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Cedar Creek Winter 2018 Survey

posted Mar 13, 2018, 3:08 PM by Minnesota Ki Society   [ updated Mar 29, 2018, 10:18 AM by Jonathan Poppele ]
Our Winter Survey on February 10, 2018, was our largest tracking event yet at Cedar Creek. In total, 28 naturalists and trackers fanned out across the reserve and brought back a wealth of information about the wildlife of Cedar Creek. Our group included six members of the University of Minnesota's Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology student club; a few Cedar Creek staff members; and a nature connection mentor visiting from Bangalore, India. About half of the team were participating in the Cedar Creek Wildlife Survey for the first time.

It was a beautiful winter day to be in the field. Temperatures were just below zero when we gathered, and warmed up to the low teens by mid day under sunny skies. The bright sun and light breeze—which was almost completely blocked when we were in the trees—made the day feel comfortably warm despite the low temperatures. Tracking conditions were excellent, with good snow cover and a fresh dusting a couple days before the survey.

We divided into four groups for the day. One group traveled to the south shore of Fish Lake, a second group walked up the Cedar Bog Lake Trail, and the final two groups headed up to Gate 7 to survey the roads of the North Unit.

Around Fish Lake, our “southeastern” team spent some time examining the diversity of small mammal tracks. Cedar Creek has four species of tree-dwelling squirrels, and we found tracks covering the size ranges of all four. The smallest of these track belong to southern flying squirrel, pictured right, while the largest belong to eastern fox squirrel. American red squirrels and eastern gray squirrels fill out the quartet. The group also found a number of weasel trails, including one that was mixed in with the back-and-forth tracks of the mouse it was likely hunting.

Up at Cedar Bog Lake, our team found the tracks of one of our larger mustelids. Fisher appear to be quite common at Cedar Creek now, showing up on most of our surveys. The team also found the tracks of a single gray wolf. We have been finding the tracks of a single wolf on each of our surveys (as well as during some between-survey tracking outings) since last summer. Here, the animal left clear trails, and some urine marks, across the fresh snow on Cedar Bog Lake.

Up on the North Unit, our teams found strings prominent deer trails just inside Gate 7. Before last summer, when there were at least two wolves traveling together in the northern half of Cedar Creek, deer tended to stay closer to cover in the North Unit—but here they were traveling down the road in the open. Our groups there questioned whether they would see any wolf sign, given the deer behavior they were observing. But as they approached the edge of the forest, the deer cut off the road to follow higher ground and avoid a low-lying area with limited visibility.

Once in the woods the groups got some glimpses of bird language and wildlife behavior that pointed to something moving on the landscape. Near trail junction 69, some of the naturalists noted a raven begin circling near by, calling. At about the same time, another group farther up the trail watched three deer bolt across the road in front of them. As the group pondered what had spooked the deer and disturbed the raven, the turned south at junction 69 and discovered fresh wolf tracks—perhaps only minutes old. The wolf had approached junction 69 from the south, then slowed before doubling back on itself. It moved away from the junction, then turned off the road and followed a deer trail. Later, the group discovered that the wolf had circled around the place they had been standing while listening to the raven's calls, emerging back onto the road again out of sight of the group. Given how fresh the trail was, it seems likely that the wolf heard the group approaching and made a detour to avoid being seen. Were the deer spooked by the approaching wolf? Had the raven reacted to the deer being spooked, or to the wolf changing course? Or was the raven “telling” the wolf where our group was on the landscape? We may never know.

Thanks again to everyone who came out for our Winter Survey. As always, your curiosity and insight is what makes our time on the landscape so rich.

Our Spring Survey is coming up on Saturday, April 28. I hope you can all join us for another day in the field learning about the wildlife of Cedar Creek.