Fall 2021 Cedar Creek Story of the Day

After a nearly two-year hiatus, the Cedar Creek Wildlife Survey is up-and-running once again. On October 16, twenty-two trackers spread out across the sand roads of the reserve to look for track and sign, and get insights into how wildlife is using the land. You can see all of our iNaturalist observations here. This is our story of the day.

Our group divided into three team, with one heading up to the North Unit, and two others exploring Old East Bethel Road and the bison enclosure. One question we all carried was whether there was still a wolf active on the property. Last winter, Cedar Creek researchers received photographs and videos from nearby residents of both wolf tracks and a wolf. Small groups of team leads were able to get out and confirm wolf tracks in the North Unit and around Cedar Bog Lake. In July, a trail camera on the property got photos of another wolf, different from the ones photographed by neighbors the previous winter. Is there now a different wolf living on the property? Are there two?

Up in the North Unit, our team found coyote tracks out in the open on the main road. In the past, we have usually only seen coyote activity along this road when we have not seen fresh Wolf sign in the area. Interestingly, the team found these Coyote tracks intermixed with Red Fox tracks. We have often found Red Fox tracks and Coyote tracks close together along Old East Bethel, but in the North Unit, we have typically found one or the other, not both. The foxes seemed to avoid the main road when the Coyotes were using it freely.

Down on Old East Bethel, two teams explored the road from opposite directions, moving toward the bison enclosure. The bison had recently left, giving us an opportunity to examine fresh sign and giving us access to their wallows—which make wonderful track-traps. The teams identified the tracks of a number “usual suspects” including common mammals and birds such as Sandhill Crane, Blue Jay, Eastern Cottontail, Eastern Gray Squirrel, Raccoon, Red Fox, and Coyote. They also identified the tracks of an American Woodcock, and recorded confirmed tracks of both a cricket and a couple species of snakes. We often find snake trails at Cedar Creek, but except for those left by the large bullsnakes, we can usually only guess the species that left them. On this day, both East Bethel teams got to see snakes making trails, and study some of the details of their movement. The group coming in from the north end of East Bethel spotted this tiny Red-Bellied Snake, while the group coming in from the south caught up with this lovely and well-mannered Bullsnake.

Perhaps the most interesting find of the day came from inside the bison enclosure, just off Old East Bethel. Our team there found the trail of a canid that so far, defies identification. The tracks resembled those of a wolf, but are smaller than any gray wolf tracks reported in the tracking literature. They were larger and more robust than coyote tracks. The animals movement and behavior was consistent with a wild canid, rather than a domestic dog. In addition, the animal’s stride length consistently measured over 60” in a side-trot. This is a typical measurement for a wolf and outside the published range for coyotes.

Currently, these tracks are a mystery. They appear to be mid-way between those of a coyote and wolf. They are quite similar to the tracks of the critically endangered Red Wolf (Canis rufus) of the Southeastern US. We are entertaining ideas, and looking forward to gathering more clues. Might these be the tracks of an unusually wolf-like domestic dog enjoying some time away from its people? Could these be the tracks of a coyote/wolf or domestic dog/wolf cross? We may never get an answer, but we do look forward to our next opportunity to get out tracking at Cedar Creek.

Stay tuned for our 2022 schedule. We hope you can join us.

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