Wild Suburbia has grown!

Wild Suburbia has been very successful over the last 2 years.  We are nearing 500+ observations and are working on analyzing the observations that everyone has sent us from our beginning in 2012 to August 2014.  From there, we plan to make WS a permanent long-term monitoring program, where we can examine the long term patterns of how these species are expanding or declining in the region.

I want to thank everyone once again that has helped us continue this project and collect good data.  

More recently is expanding the area we are looking at to NYC and Long Island.  The Mianus Gorge has studied the ecology of coyotes and other species that live in NYC Parks since 2010.  Coyotes in particular seem to be expanding their range and we expect them to cross into Queens and eventually Nassau and Suffolk Counties.  You can learn more about this project at our other website, at The Gotham Coyote Project.

This is an exciting event, but it is impossible for us to monitor this huge area ourselves.  The Wild Suburbia model is an excellent way for us to enlist and interact with the community, and hopefully find those first few founders that make it across the East River/Long Island Sound and manage to find a home on Long Island.

Thus Wild Suburbia is now hosting 2 surveys:
  1. Our original survey focusing on bobcat, coyote, fox, bear, and fisher in Westchester, Fairfield, and other "upstate" areas, and,
  2. A new "Long Island" survey that focuses on sightings of coyotes, red fox, and (a new one) gray fox sightings in New York City and Long Island.
Now when you click on the survey link on the right sidebar, you'll be taken to a page that lets you pick which survey you want to do, based on the region in which you live or where you saw the animal.

Lastly, many of you have been employing trail cameras, aka camera traps, to see what critters live near your property.  Most of the pics on our picture page come from such cameras used by our participants.  In the coming months we are looking at ways to allow those who have trail cameras on their property to submit their pictures and the associated info (model of camera, dates of deployment, how long did you have the camera out, etc.).  These types of techniques are a more reliable method for getting the type of data we are looking for, and are a tremendously fun way to learn about local wildlife.

If you are interested in getting a trail cam of your own, there are many brands and most will get good pictures (Reconyx and Moultrie are the most popular brands).  The quality/price difference comes from the level of weatherproofing and overall toughness of the unit and the shutter speed.  To catch fast moving animals that could run past the camera very quickly, you need a very fast shutter, and for hard research purposes we recommend Reconyx brand.  But many other cameras exist for less expensive price tags, and with a bit of homework you can find a reliable camera for a decent price. 

March Update

Happy (incoming) Spring to Wild Suburbia Project participants! It’s been a loooooong, hard winter both for us and for wildlife. Snow tracking has been fantastic and we hope you have seen some interesting tracks in your backyard!

We wanted to update you on a few things this season. The first is that we are planning to add more information about each species’ natural history to the website. Keep checking our website for that information. The second is that we updated the Sightings Maps in February with many new sightings/no sightings reported over the winter. Thank you for your continued efforts!

We currently have about 350 participants and would love to exceed 500 by May. Please pass the word around about our project so that we can reach our goal. We have another Wild Suburbia workshop planned for the end of the month. On March 27th at 7pm, come to Teatown Lake Reservation located at 1600 Spring Valley Rd, Ossining to learn more about the Wild Suburbia Project, the animals, and how you can contribute to the project. Please RSVP to wildsuburbiaproject@gmail.com. Tell others about the opportunity, and bring your family and friends!


 
Denning Sites
Spring is approaching and many of the species we are studying will soon be raising young, if they haven’t already given birth. Fox, coyote, fisher, bear and bobcat all bear and raise young in dens or other cavities that were either naturally occurring or that they excavated. Dens are most simply defined as shelters used by wild animals for raising young and for protection from inclement weather (heat, cold, storms). Dens are diverse and may include burrows in the soil, tree cavities, rock crevices or dense brush piles.
The size of the den, habitat, bare soil or debris near the entrance, and scat, fur and food remnants can all help determine what animal is using the den. Below we have descriptions of dens that fox, coyote, fisher, bobcat and bear build or use.
If you come across an active den (one that has recently been or is still occupied by an animal), keep your distance! Fox, coyote, fisher, bear and bobcat, and other species that use dens such as raccoon, skunk and otter are wild animals that can become aggressive if they or their young become threatened. In addition, disturbing a den could result in young being moved by the parents to a new area. Be smart, keep your distance and respect your furry neighbor!
 
RED FOX
Red fox dens are in the ground. They are often on a slope or stream bank located in a forest fairly close to a field or other open area near water. The den can be as long as 25 feet. Fox will frequently use existing burrows made by other animals such as woodchucks. There are often two or more entrances to the den. The main entrance has a conspicuous mound of dirt where signs of feeding and scat can accumulate. Food caches may be buried near the entrance. Fox commonly bed near the entrance so hairs and tracks should be evident.
Red fox build or reoccupy dens shortly after mating, which takes place from mid January to late February. They give birth from March to May. If the den is disturbed or threatened at any time, fox will move their pups to a new den.
Red fox dens are primarily used for bearing and raising young. Very rarely will they seek shelter during inclement weather conditions.
 
 
 
COYOTE
 
Coyote dens are very similar to red fox dens, but are often larger. They may dig their own den, enlarge the den of a fox, or use a cave, log or culvert. They range in size from 5 to 30 feet long. Like fox, coyote often bed near the entrance. Dens are most commonly found in forests, often further from a field or opening than that of a fox.
 
Mating is from late January to February and young are born from March to May. Like fox, coyote will move their pups to a new den if disturbed or threatened.
 
Image from: Flickr
 

Image from: capelinks
FISHER
Fisher rarely construct their own dens. They will instead use hollow trees, logs, or holes under large boulders for raising young or as temporary resting sites. Maternity dens are most often in hollow trees or tree cavities. They will occasionally line the den with leaves for insulation. Throughout the year fisher will use a variety of temporary denning sites including woodchuck burrows and porcupine dens to escape winter storms or other inclement weather. Dens are mostly found in coniferous or mixed forests where there is a dense canopy.
Breeding is from late February to April and young are born from March to early April the following year (fisher have delayed implantation).
 
Image from: Deviantart
 
 
BLACK BEAR
 
Black bear dens are diverse. They can be under fallen trees, in excavated root systems, in hollow standing trees or logs on the ground, caves, rocky crevices, brush piles, culverts, under decks or porches. It is believed that bears gain experience with age and choose better den sites with successive years.
 
Breeding is from early June to late July, and most dens are built or sought out in the fall. Young are born from late December to February while the mother is denned up for the winter.
 
 
 
 
BOBCAT
 

Bobcat dens are also diverse. They use rock crevices, hollow logs, brush piles or build dens under fallen trees. The denning area is usually lined with leaf litter or other dry vegetation. They are most likely to be found in forested areas with rock ledges.
 
Breeding is from late February to March, and young are born late April to mid May.
 
 
Image from: Super Stock
 
 

Snow Tracking


Happy New Year to Wild Suburbia Participants!

We hope you have been enjoying the frigid winter temperatures and the beautiful snow we have gotten this season by getting outside! Fresh snow on the ground is a great excuse to snowshoe, sled, ski or to follow animal tracks in your backyard. We have posted some photos of animal tracks here, but first wanted to inform you about upcoming events in Wild Suburbia.   
We have two informational workshops coming up this month. Feel free to come ask us questions, learn more about the project, the animals, and don’t forget to bring your friends!
  • January 11th @ 10am-12pm located at the Armstrong Education Center, Pound Ridge Land Conservancy (located at 1361 Old Post Rd, Pound Ridge, NY)
  • January 12th @ 7-9pm located at the Pound Ridge Library (located at 271 Westchester Ave, Pound Ridge, NY)
Wild Suburbia will also have a booth set up at Teatown’s Hudson River Eaglefest which takes place on February 8th (snow date is the 9th). If you plan on coming, make sure to stop by our booth to get more information!

The maps were again updated mid-December with a few new sightings and no sightings reported. Remember that your reports of no sightings in your backyard are just as important as reporting a sighting. By reporting that you have not seen an animal on your property tells us something about its distribution as well. Sighting or no sighting, all the information is valuable for analysis of the data.

We wanted to again thank you for your continued reports. Keep up the good work and please tell your friends about the project!

 
Snow Tracking in your Backyard
You can learn a lot about animal behavior, habits and ecology just by following animal tracks in the snow! For example, you may learn about preferred habitat, food preference, or how quickly it travels through certain areas. Below are some pictures of snow tracks of our 5 target species (coyote, bear, bobcat, fox, fisher).

Identifying an animal by its tracks is tricky and they can often be mistaken for something else. For this reason, please DO NOT REPORT A SIGHTING BASED ON TRACK IDENTIFICATION. Only submit a sighting if you have visual confirmation of the animal.

General notes on tracks: Bobcat, coyote and red fox have four toes that register (leave prints) in the snow (the fifth is reduced on their inner legs, like that of your house cat or dog). All five toes of the black bear and fisher may register in the snow.

General notes on gaits: Animals will use different gaits, or patterns of movement, depending on their body structure, whether they are hunting, moving quickly through an area, exploring, etc. Walks, trots, lopes, gallops, hops and bounds are all methods of describing how an animal moves. Many of the photos we provide here show walks (slow), trots (faster) or lopes (fast). Direct register walks, trots or lopes describe a movement where the rear foot lands exactly where the front foot had been. We also provide some pictures of overstep walks in which the rear foot lands beyond where the front had been. Direct register is more commonly used than overstep in deep snow.   

To learn more about identifying animal tracks, we recommend looking into Mammal Tracks & Sign: A Guide to North American Species by Mark Elbroch, and Peterson Field Guides to Animal Tracks by Olaus Murie.

Coyote tracks

Coyote tracks are similar to dog and fox tracks. Looking at behavior and a few key features of tracks and trails can help to differentiate the species.

Coyote tracks range in size (a), but are typically larger than fox. Dog tracks can be the same size, smaller or larger than your average coyote track, depending on the breed of dog. Dog tracks are usually splayed with thick, blunt claws and toes pointing in four different directions. Alternatively, the toes of coyote feet are close together, revealing a tighter track than dogs. Four claws can register in a coyote track, but often only the front two will be evident (b) and point towards each other. Claws are also sharp and pointed on a coyote.

Coyotes are social animals so it is common to find more than one coyote trail in the snow though a single animal may be found occasionally. Coyote and fox trails tend to be narrower and straighter (c) than dogs as they conserve energy by not wandering aimlessly like many dogs will.

 
(a) Sketch of coyote track and dimensions. Photo from Beartracker's Animal Track Guide
 
 
(b) Single coyote track in snow. Photo from Alice Van Zoeren & Sandhill Nature Education.
 

 
 
(c) Direct register trot of a coyote. Note narrow trail and straight movement. Photo from Roger Lupton on Flickr.
 
Red fox tracks
Red fox tracks are similar to coyote and dog tracks (see coyote track description). The front foot is slightly larger than the rear (a). In the winter, the fur on the foot surface of a red fox can be thick, which blurs the tracks considerably. In (b), the tracks are fairly distinct with the claws on the front toes registering in the snow.
Their natural rhythm of movement is a trot. Depicted in (a) is a direct register trot. In (c), the red fox is using an overstep walk.
Fox can hear their prey moving below the snow surface. It’s not uncommon to come across tracks such as (d) in which the fox pounced on prey. In this instance, the fox pounced twice, possibly missing its target the first time.
Interesting fact: Red fox urine smells like skunk spray. Gray fox urine smells like old cheese. These hints can be helpful when trying to identify tracks you are following.
 
(a) Drawing of fox prints and direct register trot pattern. Photo from Toronto and Region Conservation.



(b) Red fox tracks in snow. Photo from Walnut Hill Tracking & Nature Center.



(c) Overstep walk of a red fox. Photo from Kawing Crow Tracking.



(d) Tracks left by a red fox hunting for prey in the snow. It pursued prey under the snow in two instances in this photo. Photo from Wildwood Tracking.



Bobcat tracks
Unlike coyote and fox, the claws of a bobcat rarely register in the snow except on slippery surfaces or when climbing. The four toes that register are more upfront (a) than that of fox and coyote where the two toes on the sides are more behind the front two. Because of the amount of fur on bobcat feet, snow displacement from a track (b) can be 3 inches in width and length.

Bobcats also use the direct register walk in deep snow (c). If you follow bobcat tracks you may come across a spot where the animal sat down on its haunches leaving a similar print to that depicted in (d). This is often done when the bobcat is hunting and has a good view of an area.


(a) Drawing of bobcat tracks. Note that claws rarely register in tracks. Photo from Beartracker's Animal Track Guide.



(b) Bobcat track in 5 inch deep snow. Note the amount of snow displaced along the edge of the tracks due to thick fur on the feet and legs. Photo taken at Teatown Lake Reservation.



(c) Bobcat direct register walk in deep snow. Photo taken at Teatown Lake Reservation.



(d) Bobcat sat down in the snow. Photo from Alderleaf Wilderness College.



Fisher tracks
Fisher tracks can be confused with other members of the weasel family including otter and mink. In this family the rear feet land and push off simultaneously or nearly so. The direct register loping pattern shown in (a) and (d) is typical for fisher moving quickly through an area with deep snow; the rear feet land where the front feet were and are not quite parallel to each other. Numerous other patterns exist depending on the speed at which the animal is travelling, the depth of the snow, and its purpose in an area.

All five toes and claws can register in snow tracks for fisher (b and c). The thick fur on the bottom of the feet can distort tracks to an extent.


(a) Sketch of fisher tracks, trail and scat with dimensions. Photo from Cape Cod Wildlife Calling Guide Service.



(b) Rear tracks landing almost directly in the tracks of the front feet. Photo from Duluth News Tribune.



(c) Fisher track in deep snow. Photo taken at Teatown Lake Reservation.



(d) Direct register lope of a fisher moving quickly through deep snow. Photo from Teatown Lake Reservation.



Black bear tracks
The palms and toes of black bear feet regularly register in the snow, but the heels may not always register. In (a), the rear foot is showing the heel while the front is not. Claws on the front feet are longer than the rear feet, but claw length varies from bear to bear and may not always register in the snow. Bears use the overstep walk in shallow (b) and direct register in deep (c) snow.


(a) Sketch of black bear tracks. Size of foot will vary depending on whether heel registers in the snow. Photo from Beartracker's Animal Track Guide.



(b) Black bear overstep walk in shallow snow. Photo from North American Bear Center.



(c) Black bear direct register walk in deep snow. Photo from North American Bear Center.

Wild Suburbia Update - 11/1/2013

Dear WS Participants,

Hello from the Wild Suburbia Project! We hope you are all enjoying the change of seasons.

We wanted to send out a much-belated update to our research partners, first, to thank you for being part of the project and second, give a few updates on what has been going on.

First off, we are very happy with the number of sightings you have given us.  We're up to 300+ but would ideally like to hit 1,000 by the time we pull it all together and start analyzing (although 500 would be fine).  So please recruit your friends!

We have updated our website quite a bit if you have not already seen it.

  • Our sightings maps are updated as of mid-October.  Included are only the residential sightings, for now.
  • New page: Living with Wildlife - Here you can get some info and hopefully some food for thought about living near wildlife
  • Pictures - Many of you have submitted pictures along with your surveys.  This page displays some of your pictures.  If you have a picture to send or any other questions or comments, please write us at wildsuburbiaproject@gmail.com 

We have scheduled another training/informational workshop at Bedford Audubon on Nov 13 at 7pm.  Feel free to come and ask us questions or bring interested friends to learn about the project.

We hope to continue collecting observations through the Spring of 2014, and will begin analyzing your data soon thereafter.  We will continue to update the online maps (semi-)monthly as new observations come in.  Please continue as always to keep us updated of any sightings you have on our online survey.

In other but related news, please check out our other urban wildlife research study, the Gotham Coyote Project, which incidentally will be featured on PBS Nature January 22 in our area.

Thank you to all of our participants and to the various nature centers and conservation organizations that have helped us spread the word and encourage participation from their members and supporters.  It has been a real team effort.



The Project

 Bobcats, coyotes, fishers, foxes, and black bears live here in Westchester and Fairfield Counties.  However, not much is known about where they live and how many there are.
The Mianus River Gorge, Teatown and Westmoreland Sanctuary have joined forces in the Wild Suburbia Project to study five species over the next two years in our area, but we need your help!  Local residents are an important source of information about local wildlife and nature.  Our scientists would like to enlist your participation to provide information about where and when you have seen these animals.

What Do Project Participants Do?
Citizen scientists record sightings of any bobcats, coyotes, fishers, foxes and/or black bears they observe during our two-year study period.  Participants post the time, date, location, markings and anything unusual that they observe on our project website by clicking on the Survey tab above. More information on the project and the animals we are studying can be found below and in the tabs above.

>>>>> Our online survey is up and running here <<<<<

 

Quick Guide to Animal Identification
Bobcats are large, grey and black cats with short tails.  They can be discriminated from house cats due to their larger size, short tail with a black tip, and distinctive "mutton chops" or a "ruff" on their cheeks.  In our area, bobcats can also have some spots on their legs and haunches but rarely not all over their bodies.

Bobcats are very shy and not dangerous to people



Coyotes are usually as large as a medium-sized dog (up to ~2' tall at the shoulders).  They can appear quite large in the winter when they have more fur and may look quite skinny in the spring and summer.  They can be differentiated from similar-looking dogs by their straight, bushy tails; mixed grey, brown, and black coloring; and long thin snouts.  Coyotes are generally not dangerous but have been know to attack unsupervised pets and, in rare cases, threaten people if they have become habituated to human presence or are rabid.

Do not feed coyotes or leave food out intended for other animals!

Fishers are medium-sized members of the weasel family.  They are 30-47" long and can weigh from 4 to 13 pounds.  They are agile climbers but spend most of their time on the forest floor.  They are omnivorous and feed on a wide variety of small animals, but at times will include some fruits and mushrooms in their diet.


Red fox are smaller (14-20" tall at the shoulders) than coyotes and most dogs.  They have proportionally shorter legs than the larger dog species.  Their coats tend to be orange-red to orange.  They have black "boots" on their feet and usually a white tip on the tail.  They eat small prey such as mice and chipmunks and generally are not dangerous to people.

Red fox are much smaller than coyotes with a white tip on the tail


Black bears are very rare in our area but are seen occasionally.  They are very large (males just before hibernating can be 600lbs.) and completely black with varying amounts of brown around the muzzle.  You may confuse a bear with a large black dog if seen from a distance, but generally they are unmistakeable.


Never feed bears or leave food, garbage, or other potential food sources outside!


About the Survey Team
Westmoreland Sanctuary,  Mianus River Gorge and Teatown are excited to join forces on this exciting citizen science study.

The Mianus River Gorge, located in Bedford, NY works to protect and promote appreciation of the natural heritage of the Mianus River watershed through land acquisition, conservation science, research, and education throughout the region.

Westmoreland Sanctuary is a non-profit nature center and 640-acre wildlife preserve located in the Towns of Bedford and North Castle, NY.  Established in 1957, the Sanctuary works to promote nature appreciation, preservation, and conservation for the present and future benefit and enjoyment of the public.