Cascadia Wildlife Blog
News from the Wolverine Tracking Project and more
We are offering a lot of exciting classes this spring, covering a wide range of nature-based skills! If you are looking to brush up on your outdoor survival skills, check out our in-person fire building class on March 6th. Or come connect with fellow bird-lovers and learn more about the world of birds with our online bird-language class on March 10th. This class will be followed up with a field trip on April 16th so that you can practice your new skills!
To learn about more of our upcoming spring classes, check out the classes page on our website! We have classes in botany, tracking, and a whole naturalist training program that runs from April through November!
This winter survey season is flying by! We have lots of exciting findings to share with you from our camera and tracking surveys, including a few target species detections, a supersized feline, and much more! We are super grateful for all of our dedicated volunteers who have been working hard all season to help us collect this valuable data!
We have had several target species detections (and potential detections) over the last few months! Back in January one of our high elevation un-baited cameras caught this glamour shot of a Sierra Nevada red fox out on a snowy day! There were a few other detections of Sierra Nevada red fox in this photoset, but only at night- we could just make out that white tail tip in the shadows.
A black/silver morph Sierra Nevada red fox on a blustery day.
Another one of our target species is the Pacific marten! We monitor these mini mustelids because they can serve as indicators of healthy upper elevation old growth conifer forests. Unsurprisingly, this marten was detected at one of our high elevation sites! We are keeping our fingers crossed for more detections of these furry friends throughout the rest of our winter survey season.
A Pacific marten pauses while making their way through a camera site.
Another one of our target species- the gray wolf- has been a little more illusive this winter. Gray wolves were extirpated from Oregon since the mid 1900s, due to predator control practices and declines in prey availability. Did you know that Cascadia Wild survey cameras provided some of the first documentation of their return to Oregon, back in 2018? Since their return, Cascadia Wild has continued to document their presence here with camera surveys and wolf scat surveys. While we haven't spotted any gray wolves on our cameras so far this winter, one of our camera crew volunteers did come across these large canine tracks!
Large unknown canine tracks in the snow.
These tracks are large enough that they could potentially have been left by a gray wolf, but they could also be from a really BIG dog! We are keeping our fingers crossed that this unknown canine friend stuck around and we can hopefully catch a glimpse of them on the camera!
Speaking of large carnivores, wolves aren't the only top predators in our forest! One of our volunteer's personal cameras recently picked up this strapping mountain lion, out on an evening prowl!
A mountain lion strolling through the forest.
Mountain lions (and gray wolves) are apex predators, meaning they are at the top of the food chain and don't have any natural predators. Healthy predator populations are important for maintaining prey species' population sizes which affects overall ecosystem health. In areas where predator populations decline, prey populations will often increase dramatically which can have negative effects on vegetation due to over-browsing. This phenomenon is referred to as a trophic cascade- where changes in populations at one trophic level (trophic levels are basically just the animals position in the food chain!) has direct and indirect impacts on populations at other trophic levels.
The other member of the felidae family found in our region is the bobcat! Bobcat are significantly smaller than mountain lions, and easily identified by their mottled coat and short tail. Canada Lynx, which also have a smaller body size and short tail, have a more northern distribution and are not found in Oregon.
A bobcat investigates a camera site baited with deer meat, and walks away satisfied.
In the bottom two photos, a bobcat is seen showing off their expert climbing skills in an attempt to get at the deer leg our volunteers had strapped to this tree! We switched away from using meat to bait camera sites a few years ago in favor of hormonal and scent based baits. However, we are baiting two camera sites with both hormonal lures and deer meat as part of a regional survey for wolverines being coordinated by the ODFW. For better or worse, when this bobcat was done with their two night deer meat feast, there was nothing left for any possible wolverine visitors!
Unlike bobcats and mountain lions, who are obligate carnivores (meaning they only eat meat) the next two predators are actually omnivores! Black bears, who we don't often see out frolicking in the snow like the bear below, have a broad diet that depends on both their location and the season. They eat berries, fruit, sedges, grasses and insects, and will hunt deer fawns in the spring. They are also known to claim deer and elk carcasses depredated by mountain lions.
A black bear rolling and rubbing against a bait box semi-buried in snow.
Coyotes are also omnivorous and highly adaptable. They will eat berries, mushrooms, insects, small mammals and fawns- depending on what they can get their paws on!
From top to bottom: A coyote passes through a snow dusted, lower elevation camera site; two photos of inquisitive coyotes checking out the bait at our camera sites.
A coyotes diet can dramatically impact the way their scat looks like! The scat in the photo below is most likely coyote scat, based on the size, twisted appearance and tapered end. It is a little hard to tell because the scat is so frozen, but if you look closely you can see some hair in there!
Probable coyote scat found near a camera survey site.
We haven't had very many skunk detections these past couple months but one camera did capture this skunk hurrying through the snow. Skunks are typically less active during the winter, as food supplies are scarcer they tend stay in their burrows- check out our previous blog post about hibernation and torpor to learn more about what they are doing to conserve energy during this time!
Skunks are primarily insectivorous, but will also eat small mammals, fruit and bird eggs!
A striped skunk scampers through the snow.
Another miniature mustelid found in Oregon, and our smallest mammalian predator, is the weasel!
A weasel scurries around the trunk of a tree.
There are two species of weasels in Oregon, the short-tailed and long-tailed weasel, which are practically indistinguishable in the field. Weasels prey is dependent on their size- short tailed weasels focus on mouse-sized prey, while long-tailed weasels prey primarily on ground squirrels and mountain beavers.
We have a good amount of deer detections over the last month- almost all of them at lower elevation sites and sites in our East forest survey region. This is pretty typical of deer distribution on Mount Hood in the winter months- there is more to eat at lower elevations and deer follow the food!
From top to bottom, left to write: Two deer browsing on vegetation; A deer stares straight at our trail camera; Another deer, this one with a bit of vegetation hanging from their mouth, looks right at the trail camera.
There was a single elk detection at one of our cameras over the last month, also at a lower elevation survey site! The volunteer checking this camera actually spotted a small herd of 8-12 elk (including two males) on their way to the site! The elk didn't stick around long, but they did leave behind lots of tracks and scat (shown below).
From top to bottom, left to right: An elk passes by, partially obscured by the trees; An elk track in the snow; Lots of elk tracks and scat in the snow near a camera site.
Our cameras aren't set up to attract small mammals but that doesn't mean we aren't happy to see them when they stop by! Healthy prey species populations support healthy predator populations! We have had several snowshoe hare detections at camera sites, and many more on tracking surveys!
A snowshoe hare hops through the snow.
Squirrels are a frequent visitor at camera sites and their tracks are also commonly found on tracking surveys. This time of year we mostly expect to see Western gray squirrels, Douglas squirrels and the occasional Northern flying squirrel.
From top to bottom, left to right: A Western gray squirrel digging in the snow at the base of a tree; A Douglas squirrel pauses in the middle of a camera site; A Northern flying squirrel climbing on a bait box.
From left to right: Probably squirrel sign- nibbles on a lodgepole pine twig, marks left at a 45 degree angle; The cone remnants of a squirrel feast.
Thanks for tuning in to our blog this month and be sure to check back next month for more cool wildlife findings and updates on our upcoming summer survey season!