recordings of wood frog, boreal chorus frog, and spring peeper, as well as photograph some wood frogs.

At the end of the day on Sunday, we gathered together for a Zoom conference call to share what we found. The Zoom platform allowed us to share pictures, audio recordings, maps, and our iNaturalist observations as we shared stories, asked questions, consulted guidebooks and puzzled through a few things together.

A huge thanks to everyone who participated in our first dispersed tracking survey. For a first time trying out this format and these technologies, it was a smashing success. Which is great, because we expect that our next few tracking club weekends and our next Cedar Creek survey will follow a similar format.

June 13 was the date for our Spring Survey at Cedar Creek. We plan to run an event similar to this one. Mark your calendars. We may even be able to get a couple of lead trackers back on the landscape at Cedar Creek as part of the ongoing wolf monitoring there. Stay tuned!