Cascadia Wildlife Blog
News from the Wolverine Tracking Project and more
It's hard to believe it's September, and almost Fall! This time of year is always exciting for us because it means it's almost time to dust off the ol' snowshoes, start watching the snow reports on the mountain, and get ready for Winter Wildlife Tracking and Camera Surveys!
Registration is open for Winter Wildlife Surveys!
Tracking Club: Spiders and Invertebrates
Nature Book Club
Wildlife survey findings
Although winter may be on the horizon, our summer wildlife surveys are not over yet, and this past month was a busy one in the forest! We have lots of different animals to share with you and, with that, some fun facts. Let's get into our camera survey findings for the month leading up to September.
Black bears (Ursus americanus) were consistently present at many of our camera sites this summer. Although only one species of bear resides in Oregon, the black bear, elsewhere in the country they can be confused with other bears such as grizzlies. Black bears' coats come in a variety of colors, including cinnamon, blue-black, brown, a combination of light and dark, and even white! Size will also vary intraspecifically (between members of the same species), making it difficult to use size alone as a factor in identifying bears. Some black bears can even be larger than grizzly bears! So, how do we tell black bears apart from grizzly bears?
It's all in the face! A lot can be determined through looking at the facial profile and ear shape. Black bears have a straight face profile from forehead to nose tip. Looking at a side profile of the face, a straight line can be drawn from the eyes to the end of the nose. Black bears' ears are, on average, longer, larger, pointed, and more upright. Keep in mind the angle in which you look at the bear could skew their facial profile, as well as if they've recently been in water, which will make the fur wet and cling close to the body, changing the size comparison of the ears to the rest of the body. In comparison, grizzly bears have a concave facial profile and smaller, rounder ears.
Take a look at the bears we detected throughout this past month and notice variations between these individuals, despite them all being black bears. Note that the last bear is young and not yet full size.
Top to bottom: A cinnamon colored black bear makes their way towards the camera, taking a moment to sniff the bait log; a brown colored black bear walks away from the camera, showing their paws and tiny tail; a blue-black colored brown bear investigates a curious smells by putting their face to the ground, resembling a downward dog yoga position; a young black colored bear investigates the bait log.
Bobcats (Lynx rufus), despite their small size (about twice the size of a domestic cat, on average), are ferocious carnivores. They usually prey on small mammals like rabbits/hares, squirrels, woodrats, and voles. The largest animal a bobcat has been known to kill is deer! If this occurs, it often happens in the winter months when food is more scarce to find and deer have a harder time getting around in the snow. In pursuit of food, bobcats have been known to climb up tall trees and expertly navigate around rocky terrain. Unlike their domestic counterparts, bobcats have no aversion to water and are quite skilled swimmers. Adult bobcats have no natural predators, although if the opportunity presents itself, larger predators will target bobcats, in particular juvenile bobcats.
This past month we detected a mother bobcat and her two kittens (shown below)! These felines will mate in early spring and after 60-70 days, anywhere from 1-6 kittens are born. These two kittens were likely born at the tail-end of summer, and will stay with their mother until they are around 8 months of age, dispersing in the winter time to find territory of their own. Other than when mating and rearing offspring, bobcats are solitary creatures, as exemplified by the other detections we've had of them.
Top to bottom: A female bobcat walks through the camera site while her two curious kittens roam around the bait stump; out on a rocky outcrop at night, a bobcat thoroughly checks out the camera; a bobcat passes through the forest during the day; a bobcat climbs on the bait log and sniffs around.
Below are two photos of bobcat scat. The scat is blunt ended, contains no tapering or twisting, and is pretty much one solid tube, leading us to believe this is scat deposited by a feline. At around 0.5-0.75" in diameter, it's the right size for a bobcat scat. Feline scats are more likely to be segmented than canine scats - which can be close look-a-likes - as they are extremely dense due to their carnivorous nature. In the second photo there are some hairs that can be seen, take a look for yourself!
Top to bottom: a bobcat scat, in 3 pieces. The first piece is quite long and blunt, the other two pieces are much shorter but still quite stubby; an up close photo of the long scat from the first photo. A wild strawberry is in the foreground, and small hairs can be seen in the scat, which is turning a white-gray color.
Next, we have another member of the feline family, the mountain lion or cougar (Puma concolor, sometimes also referred to as Felis concolor). Their coat color ranges from tan, light brown, brown-orange, and gray-brown, and like bobcats, are solitary creatures. Their main food source is deer, which they kill with a powerful bite to the neck. A mountain lion can leap up to 20 feet while hunting! In addition to deer, they target elk, bighorn sheep, and sometimes even raccoons, birds, and small mammals.
Unfortunately, these majestic big cats are listed by the IUCN as Near Threatened in some locations, though not in Oregon. At one time, however, they were in danger here. In 1843, in what is now considered Oregon, a mountain lion bounty program was initiated, which continued until 1967 when the animal was reclassified as a big game animal. By 1961, it was estimated that around 200 individuals were left and were in danger of being extirpated (locally extinct). In 1994, Measure 18 was passed in Oregon, banning the use of hounds to hunt mountain lions. Since then, they have been recovering, and as of 2019, Oregon's Fish and Wildlife Department estimates the mountain lion population in Oregon to be over 6,000 individuals. However, this count includes kittens, most of whom don't survive until adulthood.
Top to bottom: a nighttime sighting of a mountain lion, who sniffed a branch before taking off; a photo of a mountain lion during the day, just about to step over a downed log.
Moving onto a different family, we have the Canidae family, consisting of coyotes, foxes, wolves. The coyote (Canis latrans) is an intermediate sized canid and, like other animals we discussed, also come in a variety of coat colors, including grayish, cinnamon, brownish, or a combination of those colors. Coyotes on the eastern and western sides of the state have differences in color and markings, although this difference is so subtle it can easily be overlooked. In western Oregon, individuals tend to be darker and have more brown coloration than their eastern counterparts. Albino coyotes with pink eyes and foot pads have also occurred in Oregon, although extremely rare!
Historically, Oregon's coyote populations were kept in check by gray wolves, which were extirpated from the area in the 1800-1900s and only recently re-introduced, leaving that role unfilled, which in turn has lead to a boom in coyote populations over those years. Although many have vilified coyotes as pests in farm and urban settings due to livestock and pet killings, coyotes play an important role in the ecosystem by controlling rodent populations and foraging on carrion that could otherwise spread disease if left to rot. Cemeteries and golf courses have noted the significant reduction of damages made by gophers and other rodents due to coyotes. Coyotes also help control geese populations that destroy young crops and feral cat populations that prey on birds. We speculate that the coyote below is catching their next meal and wish them luck!
A coyote listens and watches intently at something - possibly a prey animal - before springing into action off-screen.
Additionally, coyotes have complex social structures and will use scent marking as a form of non-verbal communication. The two coyotes shown below exemplify marking via urination, which is done by both males and females. Both coyotes are believed to be males, using a lazy pee squat instead of the normal lifting of the leg.
Left to right or top to bottom: a coyote, facing towards the camera, in a pee squat; another coyote, facing away from the camera, urinates at the same spot as the previous coyote did.
Naturally curious, coyotes will sniff and explore sites quite often. Based on our observations, like the ones below, they seem to do this more than other animals (except for black bears).
Top to bottom: two coyotes sniff and explore the area near the bait stump; a white-tip tailed coyote jumps onto the bait log with their front paws.
Coyotes will also rub and roll on scents they deem worthy. Studies have shown that the rub-roll behavior is most frequently documented during the summer and early fall, although coyotes do roll around in the snow at times as well. This rub-roll behavior has been accredited to preference for certain baits over others, where the most attractive smelling baits elicited the highest numbers of rub-roll responses. Take a look at the rub-roll behavior exhibited by the coyote below!
A single coyote sniffs around the camera site before rubbing and rolling on the ground in response to the scent-lure.
The striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis), below, is one of two skunk species found in Oregon and the Mt. Hood National Forest. About the size of a domestic cat, striped skunks are normally docile and unobtrusive, but can be susceptible to rabies infections. Their most widely known characteristic is the ability to spray a foul smelling odor from the underside of their tail. Not to worry, as skunks are mainly nocturnal creatures (most active during the night) and humans are unlikely to encounter one while out hiking. Like other animals, the striped skunk has intraspecific coat color variation that ranges from the classic white stripe and black body, entirely white, rich brown replacing the black body, or yellow replacing the white stripe.
A striped sunk climbs on the downed bait log and walks along it, sniffing as they do.
We had our first owl sighting of the summer! There are 14 species of owls in Oregon, and 10 of them are confirmed in the Mt. Hood National Forest, although by this photo we're not able to make a determination on which species this is. Owls are mostly nocturnal and they prey upon insects, fish, frogs, woodrats, flying squirrels, and other small mammals that are active at night. This sighting, however, happened during the day, and it appears the owl is holding something in its talons - maybe a squirrel or other prey animal.
Fun fact: Not all owls have the classic "whoo" call and each species' call is distinct and unique. Here are two examples of very different calls from the northern pymy owl and barred owl.
The vague shape of wings and an owl's head can be seen, along with a figure at the owl's feet, possibly a prey animal such as a squirrel.
Another bird of prey that was seen this month is a hawk. This hawk is most likely a red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) but another candidate could be Swainson's Hawk (Buteo swainsoni) as they are nearly identical from this back view angle. Whichever hawk this may be, it's likely to be a juvenile, since the coloration and banding patterns of the tail feathers changes as they mature. Both hawks are of similar size and coloring, having light morphs and dark morphs. These two morphs appear similar from the back, but the underside of a light morph hawk are mostly white or off-white with a dark belly band.
The backside of a possible red-tailed hawk about to land on a rock, with wings outstretched.
Are you batty for bats? Us too! This is also our first bat detection over the summer! There are 15 species of bats within Oregon, 9 of which are found in the Mt. Hood National Forest. In Oregon and worldwide, bats are declining, with 9 of the 15 species in Oregon listed as Conservation Strategy Species. We're not able to make an identification on which species the individual shown below could be. Bats are incredibly important members of the ecosystem, eating insects known to be pests to farmers & humans, pollinating over 500 species of plants, and dispersing seeds. Bats eat around 1,000 insects every hour, which adds up to nearly half their body weight by the end of the night. These nocturnal mammals use echolocation to figure out the location of their prey. Echolocation utilizes high pitched sound waves emitted by the bat, which bounce off objects and insects in the area, allowing the bat to know their precise location.
A blurred photo of a bat flying close to the camera.
Next up, deer. The deer in the photos and GIFs below are most likely Columbian black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus columbianus, commonly known simply as black-tailed deer), a subspecies of mule deer. In Oregon, 4 types of deer exist (white-tailed deer, Columbian white-tailed deer, mule deer, and Columbian black-tailed deer). Mule deer are also present in the Mt. Hood National Forest, but the differences are subtle. Black-tailed deer have tails that are all black on the top, as seen in one of the photos below.
Breeding, for all these deer, occurs from late October through early December, and after about 7 months, fawns are born. Fawns will typically lose their distinct white spots by September, so we're keeping an eye out for that in the next few weeks. Females will usually give birth to twins, but the number of offspring depends on suitable habitat. We've seen does with only one offspring as well as does with twins on our cameras. This past month we've seen quite a few single fawns, shown in a couple instances below. Females, on average, will live longer than males - 15 years compared to 9 respectively. This is due to a number of reasons including fighting during the mating season and hunting of bucks.
Deer are the mammals most commonly seen on our cameras and while they've been known to stick around the camera site and check it out, we also get plenty of sightings of them moving through the site. Below you'll see instances of both situations.
Top to bottom, left to right: a single doe passes through, followed by a doe and her fawn, and lastly a straggling doe, who rushes to catch up with the herd; a buck shows off his antlers, caught with his tongue partially out; a doe and fawn simultaneously check out the camera site; two deer, barely visible above a field of purple flowers, watch a bird fly overhead; a fawn licks their lips after sniffing the bait log.
What's chunky, has short legs, a bushy tail, and is the largest squirrel in Oregon? Why, the yellow-bellied marmot (Marmota flaviventris), of course! Their brown-gray coats allow them to blend into their preferred habitat, rocky outcrops, although in some circumstances will use a pile of logs or an abandoned building. Marmots hibernate, adult males preceding all others. Following them are adult females, yearling females, and lastly yearling males. If you were hoping to see a marmot with your own eyes this fall, there's only a few weeks left to do so! They spend a mere 135-150 days above ground, going into hibernation starting around late September and not emerging until around May.
Top to bottom, left to right: the side-view of a yellow-bellied marmot on top a rock, standing proudly.
A member of the mustelid family, the weasel (Mustela spp.), presents itself below. There are two types of weasels in Oregon and the Mt. Hood National Forest, long- and short-tailed. Short-tailed weasels prefer meadows, fields, brushy areas and open woods, and forest edges for suitable habitat. Long-tailed weasels prefer habitats near water, but both species have overlapping habitats. The camera site in the photo is adjacent to a river and the weasel in the photo is rather large, leading us to believe this may be a long-tailed weasel. There can be overlap in size, so it's not always possible to tell which species is which in photos.
Don't be fooled by their small stature as both these species prey on small rodents such as mice, chipmunks, voles, shrews, rats, and squirrels. Although they can be active during the day, weasels are normally nocturnal. This is consistent with our sightings as we have only seen detections of weasel at night. They do not hibernate and are active at all times during the year. Often, fur color is white during the winter and brown in the summer, although individuals can have brown pelage in winter.
Standing on top of a downed log, a weasel with eyes glowing in the dark.
An important prey species for many species throughout the forest, and the largest native tree squirrel, is the western gray squirrel (Sciurus griseus). Like most tree squirrels (except the northern flying squirrel) the western gray almost exclusively exhibits diurnal behavior (active during the day). This squirrel is omnivorous and eats conifer seeds, acorns, fungi, insects, berries, other fruit, and some green vegetation. They are listed as a sensitive species in Oregon, as competition from eastern gray squirrels and fox squirrels have led to a decline in their numbers.
These squirrels are fast-moving creatures and this summer, we've frequently seen them in cahoots with one another, climbing logs, and running around like the visit below.
Two western gray squirrels chase one another over a downed log.
The last member of the Sciuridae family we are sharing this month is the Douglas squirrel (Tamiasciurus douglasii), which are also in decline in recent decades. This has largely been attributed to loss of preferred habitat - mixed mature conifer forests - and competition from invasive squirrels. The Douglas squirrel is a Conservation Strategy Species in Oregon. They are smaller than the western gray squirrel and have a orange-red belly and light brown-gray fur on the head and back. The Douglas squirrel does not hibernate and spends the fall months gathering seeds and cones in mass quantities, earning them the title of larder hoarders. Other favorite foods include bird eggs, berries, seeds, flowers, leaf buds, and fungi.
Fun fact: These squirrels have a mutualistic relationship with fungi. As they eat and subsequently discard the reproductive parts of fungi, Douglas squirrels spread fungus spores around the forest, connecting vast mycorrhizal networks that are incredibly important for the health of trees.
A Douglas squirrel in the foreground, carrying what appears to be a leaf in its mouth.
Our last animal to share this month is the bushy-tailed woodrat (Neotoma cinerea). Although this rodent is no squirrel, they boast a squirrel-like tail that is wholly unique to members of the Cricetidae family, which contains over 600 species including New World mice and rats, voles, lemmings. Thirteen subspecies of woodrats are recognized, 4 of them are in Oregon, and possibly 2 in the Mt. Hood National Forest. They are prey for many species of birds and mammals, including owls, martens, fishers, and bobcats. While not normally included in their diet, coyotes, spotted skunks, long-tailed weasels, red-tailed hawks, wolverines, and foxes will all prey on this rodent.
A woodrat scampers around the camera site, pausing every so often.
Although this month there were no camera sightings of Sierra Nevada red fox - one our target species - we did have a volunteer turn in a potential scat from this small canine. The scat is twisted and tapered, a good indication of canine scat, but measuring at around 0.5" in diameter, it's on the cusp of our cutoff for fox scat. We won't definitively know who this scat belongs to until genetic testing can be done, but we can make our best educated postulation in the meantime.
Top to bottom: a potential Sierra Nevada red fox scat. It is old and starting to turn a gray-brown color. A ruler is next to it for scale; the same scat, but different segments are shown. There is one long piece and several smaller pieces, and like the first scat, is turning a gray-brown color.
Another volunteer also found some wild turkey feathers and a probable turkey scat. Turkeys have been in part of Oregon's history since 1961, when they were first introduced to the area. Now, more than 10,000 turkeys live all over Oregon. Did you know male turkeys are called toms or gobblers and females are called hens? In the same vein, juvenile males are jakes and juvenile females are jennies. The scat below is from a tom, as scat from hens are more balled up instead of a 'J' shape.
Left to right or top to bottom: two barred feathers from a turkey, alternating dark brown and light yellow to cream color; a probable male turkey scat which has a lot of volume to it and it turning white. The scat follows a gentle 'J' shape.
That's going to do it for this month's sightings and findings! Tune in next month where we will showcase our monthly blog and Wildlife Review, highlighting the best of the best findings of the summer!
As winter sets in, the days grow longer, providing more opportunity to enjoy the abundance of the natural world and offering hope for the days to come.
From all of us at Cascadia Wild, may you have many blessings in the new year.
As we look back at 2020, a year of many challenges and changes, the unwavering presence of our community stands out most of all. Thank you for showing up, offering your support, and committing your time and energy to volunteer, expand your naturalist skills, join our clubs, or simply read along and take part in our news and stories. Thank you for being there.
As we look ahead to 2021, we are excited to be continuing the community science Wolverine Tracking Project wildlife surveys on Mt. Hood. We are also looking forward to offering new classes that explore the local, natural world, and to continuing our community clubs. We hope to expand these programs and our community, better reaching underserved groups so that we all can partake in a deeper relationship with the flora, fauna, and landscape of the Pacific Northwest.
We look forward to you being there as well!
If you are able and would like to help support our goals in 2021, please consider making a year-end contribution. All donations will be generously matched through January 2nd!
Whether you can give $1 or $100, you help shape the future of Cascadia Wild.
Our heartfelt gratitude to everyone who is able to contribute their time, money, skills, and knowledge.
We are Cascadia Wild!
Summer Season Review
In footage from this summer that was only retrieved recently, we detected these two gray wolves:
Two gray wolves walk by the trail camera
Due to the angle of the camera and the placement of the animals, these individuals were hard to identify, but here are a few of our justifications. Both these individuals have large feet and an overall gray, grizzled coat, and the second wolf has a significant amount of black in their coat. While there is overlap between wolves and coyotes in both paw size and coat coloration, coyotes more often display tawny coloration and smaller feet than gray wolves. Furthermore, the second wolf individual has a broader face and smaller ears in proportion to their face than we would expect from a coyote. Even with those justifications, this is still a really hard identification. Determining the differences between coyotes and wolves is difficult and is a skill that benefits from time and practice - if you would like to test your own skills, check out this quiz from ODFW!
This is Cascadia Wild's fourth detection of gray wolves! Woohoo! Our first detection was in the summer of 2018, where we detected the White River breeding pair. This was one of the preliminary documentations of this pair in Mt. Hood National Forest. In the summer of 2019, we detected two wolves at two different locations. Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife believes that these were also the White River breeding pair. This most recent detection was on the east side of the forest within areas of known wolf activity of the White River pack, so we can make an educated assumption that these individuals also belong to the White River pack. Furthermore, ODFW has also advised that their coloration is consistent with the other members of the White River pack. This is very exciting news and it confirms that our White River pack is still utilizing the same territory.
This year we had seven detections of our target species Sierra Nevada red fox at two sites! We detected Sierra fox in both alpine and subalpine habitats.
A Sierra Nevada red fox stands by a rock with Mt Hood in the background
A Sierra Nevada red fox inspects a tree felled by a windstorm
Historically, the majority of our fox detections occur during winter. One previous hypothesis as to why we saw so many more during the winter was that they might be experiencing food scarcity and therefore more drawn to our winter meat baits. However, these numerous summer sightings molded a new working hypothesis - for two summers in a row we have detected Sierra fox at high elevations, which suggests that these foxes may be seasonal migrants, spending the summer months at higher elevation, where there are less trees for us to install our cameras, and descending to somewhat lower elevations during the winter months. We cannot wait to see what new information arises in future seasons!
Along with our target species, we have also had a couple new detections this season!
We have never detected these species on our trail cameras before.
We detected an American mink...
A mink scampers across a fallen tree
...and a couple of bats!
Bats fly in front of one of our trail cameras
Though we have detected grouse in past seasons, we have never captured a moment like this.
See the exposed patch on the side of the neck? Those are the air sacs of a male sooty grouse, presented in their mating display! This individual was seen not long after a female grouse was also detected. Maybe we'll see some juvenile grouselings in this area next summer!
A mating display of a sooty grouse
It is exciting to have so many new faces, but we always appreciate visits from our regular crew of Mt. Hood mammals. Documenting a wide variety of wildlife allows us to add to our ever-growing knowledge of the forest.
Some species were recurrent throughout the forest, and we received images of them from around Mt. Hood and the eastern boundary.
Our most frequent visitor by far was deer! Individuals or small herds were detected at 95% of all our camera sites, which means they were present at all but one site. Our camera footage allowed us to watch fawns grow up and antlers mature.
Left to right, top to bottom: A doe looks into the camera, a buck shows off their antlers, a fawn sneaks between a gap in a log, a doe and fawn share a sweet moment
Their ungulate cousin, elk, were also detected on our cameras. They said hello to 8 of our cameras throughout the forest.
Left to right, top to bottom: A cow looks at the camera, a bull walks through a camera site, a cow pauses with her calf and looks back at our trail camera
Another frequent visitor was coyote, who was spotted at 70% of of our sites. Consistent with past years, coyotes were prevalent all over the map. These opportunistic feeders can be found in alpine, subalpine, and montane habitats throughout Mt. Hood National Forest.
A coyote walks by
One of our favorite individuals this season spent a few minutes rolling around at one of our sites.
Video: A coyote rolls in our scent bait at the base of a short rock wall
Another regular was a fan favorite... the black bear!
A black bear pauses with their paw on a log
Let's not forget the rolling cubs! You should really watch those videos, they will brighten your day!
Videos: Black bear cubs roll at the location of our stinky scent bait at the base of a stump or log
Bobcats visited 7 of our sites. These solitary cats were found in both subalpine and montane habitats.
A bobcat pauses in the middle of a camera site
We also detected a variety of squirrels all over the map, including the Douglas squirrel...
A Douglas squirrel sits on the branch of a fallen tree
...Northern flying squirrel...
A Northern flying squirrel runs across a log
...and the golden mantled ground squirrel.
A golden mantled ground squirrel pops their into the camera frame
Mountain lion was only detected on the east side of the forest this season, and only at two sites. This is slightly unusual because mountain lions were detected at 5 different camera sites last summer and 4 different camera sites two summers ago. While we can't draw any concrete conclusions from these observations, cougar distribution will be interesting to track in future summer surveys.
A mountain lion walks towards the trail camera
There were a handful of smaller critters who were only detected on the eastern side of the forest, including striped skunks.
A striped skunk looks at the ground below the log it is standing on
We only detected California ground squirrels on the east side of the forest. We do not usually find California ground squirrels or striped skunks close to Mt. Hood, so we expected to detect them in this area.
A California ground squirrel is well camouflaged into their surroundings
We also detected chipmunks. Chipmunks can be found in alpine, subalpine, and montane forest throughout the map, so it was unusual to only detect them on the eastern boundary.
A chipmunk stand on the very edge of frame
We also detected quite a few turkeys!
Three turkeys explore a camera site
Besides the Sierra Nevada red fox, there were two species only detected close to Mt. Hood: the yellow-bellied marmot and the raccoon.
We only detected the yellow-bellied marmot at high elevation. Marmots are only found in alpine environments, or sometimes just at the edge of subalpine. They are adapted to live in this environment, munching on alpine vegetation and burrowing in the talus slopes from the first sign of snow until March-May.
A marmot peeks at the camera
This is the only raccoon we detected this summer:
A raccoon ducks behind some brush and out of view of the trail camera
Along with camera data, we also accumulated a mountain of scat throughout the summer. Volunteers on our scat survey teams collect these genetic samples to help add to the narrative about our two target canines: gray wolf and Sierra Nevada red fox.
Members of the Wolf Scat Survey Team surveyed 243 miles and found 10 potential wolf scats on the eastern side of the forest.
Members of the Fox Scat Survey Team covered 54 miles and found 15 potential Sierra Nevada red fox scat samples, mostly around treeline of Mt. Hood!
Left: A testable wolf scat; Right: A testable Sierra fox scat.
The diameter, tapered end, and contents of the scat shown in the photo on the left suggest that this sample is potentially wolf scat. The white-ish hue is due to the scat's age. As wolf scat gets older, it turns from a darker brown to a more chalky white. Even though a scat sample may be older, it is still possible to extract a good amount of DNA for analysis.
We look forward to seeing if any of the scats are a genetic match to their potential species and, if so, to the information that they can tell us about how the native ancestry, distribution, and habitat use of these two important canids. Our scat surveys will resume next summer, when the snows have cleared from the forest.
But, while the snows are here, the camera survey continues and tracking season begins!
Winter wildlife surveys begin!
As the first snows blanket Mt. Hood National Forest, a whole new wintry world of wildlife opens up to the Wolverine Tracking Project. While we are just at the start of the winter wildlife camera and tracking season, please enjoy a compilation of species and tracks observed so far, thanks to the efforts of our amazing volunteers. Look forward to more in the coming months!
A small sapling is progressively blanketed by snow until only the crown is visible.
Snow level can rise several feet very quickly on the mountain, and volunteers anticipate this by gradually raising the height of the bait box so it remains accessible to passing wildlife.
Always a favorite, several charismatic coyotes interacted with camera sites both east and close to Mt. Hood.
Top: A coyote glances at the trail camera, as if unsure.
Middle: A trio of coyotes, yes a trio, sweep through this camera site.
Bottom: A coyote strikes a pose while contemplating that strange odor coming from the bait box.
Coyotes are social and expressive. Always adaptable, coyotes can operate solo, as a mated pair, or as part of a pack. Another great adaptation for winter is their thick coats. In the photo directly above, notice that the snowflakes which have settled on this animal's pelt have not melted, it's insulating properties are an amazing adaptation!
Cat lovers should love out next charismatic carnivore: bobcat.
Top: In this photo, only the reflective eyes of the bobcat are visible at first glance.
Middle: A bobcat almost completely blended into their surroundings.
Bottom: A bobcat sniffs the bait box.
The effect of these glowing eyes, which you may have noticed in photos of your cat or dog, is due to a reflective layer called the tapetum, which gives nocturnal animals night vision by reflecting light back into their retinas. All the better to hunt with!
Bobcat's coats are both beautiful and functional, providing both camouflage and insulating protection. These big cats thrive throughout the winter months due to their thick coats. Their fur can become less brown and more gray during winter which allows them to better camouflage into their surroundings.
Bobcat footprints in the snow.
The heavily furred, large paws of bobcats also help them navigate the snow, kind of like snowshoes!
Black bears were also an occasional visitor to several of our camera sites.
Top: A black bear snuffles the ground in front of a trail camera.
Bottom: a black bear walks through the same site.
Black bears are the only bear species in Oregon so it is very easy for our team to identify their pictures! It won't be long until black bears are in hibernation, so we will enjoy seeing them (from a safe distance) while we can!
Making jokes about weasels and their cousins, which scientists call mustelids, is a must for us at Wolverine Tracking Project (haha).
A weasel bounds through the snow.
Though the weasel above is moving so fast the picture is blurred, the long body and dark-tipped tail are both characteristics of long-tailed weasels.
Top: Weasel footprints in the snow. Bottom: Weasels are also known to meander, and this one weaseled their way into a little natural nook.
A tracker also detected the larger cousin of the weasel: the Pacific marten.
Left: the trail of a Pacific marten; and Right: the detail of a marten's tracks.
The Pacific marten is one of our two mustelid target species. The other is the wolverine, the largest mustelid cousin. While we are still waiting for wolverine to make a return appearance to Mt. Hood, we are always encouraged by the tracks of marten, who are an indicator of a healthy upper-elevation forest. All mustelids have similar footprints, characterized by five clawed toes and an inverted V-shaped heel pad.
No matter the time of year, it is certain that we will have some lovely photos of cervids (deer and elk, keep an eye out for flying cervids over the holidays!)
A spike elk considers the trail camera.
This male elk above is referred to as a "spike elk" meaning he has at least one antler without any branching. This is most common of younger males under six years old, although genetic, environmental, and health factors may also play a role in delayed, mature growth. In his prime, his antlers may grow as many as 6 or 7 branches, each with their own tips or "points." Male elk are called bulls, female elk are called cows, and their offspring are called calves.
Top: Male deer (bucks) seen close up. Bottom: A herd of female deer (does) traverse a lightly snowed field.
These snowy tracks belong to a deer.
Snowshoe hares are always entertaining visitors to camera sites and their tracks are seen more frequently by volunteers than almost any other species.
A peaceful picture of a snowshoe hare in the snow.
Left: a snowshoe hare trail. Right: detail of a snowshoe hare's front and hind tracks.
Although a little difficult to visualize at first, snowshoe hare tracks form a "T" shape. This is due to their bounding gait, where the front feet land and the hind feet follow next, landing just in front of the front feet.
A snowshoe hare pauses under a log. Photo credit: Keri Sprenger, Wolverine Tracking Project Volunteer
A camera crew unexpectedly got to see this bright-eyed snowshoe hare in person! It is very unusual to encounter them in broad daylight, and the volunteer kept a respectful distance from the animal while capturing this image. You never knew what you might see when you venture out into nature!
Striped skunks are our next species.
A skunk holds it's lovely striped tail aloft as it passes by.
Next we have sightings of several squirrel species.
Left: A western gray squirrel pauses (left); while a California ground squirrel also takes a moment of repose (right).
Western gray squirrels are the largest tree squirrel in Oregon. They are rivaled in size by the California ground squirrel (although the prize for largest ground squirrel in Oregon goes to the marmot!). Similar in appearance the western gray squirrel, the California ground squirrel is not gray but very subtly spotted.
Left: An acrobatic Douglas squirrel caught by the camera mid-leap.
Right: A chipmunk, almost impossible to spot at first as it is so well camouflaged against the forest floor.
On the other side of size, Douglas squirrel is one the smallest tree squirrels in Oregon (Northern flying squirrels win for the tiniest tree squirrel). Chipmunks, on the other hand, are even smaller and are the smallest ground squirrels in Oregon.
Squirrel tracks in snow
The squirrel tracks above belong to one of our non-hibernating squirrels of the upper-elevation forest: Douglas squirrel or Northern flying squirrel. They have a similar trail pattern as a snowshoe hare, thanks to their bounding gait, but they are much, much smaller!
Our only ground bird camera visitor was wild turkey.
A "rafter" of wild turkeys foraging.
On our tracking surveys, trackers found these great sooty grouse tracks! Sooty grouse and turkeys are both important ground birds for our forest carnivores.
Tracks from a sooty grouse.
Thank you so much to all our camera crew and tracking teams for venturing out, helping to document the wildlife of Mt. Hood National Forest, and sharing your experiences with us!
Until next time, we thank everyone in the Cascadia Wild Community for their support and wish you all the best in the New Year!
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!