Cascadia Wildlife Blog
News from the Wolverine Tracking Project and more
The Wolverine Tracking Project Winter Wildlife Surveys have drawn to a close, and summer is just on the horizon. As we take a look back at findings and best photos from the season, we have a lot to celebrate! And, if you are so inclined, check out our official Wolverine Tracking Project annual research report here, for all the findings of the past year!
If you're a returning volunteer and would like to join the Wolf Team, contact us and let us know!
And now the review!
Wolverine Tracking Project Winter Findings
A snowy scenic image of Newton Creek submitted by a volunteer. A small creek divides two snowy banks, with a line of snow tipped trees and Mt. Hood in the background.
Volunteers retrieved beautiful trail camera images, took stellar pictures of tracks, kept their eyes peeled for scat, urine, and other sign, and supporters helped us meet our fundraising goal! All of these contributions allow us to continue building a robust narrative of the animals of Mt. Hood National Forest and allow us to keep documenting wildlife in a meaningful way. Whether you were part of a Camera Crew, a Tracker, or had wanted to join but weren't able to due to pandemic, or if instead you supported us from home: Thank you, thank you!
Camera Crews committed over 1000 hours to checking cameras and recording and uploading data! Trackers committed 137 hours and surveyed over 15 miles of transects, for a total of 181 tracks surveyed!
It's that time of year - blossoms everywhere, warm sunlight, longer days... it's only a matter of time before summer is here! It's the perfect time to get on your hiking boots, head out to the Mt. Hood National Forest, and help add to our knowledge of native wildlife with the Wolverine Tracking Project!
Join a Camera Crew!
Join the Fox Team!
Interested in wildlife tracking? Check out our Carnivore Challenge to learn about the carnivore families and the tracks and sign that each leave. Find some track or sign and send it to us by April 19, and you could be featured here and on our social media! Read more.
We also hope you can join us for Nature Book Club. We'll meet April 27th to discuss The Mosquito: A Human History of Our Deadliest Predator by Timothy Winegard. Learn all about this tiny but powerful insect just in time to face the late spring/early summer swarms! More info.
By the end of this month, we'll have all our winter cameras down, in preparation for the new season. We may be gearing up for summer, but winter will hang out on the mountain for just a bit longer, and we still have some findings to share from our wildlife trail cameras! Stay tuned in May, when we'll both our annual and seasonal review.
Our first sighting to share this month is none other than the wonderful and elusive Sierra Nevada red fox! We detected this individual close to Mt Hood and were overjoyed to watch one of our target species explore the camera site.
A Sierra Nevada red fox walks towards the bait box, and then walks away, taking one last glance at the bait box before leaving the frame.
Sierra Nevada red foxes mate in late winter and usually give birth to a litter of 2 or 3 between March and May, so we are starting to look out for kits! Will this be the year our cameras detect them? It's exciting to consider that this fox may be out hunting to help feed a litter back at their den. Sierra foxes develop pretty quickly and will be fully grown by the end of summer.
We also detected the more common, but effortlessly classic canine, the coyote. These individuals were incredibly curious all month long and we detected them digging, urinating, and being spooked by mysteries out of frame.
Top to bottom: A coyote digs into the snow; a coyote pauses to crouch and urinate on the snow; a coyote runs and then stops abruptly while their tail shoots up - and then continues to run in the same direction.
We also detected a couple species of big cats. This magnificent mountain lion sauntered by. A rare sight for our cameras in winter, we've been lucky to get to see cougars a couple times!
A mountain lion walks through a camera site
We also had a couple detections of the solitary bobcat this month. In both detections a bobcat is very interested in - and even marks near - the bait box.
Top to bottom: A color gif of a bobcat investigating the bait box; a black and white night camera gif of a bobcat investigating a bait box.
Similar to the Sierra Nevada red fox, female bobcats will give birth to their litter of kittens by the end of May, and bobcats will occasionally give birth to a second litter by September. Litters are usually two to four kittens, but can be as big as six. Bobcat kittens will begin learning to hunt in their first autumn, and will disperse from their mother as soon as they have conquered the skill.
Along with the trail camera detections, a volunteer found these bobcat tracks.
Top to bottom: A trail of bobcat tracks; close up of bobcat tracks.
The overall shape of these tracks is more wide than they are long, which is characteristic of felines (as opposed to a track which is more long than wide, which is characteristic of a canine). You can just about make out the toes in a semi-circle above the trapezoidal heel pad, also characteristic of feline tracks. These tracks are likely bobcat because they are too small to belong to a mountain lion.
We also detected quite a few deer over the past month. This photogenic doe stepped through some snow.
A doe walks through some snow. Some snow has collected on her back, head, and ears - very cute!
It looks like this buck recently lost his antlers. If you look at their brow, you can see the pedicle, or bony base, where the antlers were. Don't worry, buddy, they will grow back soon! Mule deer and black-tailed deer start to regrow their antlers in April or May.
A buck walks with his head sloped down, showing the pedicle on his head where he recently lost his antlers.
Striped skunk were detected, and it is rare we get color, daytime images of their beautiful coats.
A striped skunk ambles across the forest floor.
Snowshoe hare also made an appearance.
A snowshoe hare sits in a nighttime clearing.
Even when sometimes buried by heavy winter snows, the bait box still inspires curiosity among the wildlife residents. Here we can see that a snowshoe hare investigated, by the prints they left behind.
The distinctive "T" shape of a snowshoe hare track in the snow by a mostly buried bait box.
Northern flying squirrel were seen in action, gliding up to the bait box tree and landing in the snow. When gliding you can see the gliding membrane, called the patagium, extended. Thanks to this adaptation, northern flying squirrels can cover distances of more than 150 feet in a single glide. Although these nocturnal animals are active throughout winter, these are two of only three detections of northern flying squirrel from any camera site this season!
Top to bottom: A northern flying squirrel glides and alights on the snow at the base of the bait tree; a northern flying squirrel looks inconspicuous on the ground without it's patagium membrane extended.
Western gray squirrels also kept camera sites lively.
Top to bottom/left to right: A Western gray squirrel, perched on a log; one pauses in a clearing; another scampers across the forest floor.
Another squirrel visitor was the California ground squirrel. It can be hard to spot these squirrels because their spotted, tawny brown coats usually camouflage them well (but a snowy background makes it easier)!
Top to bottom/left to right: a California ground squirrel blends into the background of a clearing; crouches on a log; dashes across the snow.
And our last detected squirrel species is Douglas squirrel.
A douglas squirrel is photographed midleap.
Alongside the bobcat tracks highlighted earlier, the same volunteer also spotted some squirrel tracks. These two animals probably passed through at different times since the trails do not show them interacting with (hunting/being hunted by) each other.
Squirrel tracks (left) and bobcat tracks (right) parallel each other through the snow.
A common visitor to the open forests of the east side of Mt. Hood, a turkey also made an appearance.
A turkey strutting through the clearing.
A sharp-eyed camera crew volunteer spotted this vanishing trail of two parallel lines in the snow, which must belong to a bird!
Bird tracks in the snow at the base of a tree.
The hopping (parallel) pattern above is indicative of species that mostly perch in trees, such as a juncos, goldfinches, chickadees, and nuthatches. Ground foraging birds like sparrows and robins have a staggered or skipping gait. Grouse, ducks, and raptors are walking birds, and each footstep is widely spaced by comparison. This Audubon article is a great introduction to bird track patterns.
That's all for this month. Stay tuned for our May blog, our last one for the winter season.
Until then, be well!
Happy Spring! While snow and cold will linger around the mountain for a bit, there is an undeniable warmth on the breeze. In the valleys, buds are bursting on trees, spring ephemerals are opening to greet the season, and we welcome all the new growth that this season brings!
At Cascadia Wild, we are celebrating the season with offerings of Spring Botany Classes and a new Tracking Challenge!
Our last tracking challenge was All About Squirrels, and here are the Tracking Challenge Winners!
Left to right (or top to bottom): Clearest Squirrel Tracks by Graham Hulbert (Tracking Leader); Most Unusual Squirrel Tracks by Alexis and Andrew (Camera Crew); Best Squirrel Sign by Sophie Dimont (WTP Intern).
Meanwhile, winter's not over yet for the Wolverine Tracking Project! Read on for our latest findings from our winter wildlife camera and tracking surveys.
wildlife Camera and Tracking surveys
We've had a couple detections - and a couple possible detections - of target species this month!
We are excited to share this camera footage of one target species, the Sierra Nevada red fox:
A Sierra Nevada red fox enters a snowy clearing to inspect a camera site.
We had two separate detections from this camera in the same night, a few hours apart. It is impossible to say whether this is the same individual without genetic evidence, but in both instances the fox in frame was cute and curious! If the sightings are of two separate individuals (of opposite sexes) we hope they are a pair. These images were taken during red fox mating season (January and February), and kits conceived during these winter months will be born between March and May.
A Tracking Leader also recently found some tracks that could possibly belong to a Sierra Nevada red fox:
Left to right (or top to bottom): A canine trail up a snowy hill on Mt. Hood; a canine track in deep snow is carefully measured.
The trail pattern and size of these tracks are right on for fox tracks. However, these characteristics could also indicate that these tracks were made by a coyote or domestic dog. Unfortunately, due to less than ideal snow quality, it is difficult to look for more differentiating characteristics. In an ideal tracking scenario we would look at the shape of the negative space between the toes and heel pad. In domestic dogs and coyotes, this negative space is shaped like an "X". In red foxes, this shape is an "H". This print is a double register - meaning the hind foot has stepped on top of the front print, obscuring the details of the front track. If we could clearly see the front track, we could also look at the shape of the heel pad. In coyotes and dogs, this shape is trapezoidal; on foxes, the heel pad is more "squished" looking and can show up looking more like a horizontal line.
For now, we'll have to log this track as "canine" - no matter how excited we might be about the possibility of detecting our most elusive montane fox!
This tracker also found some potential Sierra Nevada red fox scat on the same survey:
Small scat in the snow, with tape measure and a memo book for size reference.
This scat has a dramatic tapered end and is about as thick as your pinky finger, which are both good indicators for fox. However, like the tracks found nearby, the scat is also a little formless which could be due to age, diet, or even the snow. It's hard to know who this scat belongs to based on visual clues alone, but this sample was collected and genetic analysis can tell us for sure.
One of our long-time volunteers also sent us these canine tracks, which may belong to another target species, the gray wolf:
Left to right (or top to bottom): A trail of probable wolf prints leads off through the snow; a probable wolf print shown up close.
When considering canine tracks that may belong to a wolf, the most important consideration is size. Wolf tracks are larger than coyote tracks and much, much larger than foxes. They are also much larger than most domestic dogs, except for large breeds like Great Dane, Mastiff, and Rottweiler. And so, determining who these tracks belong to requires differentiating between large domestic dog tracks and wolf tracks.
Compared to domestic dog tracks, wolf tracks typically show a greater distance between the two outer toes (the interdigital space). The toes also point straight ahead instead of out, like they tend to do in dog tracks. Claws are long and pronounced, and thinner than in dog tracks. Wolf tracks also show a longer track with a proportionally smaller heel pad, and the track will show a downward angle in the direction the wolf is traveling, since they do not walk as flat footed as dogs do.
Like our possible fox tracks above, however, we don't have enough details to say for sure that these belong to a wolf and not a domestic dog. Details of the trail pattern and context would also be helpful to confirm an identification. Thus, we can only say that these are probable wolf tracks - but still an encouraging sighting nonetheless!
We also detected another target species - and this time we are sure of it! These photos below show the fierce mustelid, Pacific marten.
Left to right and top to bottom: Several detections show a Pacific marten approaching the bait tree in the center of a snowy camera site. It is unclear if these are the same or different individuals each time.
The photos above are from three separate detections of marten at this same site, where they have also been detected throughout the season. Like the Sierra Nevada red fox, we can't know for certain if this is the same individual without genetic data. Martens spend the winter roaming and hunting alone, and the territories of males will overlap with those of females, but males defend their territories against other males. So if these are separate individuals, they may be polygynous partners.
This magnificent mountain lion was also documented:
A mountain lion stands in a snowy clearing.
A rare detection in the mountains in winter, this is the third sighting of a mountain lion at this location this winter. The camera crew even found fresh mountain lion tracks at the site at each camera check! Oregon has a healthy population of about 6,000 mountain lions. Hunting regulations were instituted in 1961, after the population had been decimated to approximately 200 individuals, and thankfully they have since rebounded.
Another feline was also detected, the bobcat! The two white spots which visible on the back of their ears are thought to be false eyes which deter predators. Such distinctive markings (as well as the white underside of their tail) may also help trailing cubs follow their mother.
Top: A bobcat picks its way through the snowy camera site clearing. Bottom: A bobcat photographed mid-stride.
Bobcats have classic feline tracks, with toes that sit in a curve above the heel pad, allowing the space between the toes and heel pad to form a C shape. With a length of 2 1/2 inches, these tracks are too small to belong to a cougar but are just the size you would expect for a bobcat.
Left to right: A dainty trail of prints in several inches of snow left by a bobcat; a partially snow-obscured bobcat print photographed up close.
Coyotes were regular visitors by night and day, as they have been throughout the winter season.
Left to right/Top to bottom: A coyote sniffs around the bait sight clearing and then pauses in front of the trail camera; White Tip (a coyote noted previously at this camera site for her white-tipped tail) watches on as her companion urinates on the bait stump; a coyote rolls in bait on the forest floor; a coyote visiting at night-time stands on hind limbs to thoroughly investigate the bait box; a coyote digs in front of the bait tree while a cohort looks on with interest.
The camera sites also documented many, many deer, exemplifying a diversity of age and size found between deer and even within the same herd.
Left to right/Top to bottom: Deer of many sizes parade past the trail camera; a deer tentatively steps into a snowy clearing; a deer elegantly pauses with their forelimb raised; two deer dusted with snow walk by; a deer with head lowered enters a sun-dappled clearing.
Elk also roam the forest. They sometimes appear on our trail cameras solo, but they can appear in quite large herds, too - especially this time of year.
Left to right/Top to bottom: A bull elk shows their profile to the camera; a bull looks away from the camera; a group of elk stand in a cluster looking in different directions.
Although snowshoe hares are common sights on our trail cameras, their quantity does not diminish their quality.
A hare bounds around a camera site, looking out of frame and at the camera.
Snowshoe hares are an incredibly important prey species for many omnivores and carnivores, like two of our target species, Sierra Nevada red fox and gray wolf. In fact, they are such an integral part of the food chain that their population size can directly affect the population of predators in the area. But to catch a snowshoe hare, a hopeful carnivore must have keen eyes and quick paws. In winter, the coats of snowshoe hares often turn from brown to white, to help them blend into the snowy world around them. Also, snowshoe hares can cover up to 10 feet of distance in a single bound, and they can bound away from carnivores at a top speed of 27 miles per hour!
Other important prey species include the the California ground squirrel, western gray squirrel, and the Douglas squirrel.
Top to bottom: A California ground squirrel runs onto a log and then off a log; two western gray squirrels chase each other towards a stump; a Douglas squirrel runs across the snow.
California ground squirrels are known to hibernate during winter, but can emerge from their winter sleep as early as January, though some are not seen until March. Looks like this one in the first photo is an earlier riser! Western gray squirrels and Douglas squirrels are active all winter. In the second photo, we can see two gray squirrels chasing each other - either in a territorial or mating display.
We also detected striped skunks wandering by a couple of our cameras.
Top to bottom: a skunk walks away from the camera, a skunk walks parallel to the camera
We also detected a couple turkeys!
Two turkeys have a leisurely walk through a camera site.
We hope you are able to get out and enjoy a leisurely, spring stroll through the woods, too.
Thank you for checking out our blog, and be sure to check back in next month for more wildlife news!