Our volunteers on the mountain this week were greeted with blue sky, fun finds, great conditions for snowshoeing, and both the biggest and smallest wildlife tracks we could hope to find on Mt. Hood in the winter.
At Trillium Lake and on the Pacific Crest Trail near Twin Lakes, both on the south side of Mt. Hood close to 4,000 feet, volunteers found dozens of squirrel trails, and recorded activity from tiny deer mice, like this one tunneling toward its snow-insulated winter home.
Finding tiny deer mouse tracks requires good eyes and good snow conditions. On Saturday morning, volunteers took the picture on the left of squirrel tracks heading into a burrow in pristine conditions on the way out to check a camera -- note that you can even see fingers to the right of the hole.
On the way back, once temperatures warmed up and melting snow and water drips began to fall from the trees, they took the picture on the right. You can see that everything gets tougher to track when things start melting.
The good snow conditions also helped volunteers document an abundance of Douglas Squirrel trails. Just between those two teams on the south side of the mountain on Saturday, they tallied 120 trails!
Higher up the mountain and on its northeast side, near Tilly Jane, a team of camera volunteers found themselves looking at an unusual trail and much, much larger trail in the February snow:
It’s not a snowshoer that left those tracks, and it’s not bigfoot. Does a close-up help?
If you’re still not sure, here’s a picture of the animal from one of our wildlife cameras a few summers ago.
That's right, a black bear. We've never caught sight of one on our winter wildlife cameras, nor documented their tracks in the snow, and never been surprised about it, either, because we know black bears hibernate in the winter.
It's their strategy for making it through the winter months when food in scarce -- they gorge themselves in autumn and build up a big layer of fat, and then tuck themselves in for winter hibernation around November. During hibernation, they don't eat, don't defecate, and importantly, don't burn many calories.
They do, however, get up every once in a while, especially after the first few months of hibernation. Perhaps Sunday's sunny weather prompted a walkabout by this bear, who then likely went back into its den to wait for spring and more abundant food supplies.
If you'd like to learn more about black bears in Western Oregon, we recommend Chris Maser's book, Mammals of the Pacific Northwest: from the Coast to the High Cascades, or this videotaped lecture on bears from Oregon Wildlife's Discovering Wildlife Lecture Series a few years ago.
A big thanks to all the volunteers and donors who make this work possible! We can't do it without you.