Volunteers set out to track in the Cloud Cap Road area this weekend, on the north east side of the mountain. It's an area where long-time volunteers remember seeing mustelid tracks (that's the animal family that includes two target species, weasels and marten), and they were hoping for some good tracks, and to get out of the rain down below.
The snow levels stayed higher than our intrepid volunteers, though, and they had difficult conditions for tracking, as this picture illustrates well:
Tracking in wet snow like this takes careful and experienced eyes, as anyone who's tried to distinguish a snow plop from a track can attest to. For one thing, needles, drips, and clumps of snow falling from trees make for a very disturbed surface, and that makes the disturbances of animal tracks harder to pick out. For another, these additional disturbances are actively obscuring tracks that have been laid down, reducing the window in time that trackers can see in the snow.
This tracking team kept eyes and minds open, though, and found squirrel and snowshoe hare tracks, as well as both coyote and domestic dog tracks. They didn't let some wet snow stop them from getting their noses in some tracks!
They aren't the first team to find both coyote and domestic dog tracks on the same day, and these trip leaders had a lot of experience to draw on to tell the difference between them. For many beginning trackers, though, distinguishing between different canine tracks is a challenge. After all, there are several options -- coyote, fox, domestic dog, and even wolf -- and domestic dogs can be a real wild card, with a wide range of print sizes.
For those looking to read up on the differences, this blog post from a New England naturalist talks about distinguishing trail patterns of coyotes and dogs, and this PDF cheat sheet from Wild Aware Utah gives a quick overview the differences between the canine species we might encounter here in Oregon, too. Of course, the best way to learn the differences is careful observation and practice! That is, keep on tracking.
We're still sorting through the most recent batches of camera pictures back at the office, but that is one advantage to our camera project: even when we don't get the whole picture, as in this shot from Pocket Creek, it's pretty darn easy to tell a coyote when we see one.
Snow levels up on Mt. Hood will stay high this week, but the good news is that there is still plenty of snow on the ground. NCRS reports that in many places on Mt. Hood, the snowpack right now is over 120% of median, which is good news.
Thanks for reading the Winter Weekly, and here's hoping you have a chance to get up there to some of that snow yourself in the last few weeks of the season!