Winter is in full-swing, January brought us deep snows and lots of photos from the Wolverine Tracking Project, and looking ahead, February is shaping up to be a busy month with March not far behind!
See below for news on our camera and tracking surveys. But first, check out some of the classes and events on the calendar.
Upcoming classes & events
As always, Tracking Club meets the last Sunday of every month.
Nature Book Club meets Feb 25 to discuss Reading the Forested Landscape by Tom Wessels.
More info on Clubs
A big thank you to our volunteers who have been braving the elements to maintain our camera sites! All the fresh snows on Mt Hood have given our camera crews a lot of opportunity for snowshoeing, digging cameras out of the snow, and bringing back some great photos! We've captured a few winter photos like this (below):
A snow-covered camera takes a programmed, daily photo
However, thanks to our volunteers braving the elements, we have also detected a lot of wildlife. When the heavy snows weren't burying our cameras, which were originally installed about five and a half feet up a tree, they were making some cameras appear to be at ground level. The result? These wonderful close-ups:
A Pacific marten inspects a camera, leaving behind footprints in the freshly fallen snow
It is always exciting to see a Pacific marten, especially so intimately. We love that we can also see such clear tracks as it departs, too. Note the elongated foot pad of its back feet, circled by five toes. This print is characteristic of mustelids, the family which Pacific marten, wolverine, fisher, mink, weasel, and so on belong.
A little about marten...
Snow-level cameras also detected some other animals, which make up our marten's carnivorous diet:
A deer mouse leaves a trail (left/top) and a snowshoe hare comes for a visit (right/bottom).
The fresh tracks of the deer mouse show it's hopping gait - though much smaller, it is very similar to the trail a snowshoe hare would leave: small front feet landing first and the larger, more powerful hind feet landing second just ahead of the front feet.
We also detected an up-close and candid portrait of another target species: the Sierra Nevada red fox!
A Sierra Nevada red fox makes its way through deep snow
Again, you can see the tracks of this montane fox in the snow. With a meandering trail like this and nose to the ground, it's not hard to assume this fox is hunting. Rodents often burrow into the snow, using the insulating layer as protection from predators and the cold.
Foxes at three different sites inspect the bait trees (top row and bottom left). A video shows multiple visits of what appears to the be the same fox to one site over a period of three weeks (bottom right).
These many visits from these rare, native foxes help us understand their habitat use. We have also collected a few viable hair samples from some of these sites. Like scat samples, hair samples may help give us important genetic information to help us understand their population history, genetic diversity, and habitat connectivity. Hair samples are collected on wire brushes, which are attached to the black belt on the tree just under the bait.
Our region is home to three kinds of montane fox, the Sierra Nevada red fox (Vulpes vulpes necator) in the Oregon Cascades and Sierras, the Cascade red fox (V.v. cascadensis) found in the Cascades north of the Columbia River, and the Rocky Mountain red fox (V.v. macroura) who are native to northeast Oregon. And, just this week, it was announced that there is a population of Rocky Mountain red fox living near Bend, and likely has been in this area for some time! Just like the Sierra Nevada red fox in our backyard, the montane fox can be elusive and difficult to study, even when they are right under our nose.
Other recent visitors include the ever-present coyote.
Left to right (mobile: top to bottom): a coyote fixates on a tree; two coyotes look on while a third rolls in fresh snow; a coyote with a white-tipped tail pauses, then leaps over a log to smell a stump; and finally, a coyote stands chest-deep in the snow, likely listening for rodents. Though the final coyote's retreat was not captured, its tracks show it departed the way it came, taking the time to circle (and likely mark) the stump behind it (final photo).
We've also detected a few bobcat:
Left to right (mobile: top to bottom): a bobcat walks past a bait tree; bobcat walks down a game trail; bobcat inspects a bait tree; bobcat leaves tracks in fresh snow; bobcat smells the base of a bait tree; and a bobcat passes through a site with what looks like a freshly caught hare
The bobcat on the right (or bottom), is difficult to make out. However, this lucky visitor is sporting a freshly caught hare! Bobcats (Lynx rufus) are well-adapted for snowy mountains, and, like foxes, marten, and coyotes, snowshoe hare are a favorite snack. Bobcats often hunt at night, and like the marten, don't let their small size fool you! They can cover 10 feet of ground in one pounce.
We are more likely to see bobcats on the mountain in the winter than their felid cousin, mountain lion. Mountain lions (Puma concolor) are less adapted to snowy environments than bobcat and are more often detected at lower elevations than where most of our cameras are located.
Another visitor we don't expect to see in the winter? Black bear. However, our cameras did pick up a bear between snows, a bit later than we would expect to see one.
A black bear walks down a game trail between winter snows
Bears do not hibernate in the same way as most other animals, like some rodents and reptiles, who lower their body temperature along with their metabolism and sleep throughout the whole winter. Instead, they enter a state called torpor where their metabolism slows down, but their body temperature remains elevated and they are able to wake more easily. They can wake from this sleep-state during winter if the weather warms or they are disturbed, and they may even leave their dens, eating opportunistically if they come across food, but do not tend to venture out for long. Other animals that enter a similar torpor state are raccoons and skunks - plenty of reasons why it is always good to be aware of your surroundings in the forest! Whether this particular bear is taking a mid-torpor stroll or has yet to enter this state for the winter is hard to say.
One animal, we are not surprised (but always happy) to see is the black-tailed deer.
Left to right (mobile: top to bottom): A doe in the snow; a buck in the snow; three deer in the snow; a buck on a game trail
Did you know Oregon is home to four native subspecies of deer? Mt Hood National Forest is home to the Columbian black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus columbianus), a subspecies of mule deer. These deer are found from the coastal ranges to the Cascades, and their range runs from California to northern British Columbia (a sister subspecies, Sitka black-tailed deer, is found in Alaska). Rocky Mountain mule deer (O.h. hemionus), another mule deer subspecies, are also native to Oregon, and they are found on the east side of the Cascades summits, most commonly on the east side of our state - fittingly, their range also includes both the American and Canadian Rockies. Black-tailed deer are a little smaller and darker than mule deer, but both have large, mule-like ears. While mule deer seem to prefer open steppe, black-tailed deer tend to prefer brushy areas of coniferous and mixed-coniferous forests, sticking close to clear cuts and burns for browsing opportunities.
Oregon is also home to two subspecies of white-tailed deer: the Columbian white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus leucurus) and the Northwest (Idaho) white-tailed deer (O.v. ochrourus). The Columbian white-tailed deer is the most rare deer in Oregon. They only live along the lower Columbia River and Umpqua Basin, and the Columbia River population is a federally protected endangered species. The Northwest white-tailed deer is found in the northeastern corner of our state and has a healthy population. As a species, white-tailed deer grow increasingly more abundant as you move toward the east coast. They can be found from Canada to South America and prefer mixed-deciduous forest types.
In our area, you are most likely to see Columbian black-tailed deer - or if you are lucky, the rare Columbian white-tailed deer. Columbian white-tails have long tails they keep held closely to their bodies, and black-tails have shorter tails held loosely to their bodies. If you head a bit further east, you may see the Northwest white-tails; these are the smallest deer of all and have very wide tails. The antlers of each species are different, too. If the antlers are fully developed, white-tailed deer have one main beam on each antler, with points coming of the main beam; black-tailed deer (and mule deer) will typically have a fork coming off the main beam, with points coming off each branch. Check out ODFW's site to read more about our native deer or watch a video on Columbian black- and white-tailed deer identification.
Almost as copious as deer and as perennial as coyote, are our forest corvids.
Left to right (mobile: top to bottom): Clark's nutcracker; Canada jay; and a video compilation of the two species visiting the same tree over two weeks - almost every 1-2 frames is a new visit.
Plentiful snows, hearty trackers, and some luck have resulted in some great tracking surveys!
One tracking team encountered three separate bobcat trails:
Detail of bobcat tracks; another bobcat's trail
The track quality on these tracks is great, even with a dusting of snow falling after they were laid. These photos show nice clarity of both the individual tracks and the trail pattern, and you can easily see the characteristic felid shape in these tracks. Compared to canid tracks, the whole of the print is quite circular and the thick, oblong pad is surrounded by four evenly spaced "toe beans." When distinguishing between dog and cat tracks, it's better to pay attention to these characteristics, rather than the presence or lack of claws: while felid claws are retractable (and canids are not), a bobcat or mountain lion can extend its claws for traction - something you may see on, say, a snowy/muddy/icy mountainside.
Distinguishing bobcat from mountain lion is easy, at least for the adults of the two species: go by size! Under 2.25" diameter is likely bobcat; greater than 2.75" is likely mountain lion.
The two tracks we are seeing the most of are snowshoe hare...
Left to right (mobile: top to bottom): the meandering path of a snowshoe hare; older tracks show the commonly seen track pattern of undefined, large hind feet ahead of the small front feet; a tracking team examines a snowshoe hare trail along a log; detail of exceptionally clear hare tracks.
Similar to the snowshoe hare, the older squirrel tracks show the commonly seen track pattern of undefined, large hind feet ahead of the small front feet; detail of clear squirrel tracks.
The abundance of hare and squirrel is great news for the bobcat, whose tracks were found above, and the rest of our forest carnivores. The photos above show how similar these two animal's tracks are, both animals having bodies well-suited for bounding along, close to the ground. They can be difficult to discern from one another, but hare will be larger than a squirrel, and hare's tracks often have less definition due to the impressive amount of fur covering their pads and toes. Squirrel tracks are also more uniform and boxy - note how well the feet line up on the bottom set of squirrel photos, compared to the more staggered landing of the hare's front feet.
In our forest, we have two kinds of non-hibernating squirrels: the Northern flying squirrel and the Douglas squirrel. However, it is difficult to tell their tracks apart. One way to tell? If you can follow the trail to the start, there will be a "landing strip" where the flying squirrel hit the ground. If you have clear enough tracks, you may be able to tell that the 5th toe on the hind foot (the "pinky toe") is almost as long as any other toe - that's a flying squirrel, too. Read more squirrel track analysis by David Moskowitz.
Whether in town or on the mountain, we hope to see you soon!
Happy Winter, Happy Holidays, and Happy (almost) New Year!!
Since our last post, we have transitioned from Fall to Winter, and we have been busy!
Earlier this month, we held our first ever fundraiser, Mystery Tracks, and it was a great success in many ways. Not only did we surpass our fundraising goal, but we had so much fun doing so! We also learned that, regardless of current skillset, there is a tracker in every one of us. Excellent work to all who came out to sleuth some tracks and make this a night for the books! And thank you to Jean’s Farm for hosting, Ecliptic Brewing for the keg, and Steve Engel for the masterful plaster track casts.
We would also like to thank everyone who has donated or become a member this month!
If you're considering making a tax-deductible donation on behalf of yourself or a loved one,
there's still time to donate and help us start off strong in 2020.
As a community-based, volunteer-run organization, each dollar makes a difference, and we could not do this work without you!
We are Cascadia Wild!
Now that we are officially in Winter, the Wolverine Tracking Project winter surveys are in full swing! We are getting a lot of footage back from our camera surveys, and a handful of tracking surveys have also been completed. There’s a lot more ground and many months still to cover, but we are off to a great start and have a great group of volunteers helping out this season. Thank you to everyone who is lending their hands, eyes, and time to help document the wildlife of our national forest.
In case you missed it, we have some big news...
WOLVES IN MT HOOD NATIONAL FOREST!
Gray wolves detected by Wolverine Tracking Project Camera Survey, 2019
Sources at ODFW indicate that these individuals, detected on separate occasions at different sites, could be the breeding pair of the White River wolf pack, who have taken up residency on the Warm Springs Reservation and the eastern edge of Mt Hood National Forest. A target species of the Wolverine Tracking Project, we are interested in how the presence of gray wolves will shape the ecosystem of the lands they chose to call home. In hopes of also helping to define their range, we will continue to keep a lookout for these newcomers with several cameras positioned along the forest boundary. As the pack grows and disperses, or as other wolves move in, we expect to see more of them.
Since the wolf detections above, snows have arrived on our mountain, just in time to greet the season. This means we are seeing a lot more of other kinds of animals at our camera sites, including another of our target species: the Sierra Nevada red fox.
This winter, we have 9 cameras located in the immediate Timberline/Government Camp area and an additional two in the outlying area, all specifically focused on targeting this subspecies, one of the most rare mammals in North America and endemic only to the montane slopes of the Sierras and Cascades south of the Columbia River. As winter sets in, they seem more drawn to our sites than in summer, and frequency of detection increases. This is perhaps due to higher concentrations of red fox at the “lower” elevations of our typical sites (their summer range may include the talus slopes where installing camera traps is more difficult). Or, perhaps they are more drawn to the meat bait in these leaner months. Here we can see video compilation of what looks like two different foxes timidly checking some sites:
In both of these videos, the foxes seem drawn to the meat and fox urine we have baited the tree with, yet they are exercising caution. In the second video, what appears to be the same fox came back at least three times over a course of 9 days. Compared to bears or wolverine, who are both notorious when it comes to getting their paws on food, canids tend to be more hesitant, and our Vulpes vulpes necator here is no exception.
Read more about the Sierra Nevada red fox.
Coyotes inspecting bait sites
Coyotes, almost a guaranteed visitor at many of our locations, can also be cautious when it comes to inspecting bait.
Coyote going for a roll near a bait tree
However, coyotes tend to quickly overcome their hesitation and are just as likely to go for a good roll in, or near, the bait (see above)! Whether marking their territory or perfuming their coats, this is one behavior we can almost always count on from these canids.
Family Felidae are also curious about the smells at a site.
Bobcats inspecting the smells at a site
These bobcats are much less hesitant than their canid counterparts, however, and if they show an interest in the bait will generally directly approach it, sometimes even marking it with their scent before leaving (rubbing, urinating, or even rolling in it in less common instances).
Even deer will check out a bait site:
Two does inspect bait on a tree
Though, as herbivores, deer are not interested in bait as a food source, it is in their interest to know who else may be in an area, and so the site behooves inspection.
Other times, they are just passing through...
Clockwise from top left: a doe casually browses her way through the field of view; two does meander through the snow; a young buck contemplates some snowberries; and a yearling seemingly poses for his portrait.
We've been seeing a lot of family Cervidae this month, which includes both deer and elk. Elk seem to have very little interest in bait, though they do sometimes like to inspect cameras. Elk are seemingly always on the move, seeking out the best sites for grazing and shelter every couple of days.
Female elk (cows) on the move
Like deer, elk are crepuscular. Generally, though not always, elk are found grazing at night in large herds (or harems). A ruminant, elk can graze about 20 pounds of vegetation a day! At daybreak or soon after, elk disperse into smaller groups and bed down in shelter (typically forested areas).
Male elk (bulls) on the move
Male elk, or bulls, will often travel solo this time of year. Late summer to early winter is elk breeding season, or rut, and the mature individuals pictured here are likely in pursuit of a harem.
Other animals who display little caution at sites?
A black bear (left) inspects a snag belt (which collects hair for genetic analysis), and a female bear (sow, right) thoroughly inspects a site with her two cubs of the year (coy).
As mentioned above, bears are well-known for being brazen when it comes to food. More so, they tend to be thoroughly curious. As an apex predator, extreme caution is not a characteristic necessary to their survival, though they seem to take great interest in their surroundings.
Some smaller animals are just as brazen as a bear...
Left to right: mice, Clark's nutcracker, and Canada jays are opportunistic at baited sites.
...while other animals can be troublemakers. In the photos above, a striped skunk of family Mephitidae inspects and disassembles a hair snag belt.
Weasels are often seen at our sites in winter, and they will approach bait fearlessly.
Long tailed weasels passing through our sites
The long-tailed weasels above, however, are not displaying interest in the bait. This could be because there is plentiful food for them, like mice, voles, and even larger animals like rabbits and chipmunks. Closely related to skunks and in the same family as wolverine (Mustelidae), it is not surprising that these animals have a diverse carnivore diet and display little caution.
Some other animals tend to always be oblivious to the bait, like these snowshoe hares, though they often tend to perk up a little for the camera:
Two snowshoe hares seem to pause for a photo mid-bound. One hare is in its winter coat (left) and the other, detected before snowfalls, is still in its summer coat (right).
These members of family Leporidae sport large, snow-defying hind legs and have another helpful adaptation: camouflage. The hare on the right appears to still be wearing its darker summer coat, while the hare on the left has changed its seasonal coloration to match the freshly falling snows. Perfectly timed for the season!
Another fearless, though somewhat rare animal detected by our cameras? A herd of camera crew volunteers!
Camera crew are often seen during site maintenance checks in groups of two to four. The above photo shows a particularly large group at a field training earlier this season. Keep an eye out if you are in the woods this time of year: they are a joyful bunch and we hear it can be contagious.
Whereas cameras can offer rich detail of the wildlife they detect, they can only tell the story of what is directly in front of the lens and can miss the peripheral story of all that goes on around them. Tracking surveys step in to compliment the wildlife camera data, telling us a story of the life upon a landscape. Surveys are conducted by snowshoe on Mt Hood almost every winter weekend with groups of up to 12, which include two Cascadia Wild endorsed and trained Tracking Trip Leaders. The surveys follow 1.5 mile transects (and more if time allows) and document the tracks found along the way, including: track size, gait, track quality, and species identification. A lot can be learned about the land and wildlife by reading these signs. Read more.
One of the most easily distinguishable animal tracks in our forest is the snowshoe hare:
Snowshoe hare tracks in snow displaying the characteristic cluster of a hopping gait
A helpful hint in identifying this species is to look at the trail pattern: there are four footsteps all together in one area, and another four together following it, indicating hopping. For these hares, the prints in the front of the clusters are actually the back feet, and the prints in the back of the clusters are the front feet. Hares will land with their front feet, followed by their back feet, and they will swing their large back feet forward further than their front, ready to spring into the next bound.
We've also been seeing quite a few squirrels:
Squirrel (likely Douglas squirrel) tracks in snow displaying their characteristic double-register
Here, each print is actually two prints - both the front and back foot stepping in the same spot. This is called a double register.
And we've even found some mice!
Mouse tracks in snow, also displaying the characteristic clusters that indicates hopping
The mouse has the same trail pattern as the hare: hopping, with all four feet coming down in the same area.
One of the more exciting tracking finds so far has been Pacific marten. The Pacific marten is also one of our target species: their presence is an indicator of healthy upper-elevation forest.
Detail of Pacific marten tracks in snow (left) and the meandering trail of a Pacific marten (right)
The trail of the marten can be seen above. Several times it appeared to slow to a walk, pause - perhaps looking around - and often kept to the cover of the small saplings. Marten, another mustelid, are also voracious carnivores and it's possible to imagine it skirting the trees on its meandering path, in search of a vole, deer mouse, or other small animal.
A Canada jay perches on a snowy bough
Occasionally, we even get to see wildlife! A common sight are Canada jays. While we do not keep data on these birds, we do like seeing their familiar faces. Like their Corvid cousins - scrub and Stellar jays, Clark's nutcrackers, crows, ravens, and so on - Canada jays are adaptable, have diverse diets, and are generally regarded as highly intelligent, personable, and sneaky. These characteristics lend them and others in family Corvidae the nickname "Camp Robber."
There are few better ways to spend a winter day than strapped into snowshoes documenting the wildlife in our backyard...
...and enjoying the scenery...
...with a great group of trackers:
Thank you all for being a part of Cascadia Wild, this year, in previous years, and in the years to come!
Until next time...
Happy Solstice! Happy Winter!
Our best wishes to you in the New Year!
Our summer season is winding down, but this time of year is when things really start to heat up for us at Cascadia Wild! Like our friends in the forest, we are busy gathering all our resources together to ensure a great winter survey season.
We have several upcoming classes, including classes in wildlife tracking for every skill level - don't miss out on our Pressure Releases class December 7 and 8th! - and classes in ornithology and our Naturalist Training Program - see our full list of offerings here: About Our Classes.
This hope of their return is what started the Wolverine Tracking Project, and though the project has grown to incorporate other wildlife, the hope is still alive today. Join us this winter as we continue our search for wolverine and document other rare carnivores like gray wolf, Sierra Nevada red fox, and Pacific marten. Our Winter Tracking Surveys, done by snowshoe in small groups and led by 1-2 experienced Tracking Leaders, start in December, and training has already begun. Training dates are filling up quickly, so register here soon: Join a Tracking Team. A big thank you to those who have already signed up!
Our Camera Surveys also collect abundant wildlife data and operate year-round. We have just completed our Winter Camera Survey orientations, and we are excited about all the new volunteers that have joined us and to see so many returning faces!
We have set up our first winter cameras, and as of this past weekend, all our summer cameras have either been taken down or reset for winter, when we use different bait and have different installation procedures. It will be a few weeks before we have footage back from the winter sites, but in the meantime, summer footage is still rolling in. We have a lot of summer footage to catch up on, so here it goes!
Perhaps the most exciting news from the past several weeks is the detection of Sierra Nevada red fox!
A Sierra Nevada red fox inspects the camera and smells then rolls in the commercial scent bait at one of our high elevation sites. See the full video here.
Though this site was only up for 5 weeks, we had two separate visits from our target species Vulpes vulpes necator - one of the most rare mammals in North America, and an uncommon sight at our summer cameras! We have been operating under the hypothesis that we see this high-mountain fox at our cameras more frequently in the winter because they are drawn in more by the type of bait we use: in summer months we use commercial, scent bait; in the winter we use an eco-friendly meat bait. However, given this detection, we are now considering that perhaps elevation is key. It's possible that these foxes are only at higher elevations in the summertime, living off the ample mice and golden mantled ground squirrels (see below) on these more barren slopes, following food sources down the mountain as winter sets in. This is something to explore in coming seasons, and testifies to how little we know about this elusive animal.
A golden mantled ground squirrel forages and inspects the camera - hello!
We also saw quite a few rolling coyote as well. Like the fox above, not many canids can resist the urge to roll in some nice, stinky bait. Here are a couple sampling the potpourri of Hiawatha Valley Predator (one of our commercial scent baits):
Coyotes roll in commercial scent bait.
Coyotes can also be stoic. The lean and lanky look of this coyote indicates it could be a juvenile, but with its transitional coat it's hard to tell:
Compare to this coyote, who is a bit ahead of the game with its bushy winter coat:
The red coloration of this coyote is remarkable, and it's suitable camouflage for the pine needles on the ground. Coyotes can be difficult to discern from other canids, like foxes and wolves, especially when they have coloring like this. One giveaway is the tail: coyotes most often have a dark tip on their tail, while red foxes often have a white-tip on their slightly more bushy tail. Though it should be noted that gray foxes, who are rare on our mountain but more common to the south, also have dark-tipped tails, and coyotes can even sometimes have white-tipped tails, so it's best to take in other visual clues to their identification. Another clue: the ears are long and pointed on a coyote, but a fox has more rounded ears (see the photo of Sierra Nevada red fox above for a great ear-comparison). Compared to a wolf, coyotes are smaller, have slender faces with narrower snouts, their legs are more long and thin, and they walk more closely to the ground.
This site detected several instances of coyote, including a couple instances where the coyote was carrying prey!
We also had another instance detecting a lucky animal with its dinner:
This bobcat is carrying what is could be a gray squirrel, not unlike a squirrel seen at the same site just a couple weeks prior. However, with striped skunk also in the area, anything is fair game!
We also detected a bobcat doing something we don't often see: rolling in the bait!
This is a trait much more commonly seen with canids, like the ones above, and is the first time our cameras have caught this from a felid. The reasons behind a cat doing this are likely the same as a dog: to relieve itchy backs, disguise their scent, an/or cover themselves in something that smells so good.
We also caught a few instances of bobcats scent marking trees, like this one:
And we got to see some photos taken in the daytime, really showing off their distinct markings:
Most of our footage of mountain lions is also at night, but we detect them during the day from time to time, and caught some beautiful shots at one of our eastern sites:
We also detected several instances of another of our common forest predators, the black bear:
This bear, not a strict carnivore by any means, is likely foraging in the vegetation. Like most other animals right now, bears are busy gathering their winter stores. Whereas squirrels stash their stores, bears carry their stores with them.
Bears are thoroughly inquisitive, curious animals, and often spend a good deal of time inspecting sites, like this one seen here smelling both our bait area and the camera.
A bear inspects the bait log and the wildlife camera. See the full video here.
One of our summer sites used meat bait, and this was a very popular attractant for the neighborhood bears.
One instance the bear went after the bait, another instance the bear gave up and instead had a good scratch, and a third instance the bear forewent the bait entirely and climbed the tree. Whether the bear climbed the tree to get a better vantage point or was spooked by something in the area, is hard to say. It's possible it could have been spooked by one of the several cattle wandering through these woods:
These cows were also interested in the bait. In the second photo, the lighter cow is holding its mouth open in what is called a Flehmen response - something we haven't seen yet this summer but is common in ungulates like cows, deer, and elk, as well as in felids and bears. This is when an animal curls back its lips and breathes into its mouth, holding the air behind its teeth to better smell an area (read more about Flehmen response here).
The bait was also a strong attractant for a family of deer, the youngest still with their summer spots.
We saw deer at several of our other sites as well, like these two young bucks enjoying some early snow:
Given the antler and overall compact size of these two, and given that their muscle development does not seem mature (compare overall size and especially neck thickness with the buck below), it is likely that these gents are yearlings. Yearlings will also often travel in bachelor groups of two. While there may be additional deer we do not detect outside of the camera's field of view, a group of two would also support this age guess.
For family Cervidae, this is a busy time of year: rut, or mating, season. The soft velvet of buck antlers has been shed, and the hardened antlers are now being put to use.
Generally, the rut for black tailed deer begins in the first week or two of November, though that timing can vary due to a number of factors, including a cooler season, early snow, changes in food resources, or the individual. You can see that the buck above has one antler smaller than the other, which could be due to a growth abnormality or a sign of an early season sparring match with another buck.
For elk, we have passed the peak of rut in Oregon, but it's not uncommon for a second or third rut "wave" to happen around this time of year. Not long after seeing this cow - or female elk - and her calf, we saw the mature bull elk pictured below:
It's not hard to imagine that this bull is covering a lot of territory right now, searching for a mate. If you hear something like this while you're out in the woods, there are elk around! While male elk will bugle year-round, it is especially common during rut.
We hope you all are staying warm and having good luck readying your own winter stores while enjoying the changing of the seasons. Until next time!
Mt Hood from one of our high elevation summer cameras, in early October.
Summer is cruising along! We hope you are getting out there, picking some berries, counting stars, and enjoying the season to the fullest. Volunteers on our camera and scat teams are getting out there and bringing back invaluable footage and genetic samples of our forest wildlife. Thank you to everyone who has contributed!
If you're looking for another excuse to get out to the woods, look no further! We'll be at Bark's Summer Base Camp to lead a Tracking Workshop on Sunday, September 1st - come for the day, a few nights, or the full two weeks of camping, workshops, and forest and beaver habitat surveys! Family friendly and FREE. We hope to see you there.
Keep the Sierra Nevada red fox scat survey in mind as you head out to the mountain trails this summer!
We're creating quite the stockpile of promising Sierra Nevada red fox scat, as well! Not every survey will collect scat, though, and that is as valuable as genetic information - lack of evidence of their presence is data that reinforces the rarity of this animal - and knowing what areas they are using is as helpful as knowing what areas they are not. Once we have enough samples, we send the samples for analyses to our partner at Cascades Carnivore Project (who is also researching the Cascade red fox, a cousin in the alpine areas north of the Columbia River). Depending on the quantity we collect, the whole process can take a year. The more we collect, the more timely we can get the data analyzed and communicated to researchers and management - and the better data set we will have.
Wolf survey: We also recently sent off five wolf scat samples to be analyzed by ODFW, and are looking forward to the news! A recent survey also found two new scat samples.
Depending on habitat connectivity, availability of prey, and other dynamics, a wolf pack can have a hunting territory of 50-1000 miles (larger territories commonly found in arctic and subarctic areas). While we know the White River pack is nearby, we are still learning about their territory, and a wolf from that pack or another could decide to venture out and claim new territory at any time. It's a good idea to keep an eye out for their signs, especially on the eastern side of the mountain - we never know where they may end up!
We've now seen footage from all our sites, and have a lot of photos for you, including some firsts of the season - and a first ever for this survey! As usual, we saw a lot of elk, deer, coyote, black bear, a couple mountain lions, and a couple bobcats. We of course saw a lot of Douglas squirrel, a lot of very busy chipmunks, at least one ground squirrel, and a few handfuls of unidentifiable rodents, but the star rodent this time was the largest member of the family Sciuridae, the yellow-bellied marmot!
This is the first time we have caught one of these giant ground squirrels at our cameras! They tend to live on and build deep burrows in talus slopes or alpine meadows, and, though it's not unheard of, it's a wonder that we would find one in this area, which is high-subalpine. Perhaps this one has recently been displaced or has chosen this sub-alpine forest for its abundant edible mosses, grasses, and wildflowers - favorite snacks of marmots.
These dapper rock chucks are named for their coloring, however, they turn tail and burrow at the slightest onset of cold. One of the longest hibernators in our region, marmots can begin hibernation as early as the end of July/mid August, but usually take the dog days of summer to continue building their winter stores.
The biggest present danger to this marmot is coyotes, but wolverines would also be a formidable foe if they reclaim their historic range.
Speaking of Mustelidae (the weasel family, of which wolverines are a part), we also caught sight of the first weasel of the summer!
This lithe and well-camouflaged animal has a unique, identifiable characteristic that sets it apart from other mammals of its size: a long, black-tipped tail which appropriately lends to its name of 'long-tailed weasel.' We always enjoy finding this voracious rodent-hunter on our cameras.
We also saw our first sooty grouse of the season at the same site (lower left corner).
Like other ground birds, a grouse is always a good sign for our forest carnivores like this bobcat, seemingly hot on its trail.
This other bobcat was very interested in the bait belt itself - but not the bait. Perhaps it was more interested in our human-scent from the camera setup than the canine-scent bait under the log; indeed, one of these two may present more danger than the other.
A fellow feline who rightly fears no animal, hominids included, this mountain lion took a moment of repose at our bait log...
...while another mountain lion was caught on the prowl.
We saw many black bear, like this one with its black and cinnamon coloration.
This bear visited a few times, and it really enjoyed using the camera tree as a scratching post, leaving us with quite a few pictures of the back of its head.
Two cubs of the year were caught at another site, though rarely on-camera at the same time. The mother, though (top background), was never far behind.
You can almost see the grin on this content coyote. This behavior could be fulfilling a purpose as simple as a good back-scratch. Or, considering the presence of deer in the area some nights prior, could be a way for the coyote to cover itself in the scent of its prey.
Meanwhile, another one of our cameras captured this very lucky coyote!
While the coyotes have seemed to move on from this site, for now at least, we did see a lot more hare:
More good news for our forest carnivores, a lot of members of the family Cervidae! Specifically, deer and elk.
The photos of this buck displays its summer velvet wonderfully. The antlers of a mature, well-fed and healthy buck can grow up to 1/4 of an inch a day. For bull elk, antlers can grow almost an inch a day. When velvet is present, the antlers are soft and susceptible to damage, and this is part of the reason why bulls and bucks will tend to stick to a smaller territory, with other males. The velvet sheds when the bone begins to set, about mid- to late-September, just in time for them to roam.
We didn't see too many bull elk this time, but we did see quite a few herds of cows and calves.
We also saw two elk that were tagged and collared...
And were treated to some beautiful photographs of a very curious elk! Hello!
We have one more first of the season to share with you, the raccoon:
If you live in a city, chances are you've seen one of these recently. Though more common to see in urban areas, they are still woodland creatures. Like coyotes and other fauna that easily transition to urban areas, they are highly adaptable to their environment. Their presence as scavengers and hunters is always a good sign, and it's always encouraging to see diversity in the forest.
Thanks for reading. We'll be back with more updates soon!
Our cameras have picked up something a bit uncommon and special to see this summer: juvenile coyotes!
Though very similar to each other, note that the juvenile coyote (left) is much more lean and a bit more gangly than the adult that follows closely behind (right). The juvenile also has the typically much finer coat of first-year coyotes.
We’ve also seen other juvenile coyotes at at least one other site in the forest, taken around the same time:
Again, notice the smooth, light coat of a first-year coyote and the lighter frame. Given that juveniles are not ready to hunt on their own at this point, we imagine that it is looking behind for its partner.
What does this mean for the ecosystem?
While perhaps not quite as exciting as the recent videos of the six new wolf pups of the White River wolf pack or the three new pups of the Lassen wolf pack (definitely worth watching if you haven’t), the presence of coyotes and their seemingly abundant offspring indicates that the underlying ecosystem is healthy. What’s more, it could support the growing wolf packs nearby. However, this may come with some food competition and displacement for the coyotes - a coyote will avoid a wolf for the same reasons a fox will avoid a coyote. Luckily, coyotes are timid yet resourceful scavengers and excellent hunters, and their adaptability enables them to survive in environments that wolves cannot, including suburban and urban areas, and enables them to hunt anytime of day or night, allowing crepuscular wolves to use the same territory during dawn or dusk.
Whether we'll see wolves in this area, only time will tell, but in the meantime, these healthy, reproductive carnivores tell a story of a healthy environment that is capable of supporting diverse life.
Our previous blog post has been corrected to account for an error: a turkey vulture was identified as a turkey! We thought it might be interesting to see a comparison of a turkey (left) with a turkey vulture (right):
Often, factors conspire to make identification difficult. We may only get one, blurry shot of an animal as it zips through a site, or high contrast lighting conditions can make things tricky. And, like comparing the Douglas and Western gray squirrels or rabbits and hares in low photo conditions, similarities can make an ID tricky. Both birds are equivalent size with bald, featherless heads. However, female or juvenile turkeys like the one above are easier to differentiate since they are more slender and upright than a turkey vulture - the long legs and neck and larger size also set turkeys apart from other ground birds like pheasant and grouse. Also note the characteristic speckled coloring of the turkey vulture. Another way to tell? The beak of each animal reflects its diet. Turkeys are foragers that feed off vegetation, insects, and sometimes even lizards and so have more slender beaks, while turkey vultures have sturdier beaks to suit their scavenger diet, one that includes insects, berries, and so on, too, but is primarily focused on carrion. While both birds are an indicator of a healthy ecosystem, they each play different roles. Read more about turkey vultures and turkeys.
Summer is in full swing!
While that may mean staying up late under the stars, taking dips in glacial waters, and counting the hours spent outside in mosquito bites, at Cascadia Wild it also means hauling off to the woods to check on camera sites and combing trails for signs of Sierra Nevada red fox and gray wolf.
These wildlife surveys bring back valuable data, and in the past month alone we have collected over 8,000 viable photos, five wolf scat samples, one red fox scat sample, and, with our twenty or so new volunteers for the red fox scat survey, we are looking forward to more red fox samples, too!
You may have heard the big news last week about six new wolf pups in the White River Pack! This video, captured by biologists of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, is worth a watch with the sound ON. We hope the best for the newest members of this pack, and we are keeping an eye out for them! It's only a matter of time and luck before some of them disembark to find new territory of their own. We are very interested in how their presence will shape the ecosystem of wherever they choose to call home, and, should they come our way, the information collected from our wildlife surveys will help us understand that.
It bears repeating: All this work is made possible by the support of our community – whether you are a survey volunteer, member, have taken courses with us, or have offered financial or material support, your presence is invaluable. Together, we are deepening our understanding of the forest. Thank you!
And now, the camera highlights!
All our cameras are up, and we’ve gotten footage back from all but one. Since our first photos of the season, we’ve seen more elk, deer, coyote, black bear, and of course, squirrels. We also have our first summer sightings of turkeys, skunk, cougar, and bobcats!
Most of our footage so far is of deer, which is more good news for our mountain predators. This buck near Timberline was out way past his bedtime, however, and deer at night can indicate that their environment is relatively safe from predators, so it will be interesting to see what else this site finds over the summer.
If you're planning on being out at night, keep an eye out for this nocturnal critter! Striped skunks like this one may get a bad rap, thanks to their odorous nature, but they are highly adaptable omnivores and can be important for insect control. They have been known to eat wasps and even venomous snakes! It's not surprising that while they are now classified in their own family as Mephitidae (skunk and stinking badgers), they were long classified in the family Mustelidae, along with wolverines, weasels, martins, and their other similar, feisty counterparts.
That's all for now, and we're looking forward to seeing what the next few weeks bring in!
Until next time: take care, and thanks for being a part of our community!
Things are heating up with our camera survey, just in time for the summer solstice!
Almost all cameras are up, with only five more to set up this and next weekend. We have some great footage back from four summer and two winter sites.
Here are the photo highlights so far:
...and another coyote inspecting bait. Typically a cautious species, this particular yote approached the bait nine times. We had a lot of photos of coyotes at this site throughout the winter. However, now that the snow has melted we have only caught sight of deer - it seems the coyotes have moved on and the deer have moved in. It will be interesting to see if that changes again throughout the season.
This week teams visited Bear Springs Near, Bear Springs Far, Alpine, Glade, Government Camp West, Meadows, Clear Lake, and Yellowjacket West.
Trackers visited Barlow Pass and reported back the "day of the weasel!"
Tracking Trip Updates
Above, mouse tracks with tail drag and a short-tailed weasel tunnel with breaks to the surface. Below, a weasel tunnel just below the surface.
Incredible views on a beautiful day!
Lastly, a moment in time captured in the snow in this bird's swooping track.
Wildlife Camera Findings
Bear Springs Near
Bear Springs Near enjoyed a mid-morning visit from this bobcat only once during the set. It's nice getting to see the bobcat in color, compared to our usual black & white nighttime captures.
A coyote dug a huge pit in front of the bait station. The outstanding sense of smell that all members of family canidae enjoy and utilize helped this coyote locate something buried deep in the snow. While it looks like it may have just found some old bait scraps, coyotes are fully capable of capturing live prey deep in the snow, although their methods differ from the charismatic style of foxes. Watch this video for a comparison!
Government Camp West
A bobcat saunters through the snow at Gov Camp West in the very early morning.
A fox at Government Camp is an exciting capture! This is the second lowest elevation we have seen foxes out, outdone only by a single fox at Teacup Lake last year.
Marten bound easily across the snow, and rather than digging or pouncing like the coyotes and foxes, they will tend to seek out hollows in the snow near trees or rocks and seek out prey in their tunnels from there. It is likely that this marten has a litter at home, and if not, it will soon! Young will typically be born between March and April.
This week we've seen some old favorites and made some new friends.
Camera teams went to Government Camp East, Little Zig Zag, and Yellowjacket East. Our tracking trip explored near Salmon River Meadows.
Tracking Trip Updates
The tracking trip to Salmon River Meadows found some incredible examples of snowshoe hare tracks. Check out this perfect bound!
We are still EXCITED about finding snowshoe hare tracks. Are you? Although they are undeniably some of the most common tracks to find in the snow, NOT finding them would be devastating. Snowshoe hares are a keystone species, and without them our forests would be drastically different. Whenever you see a coyote, fox, marten, or other carnivore track, thank a snowshoe hare.
While the keystone-species relationship between snowshoe hares and Canada Lynx has been discussed at length, their relationship to other species is equally interesting. When hare populations rise, their effect on willow and alder begins to take a toll. Incredibly, new willow and alder shoots will begin to produce a distasteful and slightly toxic substance to discourage the hares from decimating the young trees. As a result, hare populations begin to decline. Within a few seasons, willow and alder shoots lose the toxic substance and hare populations begin to rise again.
Wildlife Camera Findings
It's March which means it's that time of year for foxes! Breeding season is finishing up around now and come April, anywhere from 2 to 10 pups will come into the world in a cozy den, loyally tended to by both of their parents.
Every family has their share of drama, and Family Canidae is no exception. There is some history of hostility between the different members of the canine family, whether it be wolves and coyotes or coyotes and foxes.
Wolves and foxes seem able to tolerate one another, as their substantial size difference probably does not threaten competition between them. Now that wolves, coyotes, and foxes are all sharing Mount Hood National Forest again, we imagine the first fox-wolf meeting went something like this!
Marten are going to be expecting their kits in the next month or two as well! Marten, like the rest of the family mustelidae, exhibit delayed implantation; if you can believe it, their breeding season was way back in July or August!
This is not the first time this dusky grouse has appeared on camera. For a few months, she has made regular appearances perusing the snow around the camera looking for her favorite wintertime snack: pine and fir needles. Interestingly, this might be one of the last times we see her until next year, check out this article to find out why!
If you do get a chance to see this grouse before she heads back down in the spring, be ready because she is FEARLESS!
She was NOT fed or approached. Incredibly, she approached while the team was talking and assembling the camera, sticking around for the entire time! She would snack on pine needles, watch the camera team, approach, retreat to a nearby branch, and then do it all over again!