As we head into the thick of Autumn, cooler days and earlier, golden sunsets, we are finding hope in the change of seasons. Like our friends in the forest, we are also busy preparing for the coming winter. We are excited to announce our Winter Wildlife Survey Season, and we hope that you will join us!
As always, volunteers will strap on snowshoes and head to Mt Hood National Forest to help document wildlife on the mountain and search for rare carnivores, like Sierra Nevada red fox, Pacific marten, and gray wolf, and continuing to monitor for wolverine. To help protect our community and offer the opportunity for folks to participate in the Wolverine Tracking Project, we have restructured our Tracking and Camera Surveys. Click the links below to learn more, and apply by October 31st!
Read more about the Wolverine Tracking Project
And, don't forget about our Community Clubs!
Left (top): A stump showing beaver, deer, and human sign, and Right (bottom): mink tracks. Both photos from August Tracking Club.
We hope to see you soon!
With the delayed reopening of Multnomah County, our camera surveys this summer have been limited to only a handful volunteers and staff. Many of our cameras have not been checked since mid- or late-August, as well, due to the wildfires and closures in Mt. Hood National Forest. We can't wait until the forest reopens and we can see who's been visiting our cameras in the past month(s)!
In the meantime, we have some photos to share with you from the footage collected in August.
To start us off, we have one of our target species, the Sierra Nevada red fox!
A Sierra Nevada red fox explores a camera site
This is the third detection of a Sierra Nevada red fox at this camera site this year!
Cascadia Wild has been been collecting data about the Sierra Nevada red fox since their "rediscovery" in Oregon on a Cascadia Wild trail camera in 2012. Most of what we know about Sierra Nevada red foxes come from a population living in Lassen, California, as this is the longest standing red fox study. It is thought that the known California populations together comprise less than 50 individuals. Oregon population numbers are largely unknown and speculative. However, with every passing season, Cascadia Wild and other state, federal, academic, conservation, and nonprofit organizations continue to study red foxes throughout Oregon and add to our growing knowledge of them in the region.
In Oregon, the Sierra Nevada red fox was classified as a Data Gap Species and has since been designated as a Conservation Strategy Species by Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. The US Forest Service has designated the Sierra Nevada red fox a sensitive species in Oregon.
Another canine visitor to our cameras was the coyote.
Top to bottom: a coyote pauses at a camera site, and a coyote with its mouth wide open (in a yawn or pant) trots down a game trail.
Both Sierra Nevada red foxes and coyotes are opportunistic eaters, and they both prey on small mammals such as rodents and squirrels, and also eat berries, insects, and carrion. Some studies suggest that they have a competitive relationship with each other due to their similar diets, however sometimes coyotes will prey upon red foxes, while red foxes can benefit from the carrion left behind by coyotes. More research needs to be done on the Sierra Nevada red fox in our region to allow for a more comprehensive comparison of these two canines diets and their relationships.
Another opportunistic carnivore that visited our cameras was a black bear.
An adult black bear sniffs the ground
Just like canines, black bears eat small mammals, roots, berries, and insects. They also eat grasses, fish, large mammals, carrion, and can develop a taste for human garbage - a good reason to always pack out what you pack in and secure your food and trash.
While black bear activity is not new to our cameras, we have been detecting much more rolling than usual! First, our camera detected bear cubs rolling in bait.
Youtube videos of black bear cubs rolling on the ground near scent bait
And then, this past month our camera detected an adult rolling in bait.
An adult black bear rolling near scent bait
We often see canines, and even the occasional feline, rolling in our very potent commercial scent bait - usually to mask their scent from other predators or prey, or to perhaps add their scent to the potpourri as a way of communication. While black bears are known to communicate with scent by rubbing and scratching on trees and posts, it is not very common for them to roll. In past seasons, we've used a particular stinky blend of bait, called gusto, as a broadcast scent lure. This would hang in a canister from a tree, and the canisters were often found torn off the tree and smashed to bits. It seems the bears could not keep their paws (and jaws) off! This year, we are using gusto as one of our baits instead. The bait is applied underneath a log or protected area, and it seems possible that is has the same strong appeal.
Our cameras also detected a couple of big cats this past month, like these bobcats.
Top to bottom: A bobcat walks through a camera site, a bobcat pauses by a log at a camera site
And the other big cat detection was of a mountain lion.
A mountain lion walks through a camera site.
Though both big cats roam the forest, there are many key differences between them.
Another regular on our trail cameras is deer. We have received quite a few tender photos of does and their fawns.
Top: A doe walks through a camera site followed by her fawn
Bottom: A doe and her fawn look at each other
According to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife most does and bucks do not live more than five years and very rarely live more than ten years. A doe can start reproducing at the age of one and can give birth to one or several fawns a year, meaning a doe will reproduce regularly throughout her life. A doe and her fawn nurture a close relationship until the fawn is weaned. In this approximately three month period the doe will carefully protect her young from predators and fawns will spend most of their time hiding in the woods or brush. Their mother will visit them throughout the day for feeding. Most fawns are born in spring, so by now most fawns are completely weaned and beginning to be less reliant on their mother. Their coats at this time will have lost their spots, in exchange for the coat of an adult.
Another ungulate friend visited our cameras this month - elk!
An elk cow's head in profile close to the camera, with a bit of vegetation hanging from her mouth
Deer and elk are both ungulates with many similarities including their digestion process and reproductive cycle. Both are ruminants, meaning they have a four chambered stomach with bacteria which allows them to digest nearly all plant matter (lucky them!). They also both mate in the fall and fawns are born in the spring. However, elk are much larger than deer and communicate louder and more distinctively than deer. And while they can both eat a wide variety of plant matter, elk are grazers and deer are browsers. Elk will feed on a variety of grasses whereas deer prefer woody plants, but will also eat shoots, leaves, and grasses.
As mating season approaches, elk's antlers will reach full maturity and they will shed their antler velvet.
Left to right: A bull elk walks through the site, a bull elk walks through the site and there are a pair of eyes in the background.
The bull in the image above seems to be shedding his velvet (indicated by the loose skin-like material hanging on his face). And there are a pair of eyes behind him... just in time for spooky season!
We also had a fair number of small critter visitors, such as a striped skunk...
A skunk dashes off a log
...as well as a rabbit...
A rabbit sits on a log
...a yellow-bellied marmot...
A marmot stands by a rock with Mt Hood in the background
...and a couple golden mantled ground squirrels.
Two golden mantled ground squirrels stand in a camera site
Though they are small, mammals like skunks, rabbits, and marmot are important to their ecosystem. They act as pollinators, seed dispersers, support forest regeneration and maintain forest health, aerate soil and allow for increased plant diversity, provide food for carnivores, and enrich our recreational experience.
And the final trail camera photo is a Cascadia Wild first, and just in time for Halloween!
Our camera detected bats!
Bats fly in front of the camera
Out of the 1,300 species of bats in the world, Oregon is home to 15, eight of which are ODFW Conservation Strategy Species. Bats can range greatly in size and weight, and not all species echolocate, but all species are important pollinators, seed dispersers, and, with the exception of vampire bats (which are not in Oregon), are insectivores.
Let's start off with some big scat!
Black bear scat next to a 52mm camera lens cap for reference (the lens cap is approximately 2 inches in diameter)
As we discussed previously, black bears are opportunistic eaters, meaning that they can adapt to what food is available. Based the purple color of this scat, it looks like this bear came across some huckle or blueberries! Berries make up a large portion of a black bear's diet, especially in late summer when the forest is bursting with them.
One of our volunteers conducted a Complete Species Wolf Scat Survey in which all mammal and bird sign encountered are documented, in addition to that of our target species: wolves, Sierra foxes, marten, and wolverine. They found a variety of interesting sign!
A log torn open by a black bear.
This is a dead tree trunk that was torn open by a black bear. In late summer, bears are trying to put on as much weight as they can before hibernation, so all food sources are sought after. Deadfall can be a wonderful source of insects for these omnivores! Though they have the characteristics of a ruthless predator, like strong curved claws and long canine teeth, black bears seldom use them for anything more than climbing trees and consuming insects and fruits. Black bears use both their claws and their canines to break open insect-ridden logs in late summer, to supplement their diet of berries and nuts.
A mountain lion scrape.
This is a mountain lion scrape. With their back legs, a mountain lion will scrape ground-cover backwards to create a small pile with a shallow hole about 8 inches long in front of it. Then, they will urinate on the mound or mark the mound with scat, but no scat was found at this site. This action is a kind of scent marking, and will often be found on the edge of a mountain lion's territory or where their territory overlaps with other cat's territory.
Bones of a deer
Additionally, these bones were found outside of an official survey, by a volunteer on their way to a camera check. These bones belong to a deer, and were found on the eastern side of the forest. This is confirmed habitat for many carnivores that love ungulates, like bobcat, mountain lion, and coyote. This is also suitable habitat for wolves, and ungulates are their preferred meal. While wolves have not yet been confirmed in the particular area where this was found, signs like this are encouraging that they could be.
The forest is full of sign that tells the story of the animals that live there, for those who take the time to look! Whether on the mountain or in your own backyard, we hope you are enjoying the abundant life all around you. Until next time!
Amidst all the uncertainty of the season, one thing remains constant: our natural world. On the hillsides of Mt Hood, rivers and lakes are ripe for swimming, huckleberries are reaching their peak, spring's newborns are exploring their range, and some juveniles have even fully fledged! We hope that you have had the opportunity to spend time outdoors and enjoy the bountiful beauty of the Pacific Northwest summer.
2019-2020 Annual Report
Our 2019-2020 Annual Report is out! Check it out for a summary of all that we were able to accomplish during the year, from our annual budget to our classes, clubs and events, to community engagement.
Also, in case you missed it, our Wolverine Tracking Project 2019-2020 Report was also released a few months ago. This report covers all the findings of the Wolverine Tracking Project. Check it out or read our end of winter blog to see detailed photos and findings.
A big thank you to everyone who made 2019-2020 a success!
Tracking Club met at the end of July for the first time since February, and it was great to get our noses to the dirt again! Tracking Club is an informal gathering for beginners and experts alike; all are welcome. Join us the last Sunday of each month at Oxbow Park.
Tracks found at the July Tracking Club. Left: Mink tracks follow the bank of the Sandy River. Right: The tracks of great blue heron (large) and spotted sandpiper (small).
Nature Book Club is held online the fourth Tuesday of every month. Participants come together to discuss the ways nature writing shapes our experiences and relationship with the natural world. Our next meeting is August 25 to discuss Rare Bird: Pursuing the Mystery of the Marbled Murrelet by Maria Mudd-Ruth.
Learn more about our Clubs and Events
While we are eagerly awaiting a time when it is safe to send all our camera crew volunteers to the field, a handful of volunteers have been helping maintain our 16 wildlife cameras stationed around Mt Hood National Forest. Like seasons' past, we have installed cameras to focus on our target species: Sierra Nevada red fox, gray wolf, Pacific marten, and the ever elusive wolverine.
This summer season has delivered a wide range of wildlife, including one of our target species, the Sierra Nevada red fox!
A Sierra Nevada red fox explores the camera survey site
The Sierra Nevada red fox has been one of our target species since they were detected on our cameras in 2012. We frequently detect Sierra Nevada foxes in the wintertime at our cameras stationed just below the tree-line. We have detected them during the summer as well, just much less frequently. We are lucky to have a couple of detections this summer. These sightings were at high elevation, which is fitting since Sierra Nevada red foxes have only been found above 4,000 ft in Oregon so far, but these sightings occurred even higher than that. This is valuable information for us, because we initially hypothesized that we were more frequently detecting Sierra Nevada red foxes during the winter because they were experiencing food scarcity and therefore would be more drawn to our meat baits. However, now that we have detected individuals at high elevations for two summers in a row, this could suggest that these foxes are migratory and spend the summer months at higher elevation and the winter months at lower elevation.
Foxes are opportunistic and will eat berries, plants, insects, and even carrion. But the primary diet of Sierra Nevada red foxes is carnivorous and is mainly comprised of small rodents. Because of this, Sierra Nevada red foxes tend to be most active when rodents are: at dusk and during the night. Perhaps that explains why our cameras detected these individuals at night!
Our largest regular visitor this season has been the black bear.
One black bear walks through a camera site
Despite their name, not all black bears have a dark black coat. Their coats can range from light brown to jet black and some individuals can even have blonde or white coats! Black bears are more commonly cinnamon, blonde, or brown in the west than other parts of the country - researchers think this might be to help them blend in with the abundant meadows we have out here. However, about 70% of black bear individuals nationwide have black coats.
A mama bear and her yearling explore a camera site
Black bears are typically solitary animals, with the exception of occasional social groups or a mother bear and her cub. A cub litter can usually range anywhere from one to four, and cubs will typically stay with their mothers for two years, sometimes longer, until they are ready to be on their own. Here, our cameras spotted a mama and her yearling walking around the site.
Our feline friend the bobcat walked through our sites on several occasions.
Top to the bottom, left to right: a bobcat pauses, a bobcat walks over some fallen branches, a bobcat trots through a camera site
This cat is named due to its tail, which appears to be "bobbed". Bobcats are elusive and nocturnal, thus are rarely spotted by humans. Luckily our camera's have detected a few individuals this season!
Another one of our Mt Hood felines, the mountain lion, stopped by.
A mountain lion looks at the camera
While it may look like the mountain lion is smiling for the camera, it is actually performing a flehmen response. This behavior can be identified when a mammal curls back its upper lip and exposed its front teeth. This allows for pheromones or other scents to be transferred to the vomeronasal organ, which is located above the roof of the mouth. A mammal may perform the flehmen response when it's investigating new odors or tastes. This image is particularly cool because the flehmen response is most often observed in ungulates, so observing it in a big cat is a treat!
One of the most common visitors to our sites are coyotes.
Top to the bottom, left to right: one coyote smells bait and one coyote rolls on the ground, one coyote sniffs the ground, one coyote pauses with one front paw raised.
Coyotes are one of more investigative visitors to our sites, and are often detected sniffing all around the site. Our cameras also often see them marking the site, either by feces, urine, or rubbing. Above are images of coyotes rubbing their backs on the ground, as well as sniffing their surroundings. The last image features a coyote pausing with their paw raised, which is indicative that they were concentrating on something in their area. Perhaps they were looking for the source of what they were sniffing!
Another common visitor to our sites are black-tailed deer. Now that summer is in full swing, our cameras have been detecting does with their fawns.
Top to the bottom, left to right: a doe and two fawns stand together, a doe stands and two fawns explore, one fawn bounds through a camera site
Fawns are characterized by their brown coats with white spots, this pattern helps them camouflage into tall grass and brush. Fawns are born in the late spring and will weigh between 6 and 8 pounds. It is common for a doe to give birth to twins, though a single birth is not unusual. Does and fawns can create family groups which are led by the oldest mother, while bucks will not help raise the fawns and instead create bachelor groups for the summer.
Top to the bottom, left to right: top three images - a buck walks closer to the camera, a buck looks into a camera, a buck stops to observe the camera site
Bucks can be distinguished from does due to their large antlers. Antlers are actually an extension of the deer's skull and are usually only found on male deer. As growth occurs at the tip of the antler, cartilage is added which is later replaced by bone tissue. As the antler is growing, it is covered with a vascular skin called "velvet". The velvet is almost fuzzy in appearance. The velvet supplies oxygen and nutrients to the growing bone. According to a Cornell University Press publication, deer antlers grow faster than any other mammal bone! Once the antler has reached its ultimate size, the velvet is lost and the bone dies. This dead bone is the most mature phase of antler.
On average larger than black-tailed deer, our cameras also often detected elk.
An elk bull walks through a camera site
Elk are one of the largest species within the deer family and are one of the largest terrestrial animals in North America. Bulls are distinguished by their their antlers and loud vocalization consisting of screams known as bugling.
Beloved for their tall ears and endearing hop, rabbits are no strangers to our sites.
A rabbit hops through a camera site
Rabbits and hares are common and important prey for larger mammals, such as bobcats, foxes, coyotes, and even birds of prey. They have adapted to moving swiftly through forests to avoid being an easy meal, finding a wide range of plant matter for their own snacking. As a food source for larger carnivores and as avid herbivores themselves, rabbits play an important role in the ecosystem.
Left to right: a Douglas squirrel sits on a log, a Northern flying squirrel walks through the grass.
The Mt Hood forest is full of a variety of small rodents, and though they have somewhat similar characteristics, each species is physically and behaviorally distinct. This season we have received images of the Douglas squirrel, the northern flying squirrel, the golden-mantled ground squirrel, and the yellow-bellied marmot. Douglas squirrels are tree squirrels with bushy tails, brown coats and tan bellies, though they appear very dark in black and white photos. They are one of the smallest squirrels in Oregon and are active year-round during the daytime. The Northern flying squirrel are also tree squirrels with dark coats, but their bellies are white and their tails are not as bushy; their tails often appear flat in our photos. Weighing under five ounces, they are the smallest tree squirrel in Oregon. Like the Douglas squirrel they are active year-round, except they explore their surroundings during the night.
Left to right: A Golden-mantled ground squirrel looks into the camera, a Golden-mantled ground squirrel walks by the camera
As opposed to tree squirrels, who dwell in trees, ground squirrels spend most of if not all of their time on the ground. In contrast to the Douglas squirrel and Northern flying squirrel, the golden-mantled ground squirrel is, as the name suggests, a ground squirrel. Golden-mantled ground squirrels are active during the daytime in warmer months, they hibernate throughout the winter season. Their body size and markings lead them to be commonly mistaken for chipmunks, however they are distinctive due to their lack of face stripes and singular lateral white stripe bordered by two black striped on each side of their body.
Left to right: a Yellow-bellied marmot looks at the camera, a Yellow-bellied marmot pauses on a rock
Though significantly larger than the previous species, the yellow-bellied marmot is also a ground squirrel. Like the golden-mantled ground squirrel they are also winter hibernators and are actually one of Oregon's longest hibernators, resting from as early as July through April or May. They are our states only marmot and one of the largest squirrels in Oregon. They can be identified by their brown or golden coloring, squat legs, and somewhat bushy tail.
A striped skunk stands on a log
Striped skunks are omnivorous, meaning they eat both meat and plant matter. Their diet influenced by the seasons: in the warmer months their diet is primarily insectivorous when grasshoppers, beetles, crickets, and other arthropods are abundant. During colder months the switch to a more carnivorous diet and they will eat smaller mammals, hatchlings, and eggs.
One of the most exciting detections was of a Greater sandhill crane.
There are actually two individuals in this photo, can you spot the second one?
Two sandhill cranes walk through a camera site
This species is Oregon's tallest bird and is characterized by its red crown and white cheek patches, which contrast with its light gray or brown body. There are only a few pairs of sandhill cranes nesting in the east Cascades, and this bird is one of ODFW's Conservation Strategy Species, so this was a very exciting — and lucky — sighting
Members of our gray wolf and Sierra Nevada red fox surveys have been busy hitting the trails and forest service roads to search of our two canid target species. So far, we have 10 probable Sierra fox scat samples and 8 promising gray wolf scat samples! This genetic data is invaluable in helping us learn about the population, native ancestry, and habitat use of these canids. Combined with the long-term data collected on our wildlife camera and winter tracking surveys, the scat surveys help to tell an overall story of the forest ecosystem that these rare carnivores call home.
Identifying scat can be terribly tricky!
There are some traits common to all canine scat such as
However, our target canines have more specific characteristics
Comparing these two samples, they are similar because are both twisted in shape and contain both hair and plant matter. However, the potential gray wolf scat is larger overall than the potential Sierra Nevada red fox scat.
If you are planning on hiking the alpine trails of Mt Hood and would like to help out with our Sierra Nevada red fox scat survey, let us know! The more eyes we have on the mountain trails, the more we learn about this rare animal, which in turns helps determine their protections.
Contact us for info on how to join, or read more about the Sierra Nevada Red Fox Scat Survey.
For those of you who are unfamiliar, this is what GPS data looks like from our scat surveys. This is a “track” or GPS route from a recent survey. Note the CaW (Cascadia Wild) shout-out!
Thank you to all our volunteers who keep our wildlife surveys going strong and to our community for your valuable support. Until next time, we hope to see you out in the woods and enjoying some PNW sunshine!
The days are getting warmer and longer, the birds are returning from winter migration, and animals everywhere are bringing a new generation of wildlife into our forests...needless to say, winter has ceased and made way for spring, marking the end of our winter survey season. While this season may have been unexpectedly cut short, the Cascadia Wild team of volunteers and members still managed to bring in countless wonderful photos and record many wildlife tracks while it lasted.
Please enjoy this season recap of the Wolverine Tracking Project's Camera and Tracking Survey highlights!
As we near the end of the winter season and head into spring, the snow begins to slowly melt away and our forests begin to wake up. With warmer weather comes breeding season, new growth of plants, and more abundant food sources for the wildlife. As insects take to the wing and feed our avian community returning from migration, we begin to notice a shift in the dynamics of the forest. We look forward to the spring ahead and enjoy looking back on February and the wildlife sightings it provided us.
As always, thank you to all of our wonderful volunteers who are braving the winter weather on snowshoe and digging through the snow to reach our cameras so that we can bring you these photos. We have had a great season so far, and winter's not over yet! We still have a month of wildlife tracking and two months of camera surveys in Mt Hood National Forest to complete the winter wildlife survey season.
For those of you excited to get outside, make the most of the snow while it lasts, welcome the transitioning seasons, or simply explore the natural world, we hope to see you at one of our upcoming classes or clubs!
Upcoming classes and Clubs
Late winter/early spring is the perfect time to get to know our local songbirds, and our Bird Language Series is a great opportunity to do so! Beyond bird identification, this 8-class series in field and classroom explores what the postures, song, chatter, and even silence of birds can tell us about what's happening on the landscape - the location of predators, presence of other humans, and even our own awareness and mindset. Starting March 22. Read more.
Check out our other upcoming classes, like
Advanced Sign Tracking (March 7)
Intro to Wildlife Tracking at Hoyt Arboretum (March 21)
See all upcoming Classes.
Looking for more to do in the community?
Tracking Club meets the last Sunday of every month.
Nature Book Club meets March 24 to discuss Rain: A Natural and Cultural History by Cynthia Barnett.
More info on Community Clubs
There has been an abundance of wildlife sightings on Mt. Hood this past month, including our beautiful and elusive target species: the Sierra Nevada red fox!
A Sierra Nevada red fox observes the area and looks into a nearby camera
The Sierra Nevada red fox was first confirmed on Mt. Hood in 2012 by Cascadia Wild's trail cameras under the Wolverine Tracking Project. Despite their small numbers, attempts to list these animals as threatened or endangered have failed in recent years due to the lack of information on their populations and whether or not they are interbreeding with other red fox subspecies.
Cascadia Wild uses data collected on this subspecies to aid researchers and conservationists in their attempt to protect the Sierra Nevada red fox. Due to their elusive nature, there are many questions left to be answered, such as their population sizes, distribution, genetics, and ecology. Data is gathered by Cascadia Wild through our camera surveys, winter tracking surveys, and summer scat surveys.
A Sierra Nevada red fox examines the camera site and bait tree
These foxes are always an exciting find, and they have graced our higher-elevation cameras a handful of times this season. Their curiosity of the bait trees are hard to misinterpret, and the body language they exhibit is not unlike that of our canine companions.
Some fun facts...
Other canid visitors include the coyote.
A coyote strolls through a camera site in the fresh snow
Coyotes are generally monogamous and tend to maintain pair bonds for life. Their litters are raised by both parents and parenting duties are also frequently taken on by older siblings in the family group. They travel both alone and in packs usually consisting of an alpha male and female, their relatives, and some members of other families.
Coyote packs tend to live in territories that they will defend against neighboring packs. They mark these these territories with scent markings such as urine, feces, and rubbing against objects like trees.
Left to right (mobile: top to bottom): a coyote marks its territory with feces; the territory is observed by scent; a coyote marks its territory with urine; two coyotes mark their presence by rubbing up against a tree trunk.
There is some evidence that suggests individual coyotes mark their territory more frequently when they are traveling with a pack! This group of 5 is seen claiming their stakes on the land.
A pack of coyotes roll on the ground and smell the surrounding area
A coyote examines the camera site
Some fun facts...
Other carnivorous mammals caught on our cameras this past month include the stealthy bobcat.
A bobcat sits underneath a tree
Bobcats have a wide range of diet, including small mammals such as hares, squirrels, birds, and even the occasional larger game like deer. Bobcats use their stealth to hunt, remaining hidden to their prey until they attack with a leaping pounce of up to 10 feet.
A bobcat sneaks through the camera site at night
These felines are the most common wildcat in the United States, yet they seldom cross paths with humans due to their solitary, nocturnal, and elusive nature.
A common meal of the above carnivores are the snowshoe hares.
Multiple snowshoe hares make their way through our camera sites
Snowshoe hares have evolved to molt to a white coat for the winter to match the snowy backdrop, and molt back to brown once the snow melts away; this way, they do not stand out like little lightbulbs in the dark forest, and they are able to camouflage with their environment year-round. However, as demonstrated above, sometimes these color changes do not happen as they should. As the global climate changes, the presence or absence of snow at different times of the year becomes less predictable, and hares are sometimes unable to quickly change their coat to match - a phenomenon biologists call "camouflage mismatch".
Abundant in our forests, the snowshoe hares are nimble and fast; a necessary advantage as a favorite snack of bobcats, coyotes, foxes, and even some birds of prey. These hares have large, fuzzy feet that help them to effectively navigate their snowy habitats, similar to the snowshoes of our volunteers.
Other herbivorous inhabitants of our forests include the black-tailed deer.
Left to right (mobile: top to bottom): a deer jumps over some fallen logs; an up-close shot of a deer walking underneath the camera; a deer walking up close to a camera.
Black-tailed deer inhabit the forested mountains and foothills near the Pacific coast. They are resident animals, meaning they do not migrate south, but do tend to move to lower elevations during the winter months. Their home-range consists of about 3 square miles of land, yet they tend to travel in solitude - aside from the small family groups of mothers and their young, or the bachelor groups of bucks formed during the summer months.
You can find more information about deer in our last blog.
A female black-tailed deer exhibits a flehmen response
A flehmen response is a reaction to intriguing smells - commonly urine - where the upper lip of the animal is curled back to expose the vomeronasal organ to the scent in order to get a good whif. In fact, the word "flehmen" comes from the German verb for "to curl". However, this response is not just "sniffing" - it may be compared to sniffing in high resolution.
This black-tailed deer doe is seen exhibiting a flehmen response, likely in response to the urine of another deer. You may have observed a cat or another ungulate like a horse displaying this same behavior before. While not uncommon, a flehmen response is more frequent in black-tailed deer males than females. In fact, there seems to be an annual cycle for flehmen responses in black-tailed deer; observations are much more frequent in the winter during breeding season as deer are on the lookout for a mate.
Also seen is a less common winter visitor: a striped skunk.
A striped skunk runs through a clearing, leaving behind small tracks in the snow
Striped skunks tend to hole up for the winter; however, similar to bears, they do not undergo true hibernation. Instead, both skunks and bears exhibit something called torpor: a state of decreased metabolic and physiological activity, allowing an animal to survive through periods of food shortages. More information on torpor can be found in our last blog.
Though skunks tend to be known for their foul smelling spray, they are actually docile animals that will happily leave humans alone and go on with their day. Their spray defense is typically only used as a last resort; if they feel threatened, they will first try to run away from the threat. If that doesn't do the trick, they may arch their back and raise their tail as a warning. Only if they still feel threatened will they release their spray, which can reach a whopping 12 feet.
Before we review some of the findings from our tracking surveys, we want to extend our congratulations to our trackers, tracking trip leaders, and greater tracking community that came out for our CyberTracker Track and Sign Evaluation! For two days, participants were taken to various locations in Mt Hood National Forest and asked questions about the track and sign found on the landscape, such as: who made this track or sign? how was this animal moving? what was the gender of this animal?
At the end of the weekend, everyone who participated received internationally recognized wildlife tracking certification! Six out of ten participants even received Level 3 Certification! Thank you to David Moskowitz for leading the evaluation on behalf of CyberTracker, and everyone who came out to share their knowledge, perspectives, and tracking skills with us - we are truly impressed by our community!
We found a lot of great tracks and sign, and here are some of the highlights from the course:
Left to right/Top to bottom: the class discusses track morphologies; following one of many snowshoe hare trail; the tracks of a male bobcat show clearly on a light dusting of snow and dark substrate; tracks of two deer crossing a road; a set of clear weasel tracks found near a bobcat trail; David discussing a mound created by a mountain lion; a trail sign post that has been used more than once by black bear for rubbing; and a vine maple branch that has been browsed upon by deer.
It's been a great month for our tracking surveys, too! This February we hosted our annual overnight tracking trip in the Tilly Jane area.
Left to right/Top to bottom: sizing up a snow shelter footprint; looking out from a snow shelter entrance; and the long shadows of sunset on a burn area fall onto a snowy field with Mt Hood in the background.
The group followed animal trails by day before setting up snow shelters and camping under the clear skies of a full moon. The conditions for a great time could not have been better!
Tracking surveys have also been finding a lot of great track and sign. One of the most common signs on the winter landscape is snowshoe hare.
A snowshoe hare crossroads with ample scat
A print of a snowshoe hare sitting: the small front feet are in front (on the left), hugged by the large hind feet, and an imprint of the round tail sits behind (on the right) - under the tail print is a rabbit pellet, or scat!
A snow "cave" is made by snow on a sapling: the tracks here show the frequent comings and goings of snowshoe hare to this site. The amount of packed snow at the entrance of the "cave," the stipped branches, and the pile of needles indicate that a hare used this area for feeding if not also rest and hiding.
Hare tracks were found entering this snow tunnel! Trackers searched the area and found another set of tracks exiting the snow some distance away!
We have also been finding a lot of squirrel tracks, and the similar tracks of their carnivorous forest counterpart, weasel! Can you tell the difference between squirrel and weasel in the tracks below?
Left to right/Top to bottom: measuring the clear prints of a short-tailed weasel; the bounding gait of a weasel through snow; a tracker inspects the bounding gait of a squirrel through deep snow; and measuring the tracks of a squirrel.
In our last blog, we discussed how squirrel and hare tracks can be distinguished from one another, but weasel and squirrel can be even more difficult to tough to tell apart. Also commonly found with a bounding gait, weasel tracks can be of similar size, too. One way to tell these apart is by the toes. Squirrels have five toes on their hind feet and four in front; weasels have five toes all around. Squirrels will also have longer toes than claws (for grabbing onto food and tree limbs) and weasels will have longer claws than toes (for grabbing onto their forest prey). Compared to weasels, the first and fifth digit of a squirrel's hind toes are splayed more to the side, while the middle three are kept closer together and pointed more forward, in a 1-3-1 orientation. Weasel toes, on the other hand, will often be more evenly spaced.
Another common track has been the deer mouse. These tracks would be difficult to discern if not for their size! Some of the smallest tracks in the forest, you would be very lucky with excellent conditions if you were able to make out toes in their prints.
Left to right/Top to bottom: a deer mouse bounds through crusty snow; and a deer mouse bounds through a thinner layer of fluffier snow.
Each of these photos show the same animal performing the same hopping gait. However, the animal is making its way through two different qualities of snow. The first photo shows each foot clearly defined as the animal almost post-holes through snow that has been made more rigid through melting and refreezing, each foot clearly showing where it broke through the surface. In the second photo, we can see the tracks less clearly as the snow hasn't gone through the same weather and is more easily disturbed, yet still light and fluffy enough to pick up a foot drag.
We have also seen a lot of sign from our forest carnivores. One thing all our wildlife have in common is: what goes in, must come out!
Left to right/Top to bottom: canid scat (coyote or fox); felid scat (bobcat or small mountain lion); likely coyote scat containing ungulate fur.
Scat can tell us so much about an animal, from genetic information, to diet and individual health - all of which in turn helps us paint a picture not only of their population but of the ecosystem to which the animal belongs. The top two photos belong to two different families of animals, canid and felid. Comparing the two, you can see that canid scat is a bit more twisty than felid scat, which comes out more round and segmented, like Lincoln Logs. Both have bits of hair, which attest to their more carnivorous diet.
The bottom photo is likely coyote scat, and contains what is likely ungulate fur. Examination of the fur showed that it crimped when pinched between the nails, indicating a hollow hair follicle. Ungulates and polar bears are the only mammals with hollow fur, an adaptation which helps them stay insulated in the cold.
Until next time, we hope you can get out there and enjoy some of the bounty that winter has to offer before it's gone!
Winter is in full-swing, January brought us deep snows and lots of photos from the Wolverine Tracking Project, and looking ahead, February is shaping up to be a busy month with March not far behind!
See below for news on our camera and tracking surveys. But first, check out some of the classes and events on the calendar.
Upcoming classes & events
As always, Tracking Club meets the last Sunday of every month.
Nature Book Club meets Feb 25 to discuss Reading the Forested Landscape by Tom Wessels.
More info on Clubs
A big thank you to our volunteers who have been braving the elements to maintain our camera sites! All the fresh snows on Mt Hood have given our camera crews a lot of opportunity for snowshoeing, digging cameras out of the snow, and bringing back some great photos! We've captured a few winter photos like this (below):
A snow-covered camera takes a programmed, daily photo
However, thanks to our volunteers braving the elements, we have also detected a lot of wildlife. When the heavy snows weren't burying our cameras, which were originally installed about five and a half feet up a tree, they were making some cameras appear to be at ground level. The result? These wonderful close-ups:
A Pacific marten inspects a camera, leaving behind footprints in the freshly fallen snow
It is always exciting to see a Pacific marten, especially so intimately. We love that we can also see such clear tracks as it departs, too. Note the elongated foot pad of its back feet, circled by five toes. This print is characteristic of mustelids, the family which Pacific marten, wolverine, fisher, mink, weasel, and so on belong.
A little about marten...
Snow-level cameras also detected some other animals, which make up our marten's carnivorous diet:
A deer mouse leaves a trail (left/top) and a snowshoe hare comes for a visit (right/bottom).
The fresh tracks of the deer mouse show it's hopping gait - though much smaller, it is very similar to the trail a snowshoe hare would leave: small front feet landing first and the larger, more powerful hind feet landing second just ahead of the front feet.
We also detected an up-close and candid portrait of another target species: the Sierra Nevada red fox!
A Sierra Nevada red fox makes its way through deep snow
Again, you can see the tracks of this montane fox in the snow. With a meandering trail like this and nose to the ground, it's not hard to assume this fox is hunting. Rodents often burrow into the snow, using the insulating layer as protection from predators and the cold.
Foxes at three different sites inspect the bait trees (top row and bottom left). A video shows multiple visits of what appears to the be the same fox to one site over a period of three weeks (bottom right).
These many visits from these rare, native foxes help us understand their habitat use. We have also collected a few viable hair samples from some of these sites. Like scat samples, hair samples may help give us important genetic information to help us understand their population history, genetic diversity, and habitat connectivity. Hair samples are collected on wire brushes, which are attached to the black belt on the tree just under the bait.
Our region is home to three kinds of montane fox, the Sierra Nevada red fox (Vulpes vulpes necator) in the Oregon Cascades and Sierras, the Cascade red fox (V.v. cascadensis) found in the Cascades north of the Columbia River, and the Rocky Mountain red fox (V.v. macroura) who are native to northeast Oregon. And, just this week, it was announced that there is a population of Rocky Mountain red fox living near Bend, and likely has been in this area for some time! Just like the Sierra Nevada red fox in our backyard, the montane fox can be elusive and difficult to study, even when they are right under our nose.
Other recent visitors include the ever-present coyote.
Left to right (mobile: top to bottom): a coyote fixates on a tree; two coyotes look on while a third rolls in fresh snow; a coyote with a white-tipped tail pauses, then leaps over a log to smell a stump; and finally, a coyote stands chest-deep in the snow, likely listening for rodents. Though the final coyote's retreat was not captured, its tracks show it departed the way it came, taking the time to circle (and likely mark) the stump behind it (final photo).
We've also detected a few bobcat:
Left to right (mobile: top to bottom): a bobcat walks past a bait tree; bobcat walks down a game trail; bobcat inspects a bait tree; bobcat leaves tracks in fresh snow; bobcat smells the base of a bait tree; and a bobcat passes through a site with what looks like a freshly caught hare
The bobcat on the right (or bottom), is difficult to make out. However, this lucky visitor is sporting a freshly caught hare! Bobcats (Lynx rufus) are well-adapted for snowy mountains, and, like foxes, marten, and coyotes, snowshoe hare are a favorite snack. Bobcats often hunt at night, and like the marten, don't let their small size fool you! They can cover 10 feet of ground in one pounce.
We are more likely to see bobcats on the mountain in the winter than their felid cousin, mountain lion. Mountain lions (Puma concolor) are less adapted to snowy environments than bobcat and are more often detected at lower elevations than where most of our cameras are located.
Another visitor we don't expect to see in the winter? Black bear. However, our cameras did pick up a bear between snows, a bit later than we would expect to see one.
A black bear walks down a game trail between winter snows
Bears do not hibernate in the same way as most other animals, like some rodents and reptiles, who lower their body temperature along with their metabolism and sleep throughout the whole winter. Instead, they enter a state called torpor where their metabolism slows down, but their body temperature remains elevated and they are able to wake more easily. They can wake from this sleep-state during winter if the weather warms or they are disturbed, and they may even leave their dens, eating opportunistically if they come across food, but do not tend to venture out for long. Other animals that enter a similar torpor state are raccoons and skunks - plenty of reasons why it is always good to be aware of your surroundings in the forest! Whether this particular bear is taking a mid-torpor stroll or has yet to enter this state for the winter is hard to say.
One animal, we are not surprised (but always happy) to see is the black-tailed deer.
Left to right (mobile: top to bottom): A doe in the snow; a buck in the snow; three deer in the snow; a buck on a game trail
Did you know Oregon is home to four native subspecies of deer? Mt Hood National Forest is home to the Columbian black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus columbianus), a subspecies of mule deer. These deer are found from the coastal ranges to the Cascades, and their range runs from California to northern British Columbia (a sister subspecies, Sitka black-tailed deer, is found in Alaska). Rocky Mountain mule deer (O.h. hemionus), another mule deer subspecies, are also native to Oregon, and they are found on the east side of the Cascades summits, most commonly on the east side of our state - fittingly, their range also includes both the American and Canadian Rockies. Black-tailed deer are a little smaller and darker than mule deer, but both have large, mule-like ears. While mule deer seem to prefer open steppe, black-tailed deer tend to prefer brushy areas of coniferous and mixed-coniferous forests, sticking close to clear cuts and burns for browsing opportunities.
Oregon is also home to two subspecies of white-tailed deer: the Columbian white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus leucurus) and the Northwest (Idaho) white-tailed deer (O.v. ochrourus). The Columbian white-tailed deer is the most rare deer in Oregon. They only live along the lower Columbia River and Umpqua Basin, and the Columbia River population is a federally protected endangered species. The Northwest white-tailed deer is found in the northeastern corner of our state and has a healthy population. As a species, white-tailed deer grow increasingly more abundant as you move toward the east coast. They can be found from Canada to South America and prefer mixed-deciduous forest types.
In our area, you are most likely to see Columbian black-tailed deer - or if you are lucky, the rare Columbian white-tailed deer. Columbian white-tails have long tails they keep held closely to their bodies, and black-tails have shorter tails held loosely to their bodies. If you head a bit further east, you may see the Northwest white-tails; these are the smallest deer of all and have very wide tails. The antlers of each species are different, too. If the antlers are fully developed, white-tailed deer have one main beam on each antler, with points coming of the main beam; black-tailed deer (and mule deer) will typically have a fork coming off the main beam, with points coming off each branch. Check out ODFW's site to read more about our native deer or watch a video on Columbian black- and white-tailed deer identification.
Almost as copious as deer and as perennial as coyote, are our forest corvids.
Left to right (mobile: top to bottom): Clark's nutcracker; Canada jay; and a video compilation of the two species visiting the same tree over two weeks - almost every 1-2 frames is a new visit.
Plentiful snows, hearty trackers, and some luck have resulted in some great tracking surveys!
One tracking team encountered three separate bobcat trails:
Detail of bobcat tracks; another bobcat's trail
The track quality on these tracks is great, even with a dusting of snow falling after they were laid. These photos show nice clarity of both the individual tracks and the trail pattern, and you can easily see the characteristic felid shape in these tracks. Compared to canid tracks, the whole of the print is quite circular and the thick, oblong pad is surrounded by four evenly spaced "toe beans." When distinguishing between dog and cat tracks, it's better to pay attention to these characteristics, rather than the presence or lack of claws: while felid claws are retractable (and canids are not), a bobcat or mountain lion can extend its claws for traction - something you may see on, say, a snowy/muddy/icy mountainside.
Distinguishing bobcat from mountain lion is easy, at least for the adults of the two species: go by size! Under 2.25" diameter is likely bobcat; greater than 2.75" is likely mountain lion.
The two tracks we are seeing the most of are snowshoe hare...
Left to right (mobile: top to bottom): the meandering path of a snowshoe hare; older tracks show the commonly seen track pattern of undefined, large hind feet ahead of the small front feet; a tracking team examines a snowshoe hare trail along a log; detail of exceptionally clear hare tracks.
Similar to the snowshoe hare, the older squirrel tracks show the commonly seen track pattern of undefined, large hind feet ahead of the small front feet; detail of clear squirrel tracks.
The abundance of hare and squirrel is great news for the bobcat, whose tracks were found above, and the rest of our forest carnivores. The photos above show how similar these two animal's tracks are, both animals having bodies well-suited for bounding along, close to the ground. They can be difficult to discern from one another, but hare will be larger than a squirrel, and hare's tracks often have less definition due to the impressive amount of fur covering their pads and toes. Squirrel tracks are also more uniform and boxy - note how well the feet line up on the bottom set of squirrel photos, compared to the more staggered landing of the hare's front feet.
In our forest, we have two kinds of non-hibernating squirrels: the Northern flying squirrel and the Douglas squirrel. However, it is difficult to tell their tracks apart. One way to tell? If you can follow the trail to the start, there will be a "landing strip" where the flying squirrel hit the ground. If you have clear enough tracks, you may be able to tell that the 5th toe on the hind foot (the "pinky toe") is almost as long as any other toe - that's a flying squirrel, too. Read more squirrel track analysis by David Moskowitz.
Whether in town or on the mountain, we hope to see you soon!
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!
Our summer season is winding down, but this time of year is when things really start to heat up for us at Cascadia Wild! Like our friends in the forest, we are busy gathering all our resources together to ensure a great winter survey season.
We have several upcoming classes, including classes in wildlife tracking for every skill level - don't miss out on our Pressure Releases class December 7 and 8th! - and classes in ornithology and our Naturalist Training Program - see our full list of offerings here: About Our Classes.
This hope of their return is what started the Wolverine Tracking Project, and though the project has grown to incorporate other wildlife, the hope is still alive today. Join us this winter as we continue our search for wolverine and document other rare carnivores like gray wolf, Sierra Nevada red fox, and Pacific marten. Our Winter Tracking Surveys, done by snowshoe in small groups and led by 1-2 experienced Tracking Leaders, start in December, and training has already begun. Training dates are filling up quickly, so register here soon: Join a Tracking Team. A big thank you to those who have already signed up!
Our Camera Surveys also collect abundant wildlife data and operate year-round. We have just completed our Winter Camera Survey orientations, and we are excited about all the new volunteers that have joined us and to see so many returning faces!
We have set up our first winter cameras, and as of this past weekend, all our summer cameras have either been taken down or reset for winter, when we use different bait and have different installation procedures. It will be a few weeks before we have footage back from the winter sites, but in the meantime, summer footage is still rolling in. We have a lot of summer footage to catch up on, so here it goes!
Perhaps the most exciting news from the past several weeks is the detection of Sierra Nevada red fox!
A Sierra Nevada red fox inspects the camera and smells then rolls in the commercial scent bait at one of our high elevation sites. See the full video here.
Though this site was only up for 5 weeks, we had two separate visits from our target species Vulpes vulpes necator - one of the most rare mammals in North America, and an uncommon sight at our summer cameras! We have been operating under the hypothesis that we see this high-mountain fox at our cameras more frequently in the winter because they are drawn in more by the type of bait we use: in summer months we use commercial, scent bait; in the winter we use an eco-friendly meat bait. However, given this detection, we are now considering that perhaps elevation is key. It's possible that these foxes are only at higher elevations in the summertime, living off the ample mice and golden mantled ground squirrels (see below) on these more barren slopes, following food sources down the mountain as winter sets in. This is something to explore in coming seasons, and testifies to how little we know about this elusive animal.
A golden mantled ground squirrel forages and inspects the camera - hello!
We also saw quite a few rolling coyote as well. Like the fox above, not many canids can resist the urge to roll in some nice, stinky bait. Here are a couple sampling the potpourri of Hiawatha Valley Predator (one of our commercial scent baits):
Coyotes roll in commercial scent bait.
Coyotes can also be stoic. The lean and lanky look of this coyote indicates it could be a juvenile, but with its transitional coat it's hard to tell:
Compare to this coyote, who is a bit ahead of the game with its bushy winter coat:
The red coloration of this coyote is remarkable, and it's suitable camouflage for the pine needles on the ground. Coyotes can be difficult to discern from other canids, like foxes and wolves, especially when they have coloring like this. One giveaway is the tail: coyotes most often have a dark tip on their tail, while red foxes often have a white-tip on their slightly more bushy tail. Though it should be noted that gray foxes, who are rare on our mountain but more common to the south, also have dark-tipped tails, and coyotes can even sometimes have white-tipped tails, so it's best to take in other visual clues to their identification. Another clue: the ears are long and pointed on a coyote, but a fox has more rounded ears (see the photo of Sierra Nevada red fox above for a great ear-comparison). Compared to a wolf, coyotes are smaller, have slender faces with narrower snouts, their legs are more long and thin, and they walk more closely to the ground.
This site detected several instances of coyote, including a couple instances where the coyote was carrying prey!
We also had another instance detecting a lucky animal with its dinner:
This bobcat is carrying what is could be a gray squirrel, not unlike a squirrel seen at the same site just a couple weeks prior. However, with striped skunk also in the area, anything is fair game!
We also detected a bobcat doing something we don't often see: rolling in the bait!
This is a trait much more commonly seen with canids, like the ones above, and is the first time our cameras have caught this from a felid. The reasons behind a cat doing this are likely the same as a dog: to relieve itchy backs, disguise their scent, an/or cover themselves in something that smells so good.
We also caught a few instances of bobcats scent marking trees, like this one:
And we got to see some photos taken in the daytime, really showing off their distinct markings:
Most of our footage of mountain lions is also at night, but we detect them during the day from time to time, and caught some beautiful shots at one of our eastern sites:
We also detected several instances of another of our common forest predators, the black bear:
This bear, not a strict carnivore by any means, is likely foraging in the vegetation. Like most other animals right now, bears are busy gathering their winter stores. Whereas squirrels stash their stores, bears carry their stores with them.
Bears are thoroughly inquisitive, curious animals, and often spend a good deal of time inspecting sites, like this one seen here smelling both our bait area and the camera.
A bear inspects the bait log and the wildlife camera. See the full video here.
One of our summer sites used meat bait, and this was a very popular attractant for the neighborhood bears.
One instance the bear went after the bait, another instance the bear gave up and instead had a good scratch, and a third instance the bear forewent the bait entirely and climbed the tree. Whether the bear climbed the tree to get a better vantage point or was spooked by something in the area, is hard to say. It's possible it could have been spooked by one of the several cattle wandering through these woods:
These cows were also interested in the bait. In the second photo, the lighter cow is holding its mouth open in what is called a Flehmen response - something we haven't seen yet this summer but is common in ungulates like cows, deer, and elk, as well as in felids and bears. This is when an animal curls back its lips and breathes into its mouth, holding the air behind its teeth to better smell an area (read more about Flehmen response here).
The bait was also a strong attractant for a family of deer, the youngest still with their summer spots.
We saw deer at several of our other sites as well, like these two young bucks enjoying some early snow:
Given the antler and overall compact size of these two, and given that their muscle development does not seem mature (compare overall size and especially neck thickness with the buck below), it is likely that these gents are yearlings. Yearlings will also often travel in bachelor groups of two. While there may be additional deer we do not detect outside of the camera's field of view, a group of two would also support this age guess.
For family Cervidae, this is a busy time of year: rut, or mating, season. The soft velvet of buck antlers has been shed, and the hardened antlers are now being put to use.
Generally, the rut for black tailed deer begins in the first week or two of November, though that timing can vary due to a number of factors, including a cooler season, early snow, changes in food resources, or the individual. You can see that the buck above has one antler smaller than the other, which could be due to a growth abnormality or a sign of an early season sparring match with another buck.
For elk, we have passed the peak of rut in Oregon, but it's not uncommon for a second or third rut "wave" to happen around this time of year. Not long after seeing this cow - or female elk - and her calf, we saw the mature bull elk pictured below:
It's not hard to imagine that this bull is covering a lot of territory right now, searching for a mate. If you hear something like this while you're out in the woods, there are elk around! While male elk will bugle year-round, it is especially common during rut.
We hope you all are staying warm and having good luck readying your own winter stores while enjoying the changing of the seasons. Until next time!
Mt Hood from one of our high elevation summer cameras, in early October.
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!
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’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.