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.
Bears weren't the only ones out with their young - this juvenile coyote (bottom) and its parent or helper (top) were seen inspecting (and marking!) a site. If you missed it, they were featured in a recent blog post - click here for more about coyote family dynamics, their life-cycle, and canine interactions.
You can almost see the grin on this content 'yote. 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're also fairly certain that we’ve seen this same juvenile coyote at another nearby site almost a month later!
What do you think?
Like other members of Canidae, coyotes tend to be territorial, and the proximity of these locations is a good indication that this might be the same juvenile. Another clue is the coloring of the juvenile is consistent from one photo site to the next. Though slightly older and a little larger, it seems more than likely that this could be the same coyote, if not also the same pair.
Coyotes often hunt in loose pairs and will form family units during breeding season and while the pups are being reared. This particular pair could be mom-and-pup or, depending on the family size and structure of this particular group, could be beta-and-pup or helper-and-pup. Come fall, this juvenile (who is probably three to four months old in the most recent photo) will be ready to hunt on its own and will either expand to new territory or remain with the family unit as a non-breeding helper.
We are also fairly certain that the adult in the second photo set is a female, based on her scent-marking behavior:
Like other carnivores, coyotes use scent to mark the borders of their territory. Interestingly, this site was baited only with fox urine, about 10 days prior to their visit. Though they may share some of the same territory, coyotes and foxes tend to avoid each other due to food competition - in fact, coyotes have been known to eliminate foxes - so a coyote would have a natural interest in the fox scent.
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!
We had camera checks at Clear Lake, McCubbins Gulch #1 and #2, and Yellowjacket East. A tracking trip visited Teacup Lake.
Tracking Trip Updates
Our tracking trip this week enjoyed an overcast day in the trees at Teacup Lake and observed some interesting weasel tracks, and some fun squirrel tracks, too!
weasel bounding (left) and squirrel going UP! (right)
In the following photo you can see the path the weasel took underneath the snow, quickly reemerging to the surface after just a short distance. Weasels are thin enough to squeeze into the tunnels left by mice and other small creatures, and will follow those tunnels in pursuit of prey. They definitely don't forget about the surface though! We love the idea mentioned by one of our trackers of a weasel poking its head above the surface of the snow like a little periscope!
Wildlife Camera Findings
The team at Clear Lake encountered some pretty amazing conditions that might have you drooling or cringing- depending on your preferences of snow sports! Either way, it looks BEAUTIFUL!
McCubbins #2 was visited by a coyote, a few deer, and a Douglas squirrel apparently competing for space with a (much larger) western gray squirrel that regularly appears on camera.
This yearling buck at McCubbins #2 will be losing his antlers any time now. An annual drop in testosterone (occurring after the rut in fall) leaves the connective area of the antlers weakened, eventually resulting in their loss in late winter or early spring. In summer, surges of testosterone trigger the regrowth of larger antlers. Have you come across any shed antler yet this season?
McCubbins #1 was exclusively visited in groups, whether it was a herd of deer or a flock of turkeys! This herd contained more than 6 individuals grazing together.
Have you ever heard of a "rafter of turkeys" before? Groups of turkeys are commonly called "flocks", "gobbles", or "gaggles", but "rafter" is a rather unusual one that seems reserved for domesticated birds. This site discusses the same "rafter" in detail for those of us who are curious!
We had camera checks at Government Camp East, Meadows, Yellowjacket West, and Alpine. We've also had two tracking trips since our last update, including a trip leader day.
Tracking Trip Updates
Trip leaders spend a beautiful day together looking at snowshoe hare and squirrel tracks, then on their way back when the day was almost over - they saw fresh bobcat tracks! Over the next few photos, notice the trapezoid-shaped heel pad and lack of claw marks in the bobcat tracks and its neat, consistent direct register walk.
Are you intersted in becoming a trip leader? Participating in Cascadia Wild trainings and tracking trips is a great place to start learning the skills. As a leader, not only do you build experience participating with nature in a more intimate way, you get to share that experience with others! (Not to mention the trip leader tracking trips!)
The tracking trip to Snowbunny found hare, mouse, and multiple bobcat trails and brought back some wonderful photos.
Wildlife Camera Findings
We had lots of naughty visitors in our photos this week! Okay... maybe "opportunistic" is a better word. The bait at Alpine made it about two days into the set.
The bait at Government Camp East made it a bit longer than Alpine, lasting for two weeks. This coyote posed for so many beautiful photos, we suppose we can forgive her.
With two hours of work, perhaps she earned it...
Meadows was not spared... Another thief! And so casual about it, too!
Let's not forget that we had plenty of well behaved visitors, too. This bobcat at Governmetn Camp East is barely visible and was only around long enough for this single photo.
Another marten leaving perfect tracks at Meadows. It visited multiple times.
A coyote at Government Camp East. (Alright, this is probably the same one from earlier. But she's on good behavior this time!)
We had camera checks at Bear Springs Far, Clear Lake, and Government Camp West, plus our intrepid trackers went snow camping near Timberline. Check out what they found, plus hear about a couple upcoming events!
The overnight tracking trip (as well as all the snow in the city!) has us thinking about what we need to do to stay warm - and gets us thinking of all the different ways the animals in our region are specialized to deal with this winter weather.
Tracking Trip Updates
The snow tracking survey trip this week did an overnight trip to the Timberline area. They followed a marten trail, then in the evening some of them were amibitious enough to build snow shelters to help stay warm. The shelter below looks quite cozy!
This marten was traveling with a very unusual gait, but if you look closely, you can see 5 toes on all four feet.
Wildlife Camera Findings
Coyotes' ability to capitalize on any available resources might be one of their greatest adaptations that serves them through winter. Rodents? Great! Deer? Sounds good! Nuts and berries? Love it!
Bobcats (and lynx, too) are unusual in the feline family because of their short tails. Perhaps due to their preference to hunt in dense, woody areas, a long tail was no longer necessary in their quick-pivoting, brushy chases - similar to the Coopers Hawk, which has shorter, rounded wings for hunting among the tree branches.
Round two of the weasel escapades! This camera station is undoubtedly this weasel's favorite place to pass the time. The last camera set was a tale of weasel-vs-woodrat, while this set found a competitor-less weasel luxuriously enjoying its surroundings. (Check out the full sets for weeks of this weasel bounding and jumping through the days)
Weasels are extremely inefficient at conserving heat due to their high-surface-area body shape. To counteract this, they have an extremely high metabolism that keeps them on the move and searching for food. When they're lucky, the catch prey that had a nice, warm den for them to commandeer!
Snowshoe hares have adapted in many ways we are all familiar with, like their extremely large, furry hind feet that keep them up on top of the snow. Additionally, snowshoe hares typically turn white at the beginning of winter. In some areas, however, this change does not occur due to the lack of reliable and consistent snowfall. This is a good thing for these creatures, as their bright white fur would be a dead give-away on a brown, snowless day.