Cascadia Wildlife Blog
News from the Wolverine Tracking Project and more
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!
Our cameras have picked up something a bit uncommon and special to see this summer: juvenile coyotes!
Though very similar to each other, note that the juvenile coyote (left) is much more lean and a bit more gangly than the adult that follows closely behind (right). The juvenile also has the typically much finer coat of first-year coyotes.
We’ve also seen other juvenile coyotes at at least one other site in the forest, taken around the same time:
Again, notice the smooth, light coat of a first-year coyote and the lighter frame. Given that juveniles are not ready to hunt on their own at this point, we imagine that it is looking behind for its partner.
What does this mean for the ecosystem?
While perhaps not quite as exciting as the recent videos of the six new wolf pups of the White River wolf pack or the three new pups of the Lassen wolf pack (definitely worth watching if you haven’t), the presence of coyotes and their seemingly abundant offspring indicates that the underlying ecosystem is healthy. What’s more, it could support the growing wolf packs nearby. However, this may come with some food competition and displacement for the coyotes - a coyote will avoid a wolf for the same reasons a fox will avoid a coyote. Luckily, coyotes are timid yet resourceful scavengers and excellent hunters, and their adaptability enables them to survive in environments that wolves cannot, including suburban and urban areas, and enables them to hunt anytime of day or night, allowing crepuscular wolves to use the same territory during dawn or dusk.
Whether we'll see wolves in this area, only time will tell, but in the meantime, these healthy, reproductive carnivores tell a story of a healthy environment that is capable of supporting diverse life.