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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.