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!
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!
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 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.
Hello Cascadia Wild Winter Volunteers,
Lots of Camera and Tracking Trips this week!
Volunteers visited McCubbins #1 and #2, Government Camp West, Yellowjacket West, Glade, Clear Lake, and ODFW Lands cameras, and Snow Bunny and Little John on tracking trips.
All of these sightings have us considering the diverse ways wildlife stay happy and healthy at this time of year when food can be harder to come by.
A beautiful day at Snow Bunny!
The tracks below display a typical canine side trot (the gait that your dog commonly does when it is pulling on the leash). This trail pattern, along with the oval shape of the tracks, tell us it is definitely a canine. The crew identified the tracks below as being from a coyote, but these can sometimes be difficult to confidently identify. Is at a coyote? Or perhaps a fox? Maybe a domestic dog?
There is a lot of overlap in the size of the tracks themselves. However, fox are smaller animals than coyotes and will therefore have a smaller stride. Fox also have furry feet, so it is rare to find a clear track. Also, the track itself is wider, so if negative space is definable, coyote tracks will display and X, while fox will typically display a negative space closer to an H.
Two groups visited Little John this week, and both found signs of weasels. The narrow, focused trail shown below is indicative of a weasel in a hurry! As mentioned in a previous email, weasel tracks can often be identified by the meandering, curious, erratic paths they create as they investigate their surroundings.
Weasels typically hunt under the snow, seeking out mice and other small rodents. It is possible that it is the females that are hunting underground, while males stay above ground. This could be attributed to their size difference, as it would be easier for the smaller females to fit into the narrow burrows beneath the snow.
Wildlife Camera Findings
This group of 3 coyotes was lured in to our ODFW Lands camera, but wasted no time in organizing themselves to search out some real prey for themselves. Although we are used to seeing coyotes in almost every habitat we can think of, the open grasslands are where they originally thrived, sustaining themselves on the small rodents found in abundance in that landscape.
They've come a long way in the past few hundred years, diversifying their habitat, diet, and social structures, but seeing this small group working their way through the grass is a happy sight to see, and reminiscent of these coyotes' origins.
It's hard not to assume this jolly looking deer was enjoying the (relatively) warm weather!
Don't be fooled by the sunny, grassy backdrop of these photos though, these visitors are still pushing through the cold! This solitary elk only appeared once on camera, amongst night after night of deer.
This deer passing by McCubbins #2 was not enjoying the luxury of warmer weather like above, but it is still highly capable of thriving in the cold. Deer can capitalize on many food sources still readily available in winter, even including lichen and fungi
This Government Camp West bobcat might have been lured in by the scent of an easy meal. Unlike the lynx, bobcats' smaller feet cause them to sink into deep snow, making hunting more of a challenge.
This individual probably moved on in search of one of their more typical meals for this time of year, which could include snowshoe hair, mice, voles, and even deer.
Another exciting week of tracking trips and camera surveys! Lots of beautiful scenery, carnivore tracks (and more!) and plenty of visitors to the cameras.
A Cascadia Wild member was on an independent trip near Tilly Jane this past week and came across some very interesting tracks - BEAR! It's almost January, so finding these tracks came as a bit of a surprise. As you can see, there's no arguing with that ID!
Thank you to this individual who is adding to the knowledge of bears in our area and providing this interesting insight into when bears might go into hibernation. Typically, bears begin hibernating when the first snow begins to fall and food starts becoming scarce.
Bobcat (below) near Tilly Jane
Devil's Half Acre came back with a mystery after their trip this weekend. Was it a squirrel? A weasel? A squeasel!?
While it is difficult to tell, it is possible that these tracks were left by a weasel. It is a jumping pattern of two prints together, with a large stride and a narrow trail width. With squirrels, one would expect to see a bit wider trail width (picture the way their hind legs come around the outside of the front legs when they hop). However, with weasels one would expect to see one foot slightly in front of the other in the pair, which is not apparent in the photo. What do you think?
The trip to White River enjoyed incredible scenery and took some breathtaking photos despite the lack of carnivore tracks left for them to find.
WILDLIFE CAMERA FINDINGS
A red fox visited the Glade camera! We unexpectedly got a photo of a fox near this location last year. Originally it was thought that the foxes mostly used the alpine-forest interface, but these photos continue to show that they are using high elevation forest areas regularly as well.
A rabbit also visited Glade only once during the set, but spent long enough that we could get quite a few clear photos of it.
Meadows was visited by a marten:
A mouse and a bushy tailed woodrat take turns at the bait at Bear Springs Far...
Until a weasel shows up and claims it for itself (perhaps with a few challenges from the mouse!) The weasel visited day and night for the duration of the set.
Additionally at Bear Springs Far, some coyote tracks were found in the area from an individual who came very close but didn't approach the camera close enough for photos.
(Trail pattern below)
Don't forget to check out all of the full photo sets on GoogleDocs
THANK YOU to all of our supporters!