Thanks to all the volunteers who celebrated the start of 2017 by keeping track of wildlife on Mt. Hood! For our wild friends in the forest, January 1 is just another day, but another big shift has happened -- we’re on the summer side of the winter solstice, and the days are getting longer.
Back at the Cascadia Wild office, we’ve caught up on processing all our camera photos, and we had a number of interesting visitors to our Sandy Flats sites.
Sandy Flats at about 2000 feet on the West side of Mt. Hood, just up Lolo Pass Rd. from Rhododendron. True to its name, it’s a flat, sandy area where several forks and creeks flowing off Zigzag mountain and a couple West side glaciers come together into the Sandy River. As we’ve seen at several other locations, bobcats and coyotes are on the prowl down on the Flats.
We also caught this photo of a deer from early December. Deer leave the higher elevations as winter and drifting snow make it harder for them to get around.
Sandy Flats is 1500 feet lower than Pocket Creek and some other camera locations where we haven’t seen deer in a while, so this deer may have been descending from somewhere higher. Since this picture was taken, there's even more snow down by the Sandy, so he’s probably moved lower still.
We also caught a few avian visitors to our Sandy Flats cameras: this pair of gray jays. Chances are, you’ve had small groups of these birds as your companions on trips through conifer forests. They happily fly in small flocks near hikers and trackers, especially at lunch time. They’ve been known to take a bite of a tracker’s lunch right out of her hand, and they were happy to have the bait to snack on down at Sandy Flats.
Gray Jays are full-time forest dwellers, up on Mt. Hood and in northern forests across the continent – Oregon is actually one of the southernmost parts of their range. They’re so accustomed to cold that they even nest and breed in late winter rather than spring, like most birds. Strange as it seems, we may be able to listen for Gray Jay chicks before tracking season is over.
One of the reasons they’re able to survive the cold weather is their adaptability and flexibility with food. Gray Jays eat everything from insects to berries to other birds’ eggs, and as illustrated here, carrion, whether it’s tied to a tree at a bait station or from a carcass on the ground.
Birds aren’t our target species, but they’re fun to catch on camera and they’re an important part of our forest ecosystems, interacting with mammals on both ends of the food chain. A long-tailed weasel makes many a tasty snack out of eggs stolen from spring nests, and it shares its prey of rodents with owls and some hawks. When a cougar has a larger kill that it eats over a few days, scavenger birds like this vulture we caught on camera two years ago are happy to help clean up the carcass.