Cascadia Wildlife Blog
News from the Wolverine Tracking Project and more
Winter is coming!
The winter Solstice is right around the corner, but with the storms and snow of the last week it certainly feels as though winter has already arrived here in the Pacific Northwest. Our winter wildlife surveys are in full swing, volunteers on our tracking and camera crews are busting out their snow shoes and puffy jackets and braving the elements to bring us some amazing wildlife findings!
This winter Cascadia Wild is partnering with ODFW to take part in the Western States Wolverine Occupancy Survey! This multi-state, multi-agency survey effort aims to determine the current distribution of wolverines in the western United States. Cascadia Wild is honored to be participating in this survey, the results of which will undoubtably have important implications for the future management and conservation of wolverines. Who knows, this could even be the year wolverines return to Oregon!
With the coming of winter, we expect to see some behavioral changes in many of the wildlife species found on Mount Hood. For example, deer tend to move to lower elevations in search of better foraging opportunities. Often times this results in the movement of larger predators that prey upon deer, such as coyotes and mountain lions, to lower elevations as well. In addition to the movement of deer and some predators, we also typically see less bears at our higher elevation sites, as they hunker down for a deep sleep over the winter. At lower elevations where the winter is not as extreme, bears can be active all winter.
We are excited to share the best of our winter camera and tracking surveys so far! Without further ado, let's get into it!
Perhaps our most unusual finding over the last month was this owl and deer interaction captured on one of our trail cameras!
An owl crouched on the forest floor is disturbed by a passing buck.
We don't often get trail camera footage of owls, and certainly not ones that are this clear. Trail cameras give us this amazing opportunity to peak into the lives of wildlife living in the forests nearby- we feel extra lucky to have witnessed this interspecies interaction!
We had a lot of other deer detections this month- at sites across the elevation gradient on Mount Hood. This will likely change as snow begins to accumulate at higher elevations! In addition to the changes in deer distribution during the winter months, deers diet will also change. In the summer deer mainly subsist on grasses and forbs (herbaceous flowering plants) but in the winter will begin to rely more heavily on woody plants.
From the top: A young deer with small budding antlers looks into the camera;Three deer are seen foraging in an open meadow; a buck with a large rack pauses in the middle of the camera site.
We also had a few detections of elk this month. Elk cows and calves move together in large herds through the winter, while bulls are more likely to strike out on their own after the breeding season.
An elk herd comes barreling through a camera site!
Elk belong to the same family as deer (Cervidae), they are both hoofed, ruminant mammals. Ruminants are hoofed herbivores that have four compartments in their stomachs! In one of these compartments -the rumen- plant material is fermented by symbiotic microbes. Plant cell walls are made up of cellulose, which can't be digested without the assistance of these little gut microbes! After being processed in the rumen and reticulum, food is regurgitated as cud and then re-digested. This time it will pass through all 4 compartments and be excreted as poop! Speaking of elk poop *ahem* scat, as those of us in the tracking field like to call it- check out this picture of elk scat our trackers found on a recent survey!
Scat found on a recent tracking survey, likely from an elk.
A recent tracking survey also found what is likely coyote scat!
Coyotes are opportunistic omnivores- they will eat berries, fungi, insects, fish, small mammals and fawns, depending on what is available. Our trackers weren't able to find the plant that produced these berries in the field but did some serious sleuthing back at home and determined that they likely belonged to the Arctostaphylos genus.
We also had several coyote detections on our trail cameras over the past month!
From the top: Two curious coyotes sniff around a baited log at night; a coyote checks out a camera site; a coyote gives a bait box on a tree a quick sniff.
Coyotes weren't the only large carnivores we spotted in the forest this month. We also had bobcat and bear detections at several sites.
Bobcats consume mostly small mammals such a snowshoe hare, rabbits and squirrels. Their diet remains fairly consistent throughout the year.
A bobcat on the prowl!
Black bears, the only bear found in Oregon, are considered to be the "least carnivorous" of the large carnivores. Black bears eat berries, fruit, herbaceous vegetation, insects and occasionally fawns or carrion. Black bears typically gorge themselves during the fall (eating up to 20,000 calories a day!) and then live off their fat reserves during their winter dormancy.
From the top: A black bear gets groovy rubbing up against a tree; A black bear stares into the camera; Two bears, a mama and her cub, come padding through the forest.
The smallest of the carnivores we spotted this month was this little weasel!
A weasel bounds through a camera site.
We have both short tailed and long tailed weasels in Oregon. Both are carnivorous, but short-tailed weasels dine primarily on mouse-sized prey, while long tailed weasels hunt slightly larger prey, such as ground squirrels or mountain beavers.
Speaking of squirrels! We saw lots of squirrels at our camera sites this past month. Ground squirrels are most likely snuggled up enjoying a cozy hibernation by now. However we saw plenty of Western gray squirrels, Douglas squirrels and even some Northern flying squirrels, all of which will remain active throughout the winter.
From the top: A Western gray squirrel sniffing at a bait log; A Douglas squirrel carrying a big cone; A Northern flying squirrel scampering across the forest floor.
One of our camera crews also spotted some beautiful squirrel tracks in the snow!
Squirrel tracks in the snow.
That's all we have to share with you this month but we will be back in the new year with more wildlife findings! We wish all of you a joyous holiday season and a happy New Year!
For some of our alpine trail cameras, it's even starting to get a bit wintry!
Snow on an alpine slope after a recent mountain storm.
Before the snows stick around for good, we hope you are enjoying the crunch of leaves, crisp air, and are taking the time to read some good books, take some long walks, spend time with those you love, and connect with the natural world.
For a little added inspiration, join us for our Nature Book Club and Halloween Tracking Club!
Looking forward to winter? So are we!
We are busy getting ready another season of wildlife surveys! We hope you can join us as we head out to the mountain and document the wildlife of Mt Hood National Forest!
Register for a Camera Crew or Tracking Team by October 24!
Wildlife Survey Findings
Our summer surveys are winding down, but that doesn't mean life in the forest is stopping! Here's the best of our camera and scat surveys from the past month. Next month, we'll be back with a highlight of all the findings from the summer season!
While trail cameras haven't documented any of the target species from the Wolverine Tracking Project yet this season, we did find a few instances of potential Sierra Nevada red fox tracks and scat, as well as a potential gray wolf track. Scat from our target species is just as valuable as photos - if not even more so - since it has the possibility to provide a wealth of genetic information.
Top: Two likely Sierra Nevada red fox tracks in a soft, light-brown path. A hand is there for scale. Bottom: A goopy, hairy scat, which has good potential to belong to a fox. The ends are tapered, the average diameter is less than half an inch, and the scat looks relatively fresh.
Shown above are potential tracks and scat from a Sierra Nevada red fox. Potential suspects for this track are domestic dog, coyote, and fox - all members of the canine family. The heel pad on the front foot (top track) is closer to the toes than it would be for a coyote. The heel pad is also more linear than triangular in shape, as a coyote or dog's would be. Based on this evidence, we believe this track has very good potential to belong to a red fox.
The scat shown in the second photo is tapered on the ends and contains a lot of fur. The size (about the size of a pinky) is also spot on for our fox scat collection guidelines, so this has good potential to be from a fox. Once genetic testing is done, we'll be able to know for sure who this scat came from.
The tracks below could belong to a gray wolf! Unfortunately the track has been smeared, so we're not able to make out the details, but the shape and size of this imprint lend themselves to be a potential wolf track. Another animal this could belong to is a large domestic dog. However, due to the sliding, we can't be sure of one or the other.
A nearly four inch canine track, imprinted in mud.
Now onto the other wildlife of the forest! We'll kick things off with bears, in tune with last week's Fat Bear Week - however we'll be looking at black bears instead of grizzlies, as Oregon only houses that one species of bear.
We saw this chunky bear passing through the camera site. Black bears should be gorging themselves on food by now, and they'll be going into hibernation within the next month or two. It is important that bears gain as much weight as possible before going into hibernation (torpor), because they will utilize their fat stores to help get them through the winter.
Top to bottom: A large adult black bear walks by; a smaller, subadult black bear looks up at the camera as they walk.
Black bears experience what's called delayed implantation, meaning the female won't get pregnant immediately after mating, which happens in the summer months. Instead, if she is healthy and has gotten enough to eat in the summer months, she will get pregnant in late fall or early winter, and birth her cubs around January. Bears aren't "true" hibernators, which makes sense, since the sow (female bear) wakes up several times during hibernation to birth and take care of the young. Bears of any sex can wake up throughout hibernation - especially if conditions are warm enough to encourage a bit of mid-winter foraging.
Black bears have a 2 year reproductive cycle - they mate every two years and naturally, only have offspring every two years. To tie it all in, the cubs stay with their mother for - you guessed it - around two years. This cub will stay with their mother for another winter before heading out on their own.
A juvenile black bear cub explores the bait setup and looks around before walking off to the right of the screen.
Wow! We wonder what has got this bear in such a hurry!
Fun fact: black bears have a top speed of around 35 mph! Although they're not likely to chase you down since they're usually pretty shy around humans, it's still a good idea to periodically call out into the forest (especially in early spring when the bears are just starting to wake up) to let them know of your presence.
A small black bear bounds across the camera site at an alarming speed.
These black bears are displaying a flehmen response! Many animals, not only bears, will utilize this technique to gather information on novel or interesting smells. They will also utilize the response to determine the reproductive status of a mate. The word flehmen is German in origin, meaning "to bear the upper teeth".
Top to bottom: A close up of an adult black bear, looking at the camera with what looks like a goofy grin on their face (flehmen response); an adult black bear sniffs the ground close to the bait setup, opens their mouth briefly, then continues sniffing before walking off.
We also got some bear track and scat photos turned in this past month. Both their tracks and scat are usually relatively straightforward and easy to identify as they are the biggest animals in the forest. The tracks are characterized by the toes being in a line above the foot pad (versus on either sides of the foot pad in canines or felines). Black bear scat in summer is characterized by the presence of berry seeds, as they are highly omnivorous. There's usually a whole bunch of scat to go along with it, too!
Left to right, or top to bottom: Two distinct tracks left by a black bear; a large pile of scat with berry seeds dispersed, a hand is there for scale.
We had several coyote detections this month. They're one of the more curious creatures when it comes to checking out the bait setup and will scent-mark, roll, rub, and paw at the site. The coyotes below exhibit pawing and scent-marking via urination. They are doing this in response to the sticky, stinky bait that's meant to attract our target species, but works really well for attracting many others as well.
Top to bottom: A coyote paws and sniffs at the ground by the bait stump; a coyote pops a squat and marks the ground near the bait setup before taking off.
What soulful eyes! These two coyotes looked directly into the camera. The photos are practically good enough to be profile pictures!
Top to bottom: A coyote looks into the camera head-on while standing in the middle of the camera site; the head and leg of a coyote is shown, the coyote is looking directly into the camera.
This coyote seems to be distracted by something and is looking into the blanket of trees behind the bait stump. Their voluminous tail indicates they're preparing for cold weather by growing a nice, thick winter coat.
The back and side of a speckled gray, white, and light brown colored coyote, who has a thick, fluffy tail. The coyote is looking at something in the trees in the background.
We've also got some coyote tracks to share, shown in the photo below. It looks like this path was used by quite a few animals! Here we see coyote tracks (circled in green) and skunk tracks (circled in red). Coyote tracks are distinguishable from feline tracks most notably by the overall shape of the track and orientation of the toes. Canine tracks are symmetrical and more oval in shape, and their front two toes are side by side. Feline tracks are more circular, and they have one toe that is longer than the rest, like a human's middle finger. Since one toe sticks out further than the rest, it ends up appearing further ahead than the others. However, misidentification of coyote tracks most commonly happens with domestic dog tracks (depending on size of dog), not feline tracks. Coyote toes tend to point forward more than a dog's and their tracks aren't as round.
Skunk tracks most often get mixed up with raccoon and opossum tracks. However, if you know what to look for, the three have characteristics that clearly distinguish them from one another. Skunks have an extra heel pad, denoted by the red arrow in the photo (although this may not show up in all tracks). They also have five toes on both the front and hind feet, and there is an obvious gap between the toes and the heel pad. Raccoons' five toes will connect with the rest of the foot, so the track has no gap between the toes and the heel pad. Their toes are also longer than a skunk's would be, and look a bit like fingers. Lastly, opossums, like both skunks and raccoons, also have five toes, but their thumb extends out to the side. This is quite easy to see on their hind foot, as the thumb is quite large and leaves a very distinct track. On the front feet, the toes tend to splay out, and the thumb is harder to distinguish. Like with raccoons, their toes also connect with the heel pad.
Several skunk and coyote tracks on a soft, light brown dirt path.
Moving onto the feline family, we had a few bobcat sightings throughout this past month. It's possible this one is catching their next meal! These (usually) solitary creatures feed on rabbits/hares, squirrels, small birds, mice, and even juvenile deer.
A bobcat darts into the left side of the screen, looks around, then moves to a different spot where they sniff the ground.
A couple of beautiful bobcats were captured during the daytime, allowing us to see their gorgeous spotted and striped coats.
Left to right, or top to bottom: A head-on shot of a light brown bobcat. Spots and stripes on their legs can be seen; a sideview of a bobcat in mid-stride. The bobcat is medium brown with lots of spots on the body and striping on the legs.
Most bobcat detections are of them passing through the camera site at night. Below is one of their more typical visits.
A cautious bobcat sniffs in a crouched position before getting up and walking over a downed log.
Pop goes the weasel! This weasel "popped" by one of our camera sites last year, but due to unfortunate circumstances, we weren't able to retrieve the camera until now. Too bad the camera wasn't in focus to capture this little one...
A blurry, closeup photo of a weasel crouching on the snow. The weasel has dark brown coloring on their head and down their back, and a white chest.
Thankfully we had another weasel sighting this month! Usually we'll detect weasels at night, but this time one was spotted in the daytime. Both long and short-tailed weasels are present in Mt Hood National Forest, but sometimes it can be tricky to tell them apart because their size and habitats overlap.
A weasel is captured scurrying across a downed log.
Speaking of weasels, take a look at this weasel skull! This was found nearby the camera site shown in the photo above. Weasels are carnivorous mammals belonging to the family Mustelidae. Other members in that family are wolverines, badgers, otters, martens, minks, and ferrets, just to name a few.
Those razor sharp incisors help the weasel efficiently kill their prey. Despite their small stature (11-18 inches long), weasels take down mice, voles, squirrels, chipmunks, and even snowshoe hares!
Left to right, and top to bottom: The lower mandible of a weasel; the upper mandible of a weasel, mostly showing the front incisors; both the lower mandible and the rest of the weasel's skull. Put together in a line they are less than three inches in length.
Here we have a gang of elk. We haven't seen any elk since the start of summer, so it's nice to see them again. Older, more experienced cows (female elk) normally lead the group - this one consists of 9 individuals, where at least one individual is a calf (juvenile elk). Elk move in groups pretty much all of the time, but the group dynamic changes during the breeding season, which is in the fall. During most of the year, gangs of elk consist of cows & calves, but also may include young bulls. The older bulls are in gangs of their own for that time, until early fall when they temporarily join the cows, which is then called a harem. The dominant bulls try to gather as many cows into their harem as possible, competing with other bulls to do so. A successful bull will mate with multiple females in his harem. Harems range from a handful of cows to as many as 20 or 25 cows. During the mating season, adolescent bulls form small gangs of their own and hang around near the breeding harems, but don't participate. Although bulls socially dominate the harem, the group still moves with an older, experienced cow as their leader. Since elk breed in early fall, their activities are coming to a close soon. In about 8-9 months, healthy cows will bear a single calf each.
A gang of elk, mostly obscured by a tree, passes by. Several different individuals can be counted, including at least one calf.
Within the same family (Cervidae), we have deer. Deer are our most frequent visitor across the board for almost all sites, although they were detected with higher frequency in the height of summer than they are now.
Left to right, and top to bottom: A doe and her fawn put their heads together while sniffing the bait log; a doe curves her head and neck around to her backside to scratch an itch; a small deer comes up to a doe laying down in a field, after which the doe gets up and takes off, leaving a cloud of dust behind her.
By now, the bucks (male deer) have all shed their outer velvety coating to reveal the hard bone underneath it all. This buck has only two points on his antlers, indicating he is relatively young. Bucks grow more impressive antlers each year, peaking at around year seven.
A closeup of a young buck, who is sporting a 2-point antler that has shed its velvety outer layer to reveal hard bone.
Onto rodent sightings! First up, we have the California ground squirrel, who was spotted only twice this month. These squirrels are practically only seen on the east side of the forest, and live in relatively open areas such as fields, pastures, and lightly wooded forests. Thus, most of Mt Hood National Forest is not their preferred habitat, greatly favoring the warm, open areas of the Willamette Valley.
Left to right, or top to bottom: A California ground squirrel climbed a sizable tree stump and sniffs the top of it; a California ground squirrel on a downed log, with their head and upper body leaned over the log.
Next we have the western gray squirrel. Typically we don't see these squirrels in pairs, but this summer has been the exception. These tree squirrels are distinct from other squirrels in Mt Hood National Forest due to their large, bushy, gray and white tails. These squirrels start burying conifer cones in the fall, to be dug up in the winter as a food source. Unlike the California ground squirrel, the western gray squirrel prefers habitat that is heavily wooded, since they are arboreal.
Left to right, and top to bottom: Two western gray squirrels, one on the ground to the right, and the other on the downed log facing the first squirrel; two western gray squirrels, one is facing away from the camera, looking at the second squirrel, who is on the ground looking intently at a tree; A single western gray squirrel bounds from a downed log to the right of the screen.
Those little feet sure do a lot of scampering! The tracks shown here are squirrel tracks. Although they don't look small in the photo, these squirrel tracks are only around 1-2 inches in length.
Multiple squirrel tracks on a soft, light brown dirt path.
Up next we have the chipmunk. They mostly inhabit coniferous forests and rocky outcrops. The two chipmunks found in Mt Hood National Forest are the Townsend's chipmunk and the yellow pine chipmunk, and both are omnivorous. They feed on insects, bird eggs, berries, acorns, maple seeds, conifer cones, fungi, and lichen.
Top to bottom, and left to right: A chipmunk is on a tree stump close to the camera. After sniffing a branch, putting their hands to their face, and climbing on top of one of the branches, the chipmunk leaves; the side profile of a chipmunk. Dark brown and white stripes can be seen stretching across the face; a chipmunk's backside, that has alternating dark and white stripes going down the back.
Next up we have the snowshoe hare, who are frequent visitors at certain sites and can be found pretty much all over Mt Hood National Forest.
A snowshoe hare jumps a step, looks into the camera lens, then bounds off to the right of the screen.
These tracks belong to a snowshoe hare. The photo is from the stranded camera, mentioned earlier, which we only retrieved recently. Hares usually make distinct "T" or "Y" shaped tracks. When a hare is bounding, the two smaller front feet land first, usually staggered one behind the other, and this makes the stem of the "T" or "Y". The large hind tracks land next, side-by-side and in front of where the front feet just landed, forming the top of the letter.
Tracks left by a snowshoe hare in the snow. The path of movement goes from left to right.
Our next rodent we have to share is the bushy-tailed woodrat, also known as the packrat. Normally we don't see this member of the Cricetidae family in such clear view as they are nocturnal, quick on their feet, and also very small (approximately 15 inches in length and weighing around 11 oz), making it a challenge for the camera to capture good photos. Woodrats are found in most parts of Mt Hood National Forest, save for the alpine and subalpine habitats.
A bushy-tailed woodrat leaps onto the ground, pauses and sniffs, then moves to the bait stump and disappears behind it.
Last up on our rodent list is the mouse. These agile creatures generally spend their time on land, but are good swimmers as well. There are many species of mice that can be found in Mt Hood National Forest, including deer mice, western harvest mice, pacific jumping mice, and house mice. Many species of voles, shrews, and the black rat can also be found in the forest. Different species inhabit different habitats. Some can be seen in all parts of the forest, while other species are limited to certain areas.
A mouse captured climbing on a tree log angled at 45 degrees.
These tracks were left by a mouse. Like the snowshoe hares, mice also place their front paws down first, followed by the back legs, which swing out and land in front of the front paws.
Tracks left by a mouse, going up towards the bait setup, then heading right till they are off-screen.
A Canada jay and hermit warbler also decided to stop by briefly. Canada jays are found all across boreal forests in the northern parts of the United States and in Canada, as well as in tall mountain ranges in the western United States. Hermit warblers are found in tall coniferous forests in mountainous areas along the coast of California to Washington. They winter along the coast of central and southern California.
Top to bottom: The backside of a Canada jay, who is positioned close to the camera, turns their head to the side before walking off to the right of the screen; a hermit warbler sits atop a branch close to the camera and looks directly into the lens.
That's all we've got for this month's blog! Tune in next month for our seasonal wildlife review where we highlight the best from our Summer 2021 surveys. Till next time!
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!