Did you know that there are currently fewer than 20 red wolves left in the wild? Native to the southeastern United States, the red wolf is one of the most endangered mammals on Earth. The last remaining red wolves in the wild roam the Albemarle Peninsula of northeastern North Carolina. Research on red wolves and their relationship with meso-(or mid-level) predators like foxes, skunks and snakes, as well as other wildlife populations is crucial for the wolves’ recovery.
Since early June, a colleague and I have been conducting research on bobwhite quail while also maintaining and installing wildlife trail cameras. Our work spanned across the Albemarle Peninsula including Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge and Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. As a quail hunter myself, doing research on these birds gave me a new appreciation for their conservation. The data we collected from surveying quail across this region was aimed at better understanding the importance of top carnivores such as red wolves for the survival of quail populations, underscoring the interdependence of different species within the ecosystem. In theory, having wolves around could help control populations of mesopredators such as raccoons and opossums. This, in turn, could reduce the amount of quail nests the mesopredators are able to consume.
As interns, a typical work day started early, usually between 6:00 and 7:00 am. Using equipment including a handheld GPS and audio-recorder, we conducted roadside transect surveys for bobwhite quail across both refuges and public roads in Tyrrell, Hyde, Washington and Beaufort counties. At each survey location, we determined the number of quail that were calling by pinpointing their general location in the area. We also tallied the frequency of quail calls that we heard.
As the morning passes, the frequency of quail calling generally decreases. We then shifted our work day to installing and checking trail cameras. We strategically installed and rotated these cameras in different locations across Alligator River and Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuges. These cameras were placed by wildlife trails, tree lines and agricultural fields in hopes of capturing photos of red wolves and various other wildlife species. In addition to roadside transects, we also conducted quail surveys at each of these camera locations. Once camera work was completed, we wrapped up our work day with data entry.
While working out in the field, we made sure to record all the species of wildlife we encountered along the way. Black bear (over 100 spotted in just one summer!), white-tailed deer, wild turkey and various turtle species were among the most common wildlife we recorded on a daily basis. Better yet, we were fortunate to have stumbled upon four red wolves while in the field during the first few weeks of the internship!
This internship provided me with valuable field experience that I can reflect on as I work throughout college and my future career. Despite the hot and muggy summer weather, this internship was an enjoyable experience where we got to work away from campus and our homes. Few college students are able to work out in the wild every day for a summer as we did, while also seeing all of the different wildlife species we encountered.
The data that we collected this summer can provide scientists with useful information on potentially establishing a connection between red wolves, mesopredators and bobwhite quail populations. Researching not only red wolves, but other species that are present in their food web, is important for the wolves’ survival.
Aubrey Lanier is one of Wildlands Network field interns working this summer around the Albemarle Peninsula near Columbia, North Carolina. Aubrey is a student at North Carolina State University majoring in Forest Management. Aubrey is focused on bobwhite quail research and their relationship with red wolf survival.