Cascadia Wildlife Blog
News from the Wolverine Tracking Project and more
We can't believe it- our winter survey season is all wrapped up! It's been a wonderful season, chock-full of interesting wildlife findings and fun times! We want to extend a big thank you to all our amazing volunteers, without whom none of this would be possible! Winter wildlife surveys are hard work- volunteers spent the winter trekking through snow, braving winter weather and Timberline traffic to collect valuable camera and tracking data!
This season trackers completed 14 tracking surveys, and surveyed over 14 miles on Mt.Hood! Our Winter Tracking Survey season ended in March and will resume as the snow returns to the mountain next December. In the meantime, our summer Scat Surveys will take over the search for target species sign and genetic sample collection!
Camera crews monitored 19 cameras this winter on Mt.Hood and in the surrounding forest. We also had an additional 14 camera sites set up and monitored by dedicated volunteers who shared their data with us, for a total of 33 camera sites this season! Our camera surveys are a year-round operation- some camera sites will remain up through the summer season, but many of our cameras will be relocated to sites better suited for summer wildlife activity.
The Wolverine Tracking Project has four primary target species- Sierra Nevada red fox, Gray wolf, Pacific marten and the wolverine (of course!). This season we had several target species detected on trail cameras, as well as some target species tracks and scat findings!
The Sierra Nevada red fox was detected at 3 different camera sites this winter! The Sierra Nevada red fox is found in the Sierra Nevadas of California, the northern California Cascade range and the Oregon Cascades. These elusive fox reside in high montane habitats, and have only been detected at elevations above 4,000 ft in Oregon. In Oregon they have typically been detected near or above the tree-line, with a preference for open areas and forest edges. However, there is some evidence that Sierra Nevada red foxes are seasonal migrants and may move further below the tree line during the winter.
This season we detected red fox at cameras between 4,400 ft and 6,300 ft. The majority of the detections were at camera sites close to or above the tree line, however we had one anomalous detection at a camera site located further below the tree line then we have previously documented.
From top to bottom: A Sierra Nevada red fox moves through the trees; A trail camera manages to capture just the top of a red fox after they investigate the camera site; A red fox wades through the snow on a foggy day.
Sierra Nevada red fox have relatively low populations densities- about 1 per square mile. While the size of the Sierra Nevada red fox population in Oregon is not currently known, based on their low population density and the limited availability of subalpine habitat on Mt.Hood, we can assume that their population is fairly small.
Sierra Nevada red fox have 3 different color phases- red, silver, and cross. In the red phase, they have a reddish brown upper body, with a white chest and belly. The cross phase looks very similar to the red but with a swath of gray along their back. Silver phase foxes are almost entirely black with silver guard hairs. The distinct white tip of their tail is typically present in all 3 color phases!
This season we had several silver phase fox detections and a single cross phase fox detection. It can be difficult to distinguish silver phase individuals based on trail camera photos, so we can only definitively say that we detected two individual foxes this season.
Along with the camera detections we also had a few potential fox scat collections! Collecting fox scat is an important component of monitoring the Sierra Nevada red fox populations. We send collected fox scat in for genetic analysis- which can help to identify individuals and determine whether our local Sierra Nevada red fox population continues to be genetically distinct from other montane fox populations in our region.
A potential Sierra Nevada red fox scat found at a camera site.
Our other canine target species, the Gray wolf, was not detected on any trail cameras this season. Cascadia Wild has been documenting Gray wolf presence in the Mount Hood survey region since the White River wolf pack was established in 2018, using camera, tracking and scat surveys.
The White River wolf pack resides primarily on the Warm Springs Reservation, as well as adjacent public and private land. At the end of 2020 the White River pack was estimated to have expanded to nine wolves, including one breeding pair. However, more recent estimates of the population indicate that the pack is down to three wolves, with no reproduction documented in 2021.
While we did not capture any Gray wolves on camera this season, a camera crew volunteer did come across some super-sized canine tracks that could potentially be from a wolf!
Potential wolf track in the snow near a camera site.
With our summer Wolf Scat Surveys resuming soon, we hope to find much more evidence of wolf activity in the coming months!
We had several Pacific marten detections this winter at two upper elevation camera sites. Pacific marten rely upon healthy, high elevation conifer forest habitat for hunting and denning. A thriving Pacific marten population is often considered an indicator that the ecosystem as a whole is doing well.
From top to bottom: A Pacific marten scurries across the snow and investigates a tree well; A marten pauses as they make their way through the camera site.
In one case, our camera may have missed the marten but caught the tracks! We didn't pick up any Pacific marten at this site the month that this photo was taken, but the tracks in the photo appear to be marten tracks! We had multiple marten detections at this site in the months that followed!
Potential Pacific marten tracks in the snow at a camera site.
Our namesake target species, the wolverine, has been extirpated from Oregon since the 1930's as a result of excessive trapping and as a by-product of efforts to exterminate wolves. The recovery of regional wolverine populations is further hampered by habitat loss and fragmentation.
While we have yet to have any wolverine detections in our survey region, the re-establishment of wolverines in Mt. Rainier National Park (just across the river!) has us feeling hopeful for the future.
Animals in the order Carnivora range dramatically in size, diet and behavior. From the big cats all the way down to the slinky weasels, our cameras caught all kinds of carnivores this winter!
The largest felid in our region, the mountain lion, is rarely seen due to their shy and secretive nature. Our camera surveys detected mountain lions at three camera sites this winter, all in the East Forest survey area. These big cats are fierce predators, and primarily eat deer and elk. It may be no coincidence that sizable deer and elk populations were also documented at these locations!
Mountain lions are territorial animals, with large home ranges of up to 100 miles. They spend the majority of their lives on their own, except when mating or rearing kittens. Mothers will remain with their young for up to two and a half years! This winter we had one detection of two mountain lions traveling together- we are not able to identify whether this duo is a breeding pair or a mother and her kitten but we hope to see more of them in the coming months!
From top to bottom: Two mountain lions lounging at a camera site; A mountain lion strides through a camera site at night; a mountain lion cautiously sniffs at a baited log; a mountain lion makes a quick detour to check out a bait area before continuing on their way.
Another fierce feline predator, the bobcat was detected at 15 camera sites this winter! Bobcats were detected at sites on Mt.Hood and in the East Forest survey region. Bobcats are significantly smaller than mountain lions, and primarily depredate smaller mammals such as snowshoe hare, squirrels, and birds.
Our cameras caught bobcats on the move, investigating bait, and sneaking around! For the last photo in this series, keep your eyes on the lower left-hand corner!
From top to bottom: A bobcat posed in the snow; a bobcat climbing a tree to get at the bait; a bobcat investigates a baited tree; a bobcat slinking through the grass.
It would be unusual (but not unheard of!) for a bobcat to attempt to take down an adult deer. In this footage from a volunteer camera, it certainly appears that this bobcat is stalking the browsing deer but we can't know for sure!
Coyotes were detected throughout the winter at camera sites across the elevation gradient! Coyote populations are thriving on Mt.Hood, and these crafty canines are drawn to the hormonal and scent based baits we use to attract our target species. We captured lots of footage of coyotes investigating the bait at our camera sites, and in one instance actually running off with the bait box!
From top to bottom: A curious coyote cautiously sniffs at the baited tree; A coyote snatches a bait box off the tree it was nailed to; Two coyotes approach a baited log; A coyote sniffs around the snow at a camera site.
If the coloration of the coyote in the second to last photo above caught your eye- you aren't alone! Melanism is an unusual trait in coyotes and is typically restricted to coyote populations in the Southeast United States. The trait is thought to be the product of past hybridization with wolf populations!
In addition to our camera detections, volunteers were also able to identify several coyote tracks on group tracking surveys this winter! Coyote tracks were found on five of group tracking surveys that went out!
A volunteer points to a coyote track in the snow.
Winter is a quiet time for Oregon's black bear population! Although our climate is temperate enough for black bears at lower elevations to remain active year-round, we still don't expect many black bear detections in the coldest months of winter. We had a few black bear detections at lower elevation camera sites from October to November and one surprising December detection! The photo below is our first black bear detection of spring! We look forward to seeing more black bear activity on our trail cameras this summer!
From top to bottom: A big black bear sniffs around a camera site; A black bear rubbing against a bait box attached to a tree; a bear strolls through a camera site in the fall; a black bear rolling on a bait box buried in snow.
There are two species of skunks in Oregon, striped skunk and spotted skunk. Skunks are typically less active in the winter months, but even so we managed to detect both species! Striped skunks were detected at 11 camera sites. Skunks are nocturnal, so the majority of skunk detections occurred at night. The photo below is one of the few daytime detections we had- it's a treat to see their beautiful striped coats in the light!
From top to bottom: A striped skunk caught wandering around a camera site in the daylight; a striped skunk sniffing the base of a baited tree.
The smaller, and more secretive, spotted skunk was only detected at 3 camera sites this winter. The visit below perfectly shows off their adorable polka dots!
A spotted skunk sniffs around a baited log at a camera site.
We had just one camera detection of everyone's favorite backyard bandit this winter! While most people associate raccoons with urban habitats and trash-can diets, these opportunistic critters also reside in the wild and dine on a variety of natural foods including plants, berries, insects, frogs, eggs and more!
A raccoon clambering over the base of a baited tree.
Trackers also discovered raccoon tracks on a group tracking survey this winter! Raccoon tracks have a distinct trail pattern- often leaving two footprints next to each other, one big and one small. The photo below doesn't show this pattern exactly, but you can clearly make out four of their five dexterous little toes!
Raccoon tracks in the snow.
The smallest of the Carnivora order detected by our wildlife surveys this winter was the weasel! There are two species of weasel in our region- the short-tailed weasel and the long-tailed weasel. The main differences between these species are size and tail length, but sexual dimorphism in both species means that there is some overlap in the size of male short-tailed weasels and female long-tailed weasels! This makes it difficult to distinguish between the species in photos- so we just call them weasels!
A weasel spotted briefly at a winter camera site!
Ungulates are a diverse clade of hoofed-mammals- such as deer, sheep, giraffes, cattle, hippopotamuses, and more! We have two prominent species of ungulates in our region- deer and elk! In the winter season, deer and elk typically migrate to lower elevations to find food and avoid deep winter snow.
This winter we detected elk at 8 camera sites, all located in the East Forest. While the majority of elk detections were at sites below 3,000 feet, we did have a few elk detections above that in the late fall. In the winter elk live in herds that most often consist of cows and calves, while bull elk travel alone or in small bachelor herds. We detected elk herds traveling through multiple camera sites this winter, sometimes stopping to stay a while!
From top to bottom: A herd of elk runs past a trail camera; An elk feeding at a camera site; a bull elk resting.
Elk scat was discovered by volunteers at camera sites with frequent elk activity, and one lucky volunteer even got to see a herd in the distance as they were heading to their camera! Elk scat was also found on one tracking survey, pictured below.
Elk scat detection from a winter tracking survey.
Deer have a similar social structure to elk in the winter, although they tend to form smaller groups. This winter we detected deer at all of our East Forest camera sites, and five of the Mt.Hood camera sites. We had one particularly exciting deer detection early in the season, when a buck was seen running through the camera site, pausing briefly before heading out of the frame, closely followed by a coyote!
From top to bottom: A buck pauses as they run past the trail camera, a coyote is detected shortly afterwards; A buck stops briefly in the snow; A deer captured mid-leap; a deer gazes into the trail camera.
Our forests are full of small mammals- many of whom remain active throughout the winter. Small mammals were frequently detected by our trail cameras, despite the fact that they are designed to target larger species! Small mammals were also frequently detected on tracking surveys this winter- particularly hares and squirrels!
Snowshoe hare were the most common tracks found on group tracking surveys this season- our trackers documented over 90 snowshoe hare tracks! Snowshoe hares were detected at 11 camera sites this season.
From top to bottom: A snowshoe hare leaves tracks in the snow around a camera site; Snowshoe hare tracks found on a tracking survey- the front feet are seen on the right side of the photo, with the hind feet coming together directly in front of them.
There are several species of squirrels in our region that we see throughout the year, however only a few of them remain active all winter long! Of those, the most frequently detected was the Douglas squirrel. Douglas squirrels were detected at 11 camera sites this winter. Douglas squirrels were detected in both the East Forest survey region and on Mt.Hood. Western gray squirrels were detected at 8 camera sites, but only in the East Forest survey region. This is consistent with those species' habitat ranges- western gray squirrels are primarily found in low-elevation forests while Douglas squirrels inhabit mature, mixed conifer forests across the elevation gradient. Northern flying squirrels also remain active throughout the winter, but were not detected as frequently this winter, potentially because they are nocturnal. We detected Northern flying squirrels at only two camera sites this winter!
From top to bottom: A Western gray squirrel digging in the snow; A Douglas squirrel with a cone in their mouth; A Northern flying squirrel checking out a bait box.
Another common squirrel in our region is the California ground squirrel! These squirrels are inactive throughout the winter in our region, but we still had a few detections in the fall and then again in the spring as they begin to reemerge!
California ground squirrels reemerged this spring after a long winters rest!
Squirrel tracks and sign were also frequently detected on our winter tracking surveys! Since our tracking transects are focused on the Mt.Hood survey area, it is likely that the majority of these detections can be attributed to Douglas squirrels. Trackers documented a total of 80 squirrel tracks and 36 squirrel sign this winter!
From top to bottom: Cambium feeding sign documented on a tracking survey; Squirrel tracks in the snow.
Chipmunks are another species in the family Sciuridae that are generally inactive throughout the winter. We detected chipmunks at four camera sites this season. The detection below, of a chipmunk digging in deep snow, is from this past month- late spring snow storms on the mountain may have taken this chipmunk by surprise!
A chipmunk digging in the snow.
Finally, the smallest of the small mammals detected this winter- the mouse! Mice were detected at six camera sites, both on Mt.Hood and in the East Forest survey region. By far our best mouse detection came early in the winter, after a storm knocked down a tree branch in front of one of our trail cameras!
A mouse climbs around on a tree branch.
While our surveys are not designed to document bird activity- we still love when we get to see them! Our winter cameras captured some beautiful birds out in the woods but our favorite visit by far was this owl detection from early in the season! In it, an owl is seen on the ground, possibly eating something, and appears to be startled by a buck as they walk by!
An owl looks up from the ground before flying away as a buck walks by.
Another cool bird detection from early in the season was this pileated woodpecker. The pileated woodpecker is one of the largest woodpeckers found in Oregon. Although it is hard to make out in this photo- they can usually be identified by their striking red crests.
A woodpecker perched on a tree.
Birds in the Corvid family are common in the forests and in urban areas in our region! Of the Corvids, ravens are largest! The photo below was shared with us by one of our camera crew volunteers, who spotted this raven on the way to their camera site! We also had volunteers document raven tracks on a group tracking survey after witnessing the raven hopping around in the snow!
From top to bottom: A raven perched in a tree; Raven tracks documented on a tracking survey.
Another common Corvid is the Stellar's jay.
A Stellar's jay standing in the snow.
Gray jays, also known as Canada jays, are a common sight for birders on Mt.Hood! This gray jay was just barely caught within the frame of our camera before flying off!
A gray jay perches briefly on a tree next to a trail camera.
That's it for our winter wildlife highlights! Thank's again to everyone who made this season so special! Be sure to check back next month for updates from our summer surveys!
End of season news
Snow is melting on the mountain and we are stowing away our snowshoes after another successful winter survey season! Our last group tracking trip went out mid-March, and our camera crews will be heading out for their last camera checks over the coming weeks. This spring we will begin our transition from winter to summer surveys, with trainings for our Summer Camera Crew and Fox Scat Surveys starting in May!
Spring is the season of renewal and new life! Many wildlife species give birth in the spring, including our community science projects namesake, the wolverine! Wolverines give birth in snowy dens between February and April. It's also the time when many plants start to spring forth from their earth, shoot out new leaves and begin to flower. What a beautiful time of year! This spring, Cascadia Wild is offering classes in tracking, botany and bird language! Come join us outside (and online) as we explore the natural world together!
April 16th, 8:00 AM- 2:00 PM: Bird Language Field Trip
April 21st, 7:00-8:30 PM: Plant Identification (online)
May 5th, 6:00-7:30 PM: Weed Walk
May 7th, 9:00 AM- 4:00 PM: Sign Tracking
Here in the Pacific Northwest, springtime usually means rain, rain, rain! But with that rain comes our lush vegetation and gorgeous spring flowers! In the spirit of the season, we headed out to Hoyt Arboretum to document some of our favorite native plants that are springing to life! Hoyt Arboretum is a beautiful natural area in Forest Park (and accessible by bus!), with 12 miles of hiking trails and home to 2,300 species of trees and shrubs! The arboretum was established to conserve endangered species and educate the community- they have trees from all over the world!
On our trip, we focused on plants that are native to Oregon- many of these plants are ones that you will find growing in natural areas around Portland, and even in some yards (especially those participating in the Backyard Habitat Certification Program)! If you are looking to dive deeper into learning about Oregon's native plants, join us for our online plant identification class on April 21st!
Native Oregon Plants
Indian Plum (Oemleria cerasiformis), a common shrub in low elevation woodlands, is typically the first to flower in the spring! We missed their dainty white flower clusters this season, but Indian Plum is also easily identified by its broadly lance-shaped, pale green deciduous leaves. Fun fact: Indian Plums leaves smell like cucumber when crushed! Try it- you won't be disapointed!
From left to right: A photo of Indian Plum showing the general shape of the plant: tall and tree-like; A close up of Indian Plum's leaves.
Another common shrub in Oregon is Salmonberry (Rubus spectabillis), which often forms dense thickets along stream edges and in other moist forested sites from low to subalpine elevations. Salmonberry is easily recognized by its butterfly shaped leaves! Leaves form in groups of 3, as pictured below, and are sharply toothed. The two leaves opposite each other look like the wings of a butterfly. Salmonberry fruit looks a lot like a yellowish orange raspberry. These fruits will typically ripen between May-June, and are edible! Salmonberries are among the earliest berries to ripen in our region and were historically eaten by Indigenous communities along the northwest coast, often with salmon! Salmonberries don't appeal to all tastebuds, but for those who like them, they make a delicious trailside snack!
From left to right: A close up of Salmonberry leaves; a bright pink Salmonberry flower.
Salal (Gaultheria shallon) is abundant in the understory of coniferous forests and along rocky bluffs. Salal's evergreen, leathery leaves don't always stand out- but once you know it, you will see it everywhere! Salal is found in locations ranging from the ocean shore to medium elevation forested habitat. And once Salal begins to flower- you won't want to miss it! It has beautiful white or pinkish urn-shaped flowers that dangle in groups of 5-15 at the end of its branches. Its flowers are followed by dark-blue edible berries, which were an important fruit for many indigenous communities along the Northwest Coast.
Salal growing in the understory at the arboretum.
Oregon Grape (Mahonia spp.) is an iconic Pacific Northwest shrub! There are actually four species of Oregon Grape found in Oregon: Tall (Mahonia aquifolium), Dull (Mahonia nervosa), Creeping (Mahonia repens) and Dwarf Western (Mahonia pumila). Of these, Dull and Tall are most commonly found in areas around Portland, though Tall Oregon Grape is typically associated with drier environments while Dull Oregon Grape is more common in second-growth, closed-canopy conifer forests. That being said, we came across mostly Tall Oregon Grape on our trip at the arboretum- which can be distinguished based on it's height, the shininess of its leaves, the singular central vein of it's leaflets and the number of leaflets per leaf. All Oregon Grape species have distinct holly-shaped leaflets and bright yellow flowers (pictured below), which are replaced by small blue berries.
From left to right: A close up of Oregon Grape flowers; Oregon Grape growing at the base of a Douglas Fir.
Thimbleberry, or nature's toilet paper as some folks call it, is an abundant shrub found in open areas- along trails, roadsides, forest clearings and in open forests! The Thimbleberry we came across was just starting to get some leaves in- soon that cluster pictured below will be a dense thicket! Thimbleberry is affectionately referred to as nature's toilet paper due to its large, soft green leaves that can come in handy in a pinch! Soon we will begin to see Thimbleberry's delicate white flowers, followed by delicious red compound fruits mid summer.
From left to right: A close up of a young thimbleberry leaf; a thicket of thimbleberry plants.
The Pacific Northwest is home to a beautiful variety of ferns- many of which can be found in Forest Park year-round. One of the most abundant of the ferns is Sword Fern (Polystichum munitum), aptly named based on the shape of its leaves. Sword Fern is most often found in the understory of moist forested areas. Ferns, unlike many of the other plant species we've been looking at, reproduce via spores! Spores are dispersed via wind and often don't travel very far from the parent plant in closed forests. While spores are microscopic, you can often see the sori (groups of sporangia that contain spores) on the underside of the fern blade.
From left to right: A Sword Fern plant; the underside of fern frond, showing its orangish sori.
Another iconic Oregon native is Western Trillium (Trillium Ovatum)! These beautiful flowers bloom between February and June each year, but please don't pick them! Since Western Trillium grows in low light conditions, it can take between 7-9 years (or more!) for them to produce a flower. As Trillium plants get older, their flowers change from white to a pink or purple hue. So gorgeous, and definitely better left in the forest for everyone to enjoy!
A cluster of Western Trillium surrounded by leaf litter.
Vanilla-leaf (Achlys triphylla) is a perennial ground cover common in moist shady forests, along streambanks and forest edges. This simple, single stalk plant is easily recognized by its three fan-shaped leaves. When dried, the leaves produce a vanilla-like fragrance- hence the name!
Vanilla-leaf growing alongside Sword Fern and other native understory plants.
Duckfoot (Vancouveria hexandra) is another common groundcover in moist, shady forests. More often called as Northern Inside-out Flower, Duckfoot is a name that refers to the shape of its leaves!
A cluster of Ducksfoot growing amongst Sword Fern and other understory plants.
There are a lot of non-native plants at Hoyt Arboretum because it's a living museum of trees! The arboretum has tree and shrub species from all over the globe, including a beautiful trail of Magnolia species. While some Magnolias are native to the eastern United States, none native in Oregon. However, they are highly valued ornamental trees due to their beautiful and fragrant blossoms.
Pink and white Magnolia flowers along the Hoyt Arboretum Magnolia Trail.
Not all non-native species are invasive- Magnolias and other non-native trees at the arboretum are able to be safely planted because they are not likely to spread and out-compete native species. Invasive species are typically adaptable, habitat generalists with high reproductive outputs. Invasive species have negative effects on the ecosystem to which they are introduced- outcompeting other species for resources, disrupting food webs, or otherwise degrading the habitat.
A good example of an invasive plant species that we see a lot of in Oregon is English Ivy (Hedera helix). English Ivy was introduced to the Americas by colonial settlers around the early 1800's as an ornamental garden plant. Now English Ivy can be found in forests throughout the Pacific Northwest, particularly in disturbed forested areas, where is displaces native ground cover and weakens or kills native trees.
The dreaded English Ivy, creeping across the forest floor.
That's all for our native (and invasive) plant expose! We are off to enjoy some sweet spring sunshine while it lasts, and hope you will too!
P.S. If you are looking for a good PNW plant identification book, we highly recommend Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast by Jim Pojar and Andy MacKinnon! A lot of the information that we shared in this post was adapted from it!
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!