Cascadia Wildlife Blog
News from the Wolverine Tracking Project and more
Winter is coming!
The winter Solstice is right around the corner, but with the storms and snow of the last week it certainly feels as though winter has already arrived here in the Pacific Northwest. Our winter wildlife surveys are in full swing, volunteers on our tracking and camera crews are busting out their snow shoes and puffy jackets and braving the elements to bring us some amazing wildlife findings!
This winter Cascadia Wild is partnering with ODFW to take part in the Western States Wolverine Occupancy Survey! This multi-state, multi-agency survey effort aims to determine the current distribution of wolverines in the western United States. Cascadia Wild is honored to be participating in this survey, the results of which will undoubtably have important implications for the future management and conservation of wolverines. Who knows, this could even be the year wolverines return to Oregon!
With the coming of winter, we expect to see some behavioral changes in many of the wildlife species found on Mount Hood. For example, deer tend to move to lower elevations in search of better foraging opportunities. Often times this results in the movement of larger predators that prey upon deer, such as coyotes and mountain lions, to lower elevations as well. In addition to the movement of deer and some predators, we also typically see less bears at our higher elevation sites, as they hunker down for a deep sleep over the winter. At lower elevations where the winter is not as extreme, bears can be active all winter.
We are excited to share the best of our winter camera and tracking surveys so far! Without further ado, let's get into it!
Perhaps our most unusual finding over the last month was this owl and deer interaction captured on one of our trail cameras!
An owl crouched on the forest floor is disturbed by a passing buck.
We don't often get trail camera footage of owls, and certainly not ones that are this clear. Trail cameras give us this amazing opportunity to peak into the lives of wildlife living in the forests nearby- we feel extra lucky to have witnessed this interspecies interaction!
We had a lot of other deer detections this month- at sites across the elevation gradient on Mount Hood. This will likely change as snow begins to accumulate at higher elevations! In addition to the changes in deer distribution during the winter months, deers diet will also change. In the summer deer mainly subsist on grasses and forbs (herbaceous flowering plants) but in the winter will begin to rely more heavily on woody plants.
From the top: A young deer with small budding antlers looks into the camera;Three deer are seen foraging in an open meadow; a buck with a large rack pauses in the middle of the camera site.
We also had a few detections of elk this month. Elk cows and calves move together in large herds through the winter, while bulls are more likely to strike out on their own after the breeding season.
An elk herd comes barreling through a camera site!
Elk belong to the same family as deer (Cervidae), they are both hoofed, ruminant mammals. Ruminants are hoofed herbivores that have four compartments in their stomachs! In one of these compartments -the rumen- plant material is fermented by symbiotic microbes. Plant cell walls are made up of cellulose, which can't be digested without the assistance of these little gut microbes! After being processed in the rumen and reticulum, food is regurgitated as cud and then re-digested. This time it will pass through all 4 compartments and be excreted as poop! Speaking of elk poop *ahem* scat, as those of us in the tracking field like to call it- check out this picture of elk scat our trackers found on a recent survey!
Scat found on a recent tracking survey, likely from an elk.
A recent tracking survey also found what is likely coyote scat!
Coyotes are opportunistic omnivores- they will eat berries, fungi, insects, fish, small mammals and fawns, depending on what is available. Our trackers weren't able to find the plant that produced these berries in the field but did some serious sleuthing back at home and determined that they likely belonged to the Arctostaphylos genus.
We also had several coyote detections on our trail cameras over the past month!
From the top: Two curious coyotes sniff around a baited log at night; a coyote checks out a camera site; a coyote gives a bait box on a tree a quick sniff.
Coyotes weren't the only large carnivores we spotted in the forest this month. We also had bobcat and bear detections at several sites.
Bobcats consume mostly small mammals such a snowshoe hare, rabbits and squirrels. Their diet remains fairly consistent throughout the year.
A bobcat on the prowl!
Black bears, the only bear found in Oregon, are considered to be the "least carnivorous" of the large carnivores. Black bears eat berries, fruit, herbaceous vegetation, insects and occasionally fawns or carrion. Black bears typically gorge themselves during the fall (eating up to 20,000 calories a day!) and then live off their fat reserves during their winter dormancy.
From the top: A black bear gets groovy rubbing up against a tree; A black bear stares into the camera; Two bears, a mama and her cub, come padding through the forest.
The smallest of the carnivores we spotted this month was this little weasel!
A weasel bounds through a camera site.
We have both short tailed and long tailed weasels in Oregon. Both are carnivorous, but short-tailed weasels dine primarily on mouse-sized prey, while long tailed weasels hunt slightly larger prey, such as ground squirrels or mountain beavers.
Speaking of squirrels! We saw lots of squirrels at our camera sites this past month. Ground squirrels are most likely snuggled up enjoying a cozy hibernation by now. However we saw plenty of Western gray squirrels, Douglas squirrels and even some Northern flying squirrels, all of which will remain active throughout the winter.
From the top: A Western gray squirrel sniffing at a bait log; A Douglas squirrel carrying a big cone; A Northern flying squirrel scampering across the forest floor.
One of our camera crews also spotted some beautiful squirrel tracks in the snow!
Squirrel tracks in the snow.
That's all we have to share with you this month but we will be back in the new year with more wildlife findings! We wish all of you a joyous holiday season and a happy New Year!
Summer Wildlife Review
It's that time of year! A BIG thanks to all of our wonderful summer volunteers who made this season such a smashing success. Summer is a great time for viewing wildlife- we saw animals hunting, foraging, mating, and raising their young! This season has proven to us that theres nothing cuter then a baby bobcat (unless it's a baby bear...or deer). We have a lot of exciting wildlife sightings to share with you- including a sighting of one of our target species (the elusive pacific marten) and a first detection ever for Cascadia Wild (check out the badger below!). So without further ado, lets dive in!
This Pacific marten was our only target species caught on camera this season! That doesn't mean that our other target species aren't out there (Sierra Nevada red fox, gray wolf, wolverine), as evidenced by the scat and tracks shown below! While we have yet to see sight or sign of our namesake, the wolverine, we remain hopeful that they will return to their historic natural range, which includes the Oregon Cascades.
The Pacific marten is considered an indicator species of high-quality, high-elevation old growth coniferous forest. This is because they require lots of connected, complex old growth forest in order to thrive. Downed trees and standing snags, along with thick evergreen canopy, (all elements of complex old growth forest structure) provides excellent hunting and denning opportunities for Pacific marten. When snow falls, they rely on small pockets formed amongst fallen trees for thermoregulation while resting.
A pacific marten sniffs around the base of a tree, near one of our hair snaggers and bait.
Signs of our other target species (Sierra Nevada red fox and grey wolf) were discovered over the summer by our awesome volunteer trackers! While we can't say for sure- the tracks below are likely those of a Sierra Nevada red fox. One way Sierra Nevada red fox tracks can be identified is by their small, linear heel-pad, which can be seen in the top track in this photo. In addition, the shape of the track and the distinct X -shape seen in the negative space tells us that this is a canine track.
A potential Sierra Nevada red fox track, discovered by one of our tracking volunteers.
Below is a possible Sierra Nevada red fox scat found by one of our volunteer trackers. For red fox, we look for scat that is less than half an inch in diameter, and is twisty and tapered at the end. This scat has a lot of hair in it, which is consistent with a red foxes diet!
Potential Sierra Nevada red fox scat- note the tapered ends and small diameter.
Finally, the scat below likely belongs to our target species the gray wolf. Gray wolf scat can be hard to identify- but like other canines we generally look for scat that is twisted, with tapered ends. We expect gray wolf scat to be significantly larger than coyote or red fox scat.
Potential gray wolf scat- this scat is pretty big, and has lots of fur in it!
We detected lots of coyotes this summer, and I mean lots! This makes sense, since coyotes are the most abundant wild canine in the Pacific Northwest. Coyote are an incredibly adaptable species-as unsettled natural area decreases, coyotes are increasingly found living in urban and suburban areas. While there's nothing quite like watching a coyote strut down the sidewalk at six in the morning, it's a treat to see what they are up to in a more natural setting!
From top to bottom: A coyote pauses on a ridge-line, a coyote rolling near a bait site, a coyote urinating near a bait site, a coyote laying down near a tree, and two coyotes sniffing around one of our camera sites.
We saw coyotes looking majestic on mountaintops, rolling on the forest floor, and marking near our bait sites! Lots of species are drawn to our camera sites due to the funky combination of scents we use as bait. Some- like these coyotes- feel compelled to roll in this stinky mixture or add their own scent to the area by urinating nearby.
We had our first badger detection ever this month! It's not surprising that we haven't had many badger sightings before- the American badger range in Oregon is east of the Cascades, and generally outside our survey area. In addition- badgers are notoriously solitary creatures that spend much of their time in dens underground, which makes this sighting all the more special!
A badger at night walking around a tree.
Badgers have been known to engage in mutualistic relationships with coyotes! Many Native tribes in North America have stories of this unlikely friendship between coyote and badger. They have been documented hunting together- coyotes are able to catch prey that badgers chase out of burrows, and badgers catch the prey that coyotes scare underground.
Up next we have the felines! The big cat below is known by many names: mountain lion, cougar, panther, and puma! They are sleek and shy, rarely are they seen by people. This summer we saw mountain lions at only four of our camera sites!
From top to bottom: A mountain lions eyes glow in the night, a muscular mountain lion strides through a camera site.
The other felid found roaming our forests is the bobcat!
A female bobcat and her playful cubs pass by.
This summer we had the joy of watching this little family of bobcats pass by one of our camera sites. Bobcat babies are typically born in May and stay with their mom until fall, although some wait until the following spring to disperse. These kittens are likely just a few months old in this photo, but by the time you're reading this they will be practically grown!
One of our cameras caught this particularly stunning photo of a bobcat cruising through the forest.
A bobcat walking through a forest clearing.
We saw some big ol' bears this summer (and some teeny ones too!). Bears were seen at 70% of our sites!
From top to bottom: A black bear walking through a burn area, a bear climbing a tree, a bear looking into the camera, and a female bear seen at night with her two cubs.
We saw bears strolling through burn areas and climbing trees. We saw bears see us (our camera, that is!) and bears with their babies! Black bears breed in the summer months, and then give birth in late January or early February in their den. Contrary to popular belief, bears aren't true hibernators. What they do could be more accurately described as entering a semi-dormant state. Hibernation involves an animal lowering their body temperature and metabolic rate, to the extent that they become unresponsive to outside stimulus. While bears do lower their body temperature and slow metabolic processes while denning, they remain responsive throughout the winter.
Striped skunks made an appearance at several of our sites throughout the summer, typically under the cover of darkness.
From top to bottom: A skunk lifting up his tail, and a skunk walking through the forest during the day.
Skunks are nocturnal, so catching this skunk during the daylight hours was a rare treat!
Our last carnivore is significantly smaller than the rest, and can be easy to miss! Although we had a few sightings of the weasel throughout the summer, they were usually just a blur across the camera site.
A weasel paused on top of a rock in the center of the frame.
Ungulates are a diverse clade of hoofed animals. The ungulates found here in the Pacific Northwest are deer and elk. Deer were seen at 95% of our camera sites this summer.
From top to bottom: a deer and her fawn browsing on herbaceous plants, a buck showing off his gorgeous rack, and a mother deer with her curious fawns.
Elk are the larger of the two ungulate species we find in this region. There are two subspecies of elk found in the Pacific Northwest- Rocky Mountain elk and Roosevelt elk. Roosevelt elk are primarily found in the coastal region and western slopes of the Cascades, while the Rocky Mountain elk are more commonly found east of the Cascade range.
In the top photo, the young bull elk gazes off into the distance. The photo right below shows an older bull. The last photo is of an elk passing by one of our camera sites late last spring.
While a few of our camera sites had small herds of elk pass through, some of the most beautiful shots we captured this summer featured elk on their own. Elk shed their antlers every winter, and regrow them in the spring. Antlers grow at an incredibly fast rate- for elk its about an inch a day! In the first photo, the young bull elks antlers are just starting to come in, and are still covered in velvet. The velvet is dense fur that helps to increase oxygen supply to the antlers. Once the antlers are fully grown, like in the next photo, elk will remove the velvet by rubbing their antlers on trees and vegetation.
Our cameras aren't set up to catch small mammals like these, but that doesn't stop them from making many appearances throughout the summer!
We saw Snowshoe hare, rocking their brown summer coats, at four of our camera sites this summer. In the winter, snowshoe hares coats turn white. This helps them to blend in with the snow, and may also increase the amount of heat they are able to absorb from solar energy.
From top to bottom: A snowshoe hare pauses in the foreground of the photo, video of a snowshoe hare bounding through the forest.
The yellow-bellied marmot is our only marmot species in Oregon. We only detected the yellow-bellied marmot at one high elevation site this summer! East of the Cascades, they can be found at lower elevations as they can live in both montane or arid environments. Marmots are true hibernators, by now they are probably snuggled up in their burrows, not to be seen again until spring!
A yellow-bellied marmot strikes a pose on a rock.
There are several species of squirrels found in our forests. These curious critters are always up to something!
From top to bottom: A Douglas squirrel climbing a tree, the California ground squirrel gathering some vegetation, the Eastern gray squirrel showing off its fluffy tail, the Northern flying squirrel gliding across the forest floor, and the golden mantle ground squirrel having a snack.
Douglas squirrel, like the one in the first picture, are one of the smallest squirrels in Oregon, Douglas squirrels can be identified by their small size and tan bellies. Up next we have an industrious California ground squirrel. In the colder parts of their range (such as here in the Cascades), California ground squirrels hibernate during the winter, so we don't expect to see many of them in the coming months! The next squirrel is easily identified by its long gray, bushy tail- its the Eastern gray squirrel! The squirrel seen gliding across the forest floor in the next image is the Northern flying squirrel. These little forest friends use a fold of their skin, called the patagium, that connects their hind and forelimbs in order to gracefully glide through the forest. Our final squirrel sighting is the golden mantle ground squirrel! These tiny squirrels look a lot like chipmunks. One easy way to tell them apart is that golden mantle ground squirrels lack face stripes. Check out the chipmunk below for comparison!
A chipmunk perches on a branch next to our trail camera.
See those face stripes? This chipmunk was a frequent visitor at one of our sites, and seemed to really enjoy that particular branch for taking a rest and a snack!
The last of our small mammals is the delightful bushy-tailed woodrat. If you look closely in the picture below, you can see how this critter got its name!
A bushy-tailed woodrat passing through a camera site in the middle of the night.
Birds and Bats
We had some amazing bird sightings this summer including raptors, owls, bats and ground birds, along with some more common backyard birds! The raptors below are red-tailed hawks.
From the top: A red-tailed hawk comes in for a landing, showing off their beautiful tail feathers. A red-tailed hawks spread wings can be seen in the second photo.
We only had a couple owl sightings this summer. We typically capture images of owls at night, and they can be hard to make out, but below is a picture of an owl captured during the daytime!
An owl comes in for landing on a fallen log.
Like owls, we only expect to get photos of bats after it's dark. The photo below is our one and only bat detection from this summer!
A blurry bat flies through the night.
We had several turkey sightings over the summer. The picture below is the only time we captured a male turkey strutting.
A male turkey showing off his plumage.
This was our one and only grouse detection all summer!
A grouse in the center of the frame, walking along the forest floor.
We also saw some more common backyard birds out in the woods! Including this raven that landed at one of our camera sites.
This beautiful Stellar's jay stopped by on a sunny day.
A Stellar's jay coming in to land on a log.
Those are the highlights from an incredible summer season! Check back in next month to see what we discover with out winter camera sights and our winter tracking crew!
October wildlife News
For some of our alpine trail cameras, it's even starting to get a bit wintry!
Snow on an alpine slope after a recent mountain storm.
Before the snows stick around for good, we hope you are enjoying the crunch of leaves, crisp air, and are taking the time to read some good books, take some long walks, spend time with those you love, and connect with the natural world.
For a little added inspiration, join us for our Nature Book Club and Halloween Tracking Club!
Looking forward to winter? So are we!
We are busy getting ready another season of wildlife surveys! We hope you can join us as we head out to the mountain and document the wildlife of Mt Hood National Forest!
Register for a Camera Crew or Tracking Team by October 24!
Wildlife Survey Findings
Our summer surveys are winding down, but that doesn't mean life in the forest is stopping! Here's the best of our camera and scat surveys from the past month. Next month, we'll be back with a highlight of all the findings from the summer season!
While trail cameras haven't documented any of the target species from the Wolverine Tracking Project yet this season, we did find a few instances of potential Sierra Nevada red fox tracks and scat, as well as a potential gray wolf track. Scat from our target species is just as valuable as photos - if not even more so - since it has the possibility to provide a wealth of genetic information.
Top: Two likely Sierra Nevada red fox tracks in a soft, light-brown path. A hand is there for scale. Bottom: A goopy, hairy scat, which has good potential to belong to a fox. The ends are tapered, the average diameter is less than half an inch, and the scat looks relatively fresh.
Shown above are potential tracks and scat from a Sierra Nevada red fox. Potential suspects for this track are domestic dog, coyote, and fox - all members of the canine family. The heel pad on the front foot (top track) is closer to the toes than it would be for a coyote. The heel pad is also more linear than triangular in shape, as a coyote or dog's would be. Based on this evidence, we believe this track has very good potential to belong to a red fox.
The scat shown in the second photo is tapered on the ends and contains a lot of fur. The size (about the size of a pinky) is also spot on for our fox scat collection guidelines, so this has good potential to be from a fox. Once genetic testing is done, we'll be able to know for sure who this scat came from.
The tracks below could belong to a gray wolf! Unfortunately the track has been smeared, so we're not able to make out the details, but the shape and size of this imprint lend themselves to be a potential wolf track. Another animal this could belong to is a large domestic dog. However, due to the sliding, we can't be sure of one or the other.
A nearly four inch canine track, imprinted in mud.
Now onto the other wildlife of the forest! We'll kick things off with bears, in tune with last week's Fat Bear Week - however we'll be looking at black bears instead of grizzlies, as Oregon only houses that one species of bear.
We saw this chunky bear passing through the camera site. Black bears should be gorging themselves on food by now, and they'll be going into hibernation within the next month or two. It is important that bears gain as much weight as possible before going into hibernation (torpor), because they will utilize their fat stores to help get them through the winter.
Top to bottom: A large adult black bear walks by; a smaller, subadult black bear looks up at the camera as they walk.
Black bears experience what's called delayed implantation, meaning the female won't get pregnant immediately after mating, which happens in the summer months. Instead, if she is healthy and has gotten enough to eat in the summer months, she will get pregnant in late fall or early winter, and birth her cubs around January. Bears aren't "true" hibernators, which makes sense, since the sow (female bear) wakes up several times during hibernation to birth and take care of the young. Bears of any sex can wake up throughout hibernation - especially if conditions are warm enough to encourage a bit of mid-winter foraging.
Black bears have a 2 year reproductive cycle - they mate every two years and naturally, only have offspring every two years. To tie it all in, the cubs stay with their mother for - you guessed it - around two years. This cub will stay with their mother for another winter before heading out on their own.
A juvenile black bear cub explores the bait setup and looks around before walking off to the right of the screen.
Wow! We wonder what has got this bear in such a hurry!
Fun fact: black bears have a top speed of around 35 mph! Although they're not likely to chase you down since they're usually pretty shy around humans, it's still a good idea to periodically call out into the forest (especially in early spring when the bears are just starting to wake up) to let them know of your presence.
A small black bear bounds across the camera site at an alarming speed.
These black bears are displaying a flehmen response! Many animals, not only bears, will utilize this technique to gather information on novel or interesting smells. They will also utilize the response to determine the reproductive status of a mate. The word flehmen is German in origin, meaning "to bear the upper teeth".
Top to bottom: A close up of an adult black bear, looking at the camera with what looks like a goofy grin on their face (flehmen response); an adult black bear sniffs the ground close to the bait setup, opens their mouth briefly, then continues sniffing before walking off.
We also got some bear track and scat photos turned in this past month. Both their tracks and scat are usually relatively straightforward and easy to identify as they are the biggest animals in the forest. The tracks are characterized by the toes being in a line above the foot pad (versus on either sides of the foot pad in canines or felines). Black bear scat in summer is characterized by the presence of berry seeds, as they are highly omnivorous. There's usually a whole bunch of scat to go along with it, too!
Left to right, or top to bottom: Two distinct tracks left by a black bear; a large pile of scat with berry seeds dispersed, a hand is there for scale.
We had several coyote detections this month. They're one of the more curious creatures when it comes to checking out the bait setup and will scent-mark, roll, rub, and paw at the site. The coyotes below exhibit pawing and scent-marking via urination. They are doing this in response to the sticky, stinky bait that's meant to attract our target species, but works really well for attracting many others as well.
Top to bottom: A coyote paws and sniffs at the ground by the bait stump; a coyote pops a squat and marks the ground near the bait setup before taking off.
What soulful eyes! These two coyotes looked directly into the camera. The photos are practically good enough to be profile pictures!
Top to bottom: A coyote looks into the camera head-on while standing in the middle of the camera site; the head and leg of a coyote is shown, the coyote is looking directly into the camera.
This coyote seems to be distracted by something and is looking into the blanket of trees behind the bait stump. Their voluminous tail indicates they're preparing for cold weather by growing a nice, thick winter coat.
The back and side of a speckled gray, white, and light brown colored coyote, who has a thick, fluffy tail. The coyote is looking at something in the trees in the background.
We've also got some coyote tracks to share, shown in the photo below. It looks like this path was used by quite a few animals! Here we see coyote tracks (circled in green) and skunk tracks (circled in red). Coyote tracks are distinguishable from feline tracks most notably by the overall shape of the track and orientation of the toes. Canine tracks are symmetrical and more oval in shape, and their front two toes are side by side. Feline tracks are more circular, and they have one toe that is longer than the rest, like a human's middle finger. Since one toe sticks out further than the rest, it ends up appearing further ahead than the others. However, misidentification of coyote tracks most commonly happens with domestic dog tracks (depending on size of dog), not feline tracks. Coyote toes tend to point forward more than a dog's and their tracks aren't as round.
Skunk tracks most often get mixed up with raccoon and opossum tracks. However, if you know what to look for, the three have characteristics that clearly distinguish them from one another. Skunks have an extra heel pad, denoted by the red arrow in the photo (although this may not show up in all tracks). They also have five toes on both the front and hind feet, and there is an obvious gap between the toes and the heel pad. Raccoons' five toes will connect with the rest of the foot, so the track has no gap between the toes and the heel pad. Their toes are also longer than a skunk's would be, and look a bit like fingers. Lastly, opossums, like both skunks and raccoons, also have five toes, but their thumb extends out to the side. This is quite easy to see on their hind foot, as the thumb is quite large and leaves a very distinct track. On the front feet, the toes tend to splay out, and the thumb is harder to distinguish. Like with raccoons, their toes also connect with the heel pad.
Several skunk and coyote tracks on a soft, light brown dirt path.
Moving onto the feline family, we had a few bobcat sightings throughout this past month. It's possible this one is catching their next meal! These (usually) solitary creatures feed on rabbits/hares, squirrels, small birds, mice, and even juvenile deer.
A bobcat darts into the left side of the screen, looks around, then moves to a different spot where they sniff the ground.
A couple of beautiful bobcats were captured during the daytime, allowing us to see their gorgeous spotted and striped coats.
Left to right, or top to bottom: A head-on shot of a light brown bobcat. Spots and stripes on their legs can be seen; a sideview of a bobcat in mid-stride. The bobcat is medium brown with lots of spots on the body and striping on the legs.
Most bobcat detections are of them passing through the camera site at night. Below is one of their more typical visits.
A cautious bobcat sniffs in a crouched position before getting up and walking over a downed log.
Pop goes the weasel! This weasel "popped" by one of our camera sites last year, but due to unfortunate circumstances, we weren't able to retrieve the camera until now. Too bad the camera wasn't in focus to capture this little one...
A blurry, closeup photo of a weasel crouching on the snow. The weasel has dark brown coloring on their head and down their back, and a white chest.
Thankfully we had another weasel sighting this month! Usually we'll detect weasels at night, but this time one was spotted in the daytime. Both long and short-tailed weasels are present in Mt Hood National Forest, but sometimes it can be tricky to tell them apart because their size and habitats overlap.
A weasel is captured scurrying across a downed log.
Speaking of weasels, take a look at this weasel skull! This was found nearby the camera site shown in the photo above. Weasels are carnivorous mammals belonging to the family Mustelidae. Other members in that family are wolverines, badgers, otters, martens, minks, and ferrets, just to name a few.
Those razor sharp incisors help the weasel efficiently kill their prey. Despite their small stature (11-18 inches long), weasels take down mice, voles, squirrels, chipmunks, and even snowshoe hares!
Left to right, and top to bottom: The lower mandible of a weasel; the upper mandible of a weasel, mostly showing the front incisors; both the lower mandible and the rest of the weasel's skull. Put together in a line they are less than three inches in length.
Here we have a gang of elk. We haven't seen any elk since the start of summer, so it's nice to see them again. Older, more experienced cows (female elk) normally lead the group - this one consists of 9 individuals, where at least one individual is a calf (juvenile elk). Elk move in groups pretty much all of the time, but the group dynamic changes during the breeding season, which is in the fall. During most of the year, gangs of elk consist of cows & calves, but also may include young bulls. The older bulls are in gangs of their own for that time, until early fall when they temporarily join the cows, which is then called a harem. The dominant bulls try to gather as many cows into their harem as possible, competing with other bulls to do so. A successful bull will mate with multiple females in his harem. Harems range from a handful of cows to as many as 20 or 25 cows. During the mating season, adolescent bulls form small gangs of their own and hang around near the breeding harems, but don't participate. Although bulls socially dominate the harem, the group still moves with an older, experienced cow as their leader. Since elk breed in early fall, their activities are coming to a close soon. In about 8-9 months, healthy cows will bear a single calf each.
A gang of elk, mostly obscured by a tree, passes by. Several different individuals can be counted, including at least one calf.
Within the same family (Cervidae), we have deer. Deer are our most frequent visitor across the board for almost all sites, although they were detected with higher frequency in the height of summer than they are now.
Left to right, and top to bottom: A doe and her fawn put their heads together while sniffing the bait log; a doe curves her head and neck around to her backside to scratch an itch; a small deer comes up to a doe laying down in a field, after which the doe gets up and takes off, leaving a cloud of dust behind her.
By now, the bucks (male deer) have all shed their outer velvety coating to reveal the hard bone underneath it all. This buck has only two points on his antlers, indicating he is relatively young. Bucks grow more impressive antlers each year, peaking at around year seven.
A closeup of a young buck, who is sporting a 2-point antler that has shed its velvety outer layer to reveal hard bone.
Onto rodent sightings! First up, we have the California ground squirrel, who was spotted only twice this month. These squirrels are practically only seen on the east side of the forest, and live in relatively open areas such as fields, pastures, and lightly wooded forests. Thus, most of Mt Hood National Forest is not their preferred habitat, greatly favoring the warm, open areas of the Willamette Valley.
Left to right, or top to bottom: A California ground squirrel climbed a sizable tree stump and sniffs the top of it; a California ground squirrel on a downed log, with their head and upper body leaned over the log.
Next we have the western gray squirrel. Typically we don't see these squirrels in pairs, but this summer has been the exception. These tree squirrels are distinct from other squirrels in Mt Hood National Forest due to their large, bushy, gray and white tails. These squirrels start burying conifer cones in the fall, to be dug up in the winter as a food source. Unlike the California ground squirrel, the western gray squirrel prefers habitat that is heavily wooded, since they are arboreal.
Left to right, and top to bottom: Two western gray squirrels, one on the ground to the right, and the other on the downed log facing the first squirrel; two western gray squirrels, one is facing away from the camera, looking at the second squirrel, who is on the ground looking intently at a tree; A single western gray squirrel bounds from a downed log to the right of the screen.
Those little feet sure do a lot of scampering! The tracks shown here are squirrel tracks. Although they don't look small in the photo, these squirrel tracks are only around 1-2 inches in length.
Multiple squirrel tracks on a soft, light brown dirt path.
Up next we have the chipmunk. They mostly inhabit coniferous forests and rocky outcrops. The two chipmunks found in Mt Hood National Forest are the Townsend's chipmunk and the yellow pine chipmunk, and both are omnivorous. They feed on insects, bird eggs, berries, acorns, maple seeds, conifer cones, fungi, and lichen.
Top to bottom, and left to right: A chipmunk is on a tree stump close to the camera. After sniffing a branch, putting their hands to their face, and climbing on top of one of the branches, the chipmunk leaves; the side profile of a chipmunk. Dark brown and white stripes can be seen stretching across the face; a chipmunk's backside, that has alternating dark and white stripes going down the back.
Next up we have the snowshoe hare, who are frequent visitors at certain sites and can be found pretty much all over Mt Hood National Forest.
A snowshoe hare jumps a step, looks into the camera lens, then bounds off to the right of the screen.
These tracks belong to a snowshoe hare. The photo is from the stranded camera, mentioned earlier, which we only retrieved recently. Hares usually make distinct "T" or "Y" shaped tracks. When a hare is bounding, the two smaller front feet land first, usually staggered one behind the other, and this makes the stem of the "T" or "Y". The large hind tracks land next, side-by-side and in front of where the front feet just landed, forming the top of the letter.
Tracks left by a snowshoe hare in the snow. The path of movement goes from left to right.
Our next rodent we have to share is the bushy-tailed woodrat, also known as the packrat. Normally we don't see this member of the Cricetidae family in such clear view as they are nocturnal, quick on their feet, and also very small (approximately 15 inches in length and weighing around 11 oz), making it a challenge for the camera to capture good photos. Woodrats are found in most parts of Mt Hood National Forest, save for the alpine and subalpine habitats.
A bushy-tailed woodrat leaps onto the ground, pauses and sniffs, then moves to the bait stump and disappears behind it.
Last up on our rodent list is the mouse. These agile creatures generally spend their time on land, but are good swimmers as well. There are many species of mice that can be found in Mt Hood National Forest, including deer mice, western harvest mice, pacific jumping mice, and house mice. Many species of voles, shrews, and the black rat can also be found in the forest. Different species inhabit different habitats. Some can be seen in all parts of the forest, while other species are limited to certain areas.
A mouse captured climbing on a tree log angled at 45 degrees.
These tracks were left by a mouse. Like the snowshoe hares, mice also place their front paws down first, followed by the back legs, which swing out and land in front of the front paws.
Tracks left by a mouse, going up towards the bait setup, then heading right till they are off-screen.
A Canada jay and hermit warbler also decided to stop by briefly. Canada jays are found all across boreal forests in the northern parts of the United States and in Canada, as well as in tall mountain ranges in the western United States. Hermit warblers are found in tall coniferous forests in mountainous areas along the coast of California to Washington. They winter along the coast of central and southern California.
Top to bottom: The backside of a Canada jay, who is positioned close to the camera, turns their head to the side before walking off to the right of the screen; a hermit warbler sits atop a branch close to the camera and looks directly into the lens.
That's all we've got for this month's blog! Tune in next month for our seasonal wildlife review where we highlight the best from our Summer 2021 surveys. Till next time!
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