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Cedar Creek Spring 2018 Survey

posted May 3, 2018, 2:31 PM by Minnesota Ki Society   [ updated May 3, 2018, 2:39 PM ]
blue-spotted salamander
Saturday, April 28, was the Spring Cedar Creek Wildlife Survey. It was also the weekend of the iNaturalist City Nature Challenge--a friendly competition between 60 cities around the world do document biodiversity near urban centers. Our crew of 21 trackers conducted our regular surveys, while also logging a few dozen observations for the City Nature Challenge.

The day started off with a treat for trackers and iNaturalist buff alike. A blue-spotted salamander graced our group with its presence, crawling somewhat inexplicably across the sunny parking lot, and leaving a clear tail drag. After studying its tracks, taking a few photos, and relocating the poor amphibian to a damper and more shaded location, our teams headed out into the field.

bobcat scat
We divided into three teams for the survey, with one team staying close to Lindeman Lab, a second team heading over to the public trails around Fish Lake, and a third team venturing up to the North Unit.

The team near Lindeman Lab turned up many of the "usual suspects," documenting mourning dove, tree squirrel and red fox, along with what appeared to be more salamander tracks. But later in the day, the team also found a bobcat scat. The scat was segmented and had a grey color, characteristic of bobcat. It was also placed on top of the leaf litter, and not buried as would be normal for domestic cat feces. Bobcat have been recorded in Cedar Creek, but sightings are rare. There has been only a single trail-cam photo of a bobcat since the camera network was put in place last fall, and we have never recorded bobcat tracks or sign on a survey before. We hope this animal will also show up on a trail-cam and we can learn a bit more about it.

northern pocket gopher incisors
Our team over near Fish Lake also encountered a familiar scene. Pocket gopher mounds abound, with tracks of red fox and coyote often found nearby. In case the link between these animals wasn't completely clear, the group found a fox scat that contained incisors from a northern pocket gopher. Pocket gophers have distinctive groves on the front of their incisors that makes it possible to identify them to species. We have always suspected that the resident pocket gophers at Cedar Creek were northern pocket gophers--and the double-grooved incisors found in the fox scat confirmed that.

Both teams in the southern half of the property found abundant sign from mesopredators, but no signs of our apex predators. We suspected we would find indicators of our resident wolf, and perhaps our local black bears, in the North Unit and we were not disappointed. The first indications that we still had a resident wolf came just a few meters inside of Gate 7. Deer tracks crossed the road, but did not appear to travel along it in the open. Meanwhile, a large red fox trotted confidently down the center of the road, fully exposed in exactly the way foxes seem unlikely to do when coyotes are the top dog. It wasn't much farther down the road before the team found its first wolf sign--a set of old tracks on top of a gopher mound, and an aged scat in the middle of the road. The scat was densely packed deer hair and contained a white-tailed deer dewclaw and fragments of a leg bone. Near by, the team also found the first of several sets of black bear tracks. Over the course of an hour or so, the team was able to piece together some of the wolves movement patters. The animal appears to have a fairly regular route through one of the fields, coming out of the woods, crossing the field, and heading back into the woods in specific areas--with scat marking some of the habitual road crossings. This animal appears to be well settled in to a routine.

black bear, overstep walk
When the team ventured into the woods, they found additional bear and wolf tracks, including a long, beautiful string of back bear tracks in mud. From the size, the tracks appeared to be those of a male. His trail measured about 10" wide and his full stride measured 43". As he walked, he was picking up a thin layer of mud on his feet, leaving behind the negative imprint of his feet. His pigeon-toed overstep walking gait was clear in the tracks. Interestingly, claw marks were not pronounced in most of the tracks.

At the end of the day, our team documented the sign of over a dozen species of mammals, including our first bobcat sighting. As we look ahead to our summer and fall surveys, we are giving thought to how we can gather more information about the small mammals of Cedar Creek. While we have identified a few small mammals to species from pieces of skulls fond in owl pellets and fox scat, we would like to improve our detection. We are planning to start setting up tracking plates to record the prints of small mammals to supplement our "wild caught" tracks.

Our Summer Survey will be on Sunday, July 15. Mark your calendars. We hope you can join us as we continue to explore the wildlife of the Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve.