Amidst all the uncertainty of the season, one thing remains constant: our natural world. On the hillsides of Mt Hood, rivers and lakes are ripe for swimming, huckleberries are reaching their peak, spring's newborns are exploring their range, and some juveniles have even fully fledged! We hope that you have had the opportunity to spend time outdoors and enjoy the bountiful beauty of the Pacific Northwest summer.
2019-2020 Annual Report
Our 2019-2020 Annual Report is out! Check it out for a summary of all that we were able to accomplish during the year, from our annual budget to our classes, clubs and events, to community engagement.
Also, in case you missed it, our Wolverine Tracking Project 2019-2020 Report was also released a few months ago. This report covers all the findings of the Wolverine Tracking Project. Check it out or read our end of winter blog to see detailed photos and findings.
A big thank you to everyone who made 2019-2020 a success!
Tracking Club met at the end of July for the first time since February, and it was great to get our noses to the dirt again! Tracking Club is an informal gathering for beginners and experts alike; all are welcome. Join us the last Sunday of each month at Oxbow Park.
Tracks found at the July Tracking Club. Left: Mink tracks follow the bank of the Sandy River. Right: The tracks of great blue heron (large) and spotted sandpiper (small).
Nature Book Club is held online the fourth Tuesday of every month. Participants come together to discuss the ways nature writing shapes our experiences and relationship with the natural world. Our next meeting is August 25 to discuss Rare Bird: Pursuing the Mystery of the Marbled Murrelet by Maria Mudd-Ruth.
Learn more about our Clubs and Events
While we are eagerly awaiting a time when it is safe to send all our camera crew volunteers to the field, a handful of volunteers have been helping maintain our 16 wildlife cameras stationed around Mt Hood National Forest. Like seasons' past, we have installed cameras to focus on our target species: Sierra Nevada red fox, gray wolf, Pacific marten, and the ever elusive wolverine.
This summer season has delivered a wide range of wildlife, including one of our target species, the Sierra Nevada red fox!
A Sierra Nevada red fox explores the camera survey site
The Sierra Nevada red fox has been one of our target species since they were detected on our cameras in 2012. We frequently detect Sierra Nevada foxes in the wintertime at our cameras stationed just below the tree-line. We have detected them during the summer as well, just much less frequently. We are lucky to have a couple of detections this summer. These sightings were at high elevation, which is fitting since Sierra Nevada red foxes have only been found above 4,000 ft in Oregon so far, but these sightings occurred even higher than that. This is valuable information for us, because we initially hypothesized that we were more frequently detecting Sierra Nevada red foxes during the winter because they were experiencing food scarcity and therefore would be more drawn to our meat baits. However, now that we have detected individuals at high elevations for two summers in a row, this could suggest that these foxes are migratory and spend the summer months at higher elevation and the winter months at lower elevation.
Foxes are opportunistic and will eat berries, plants, insects, and even carrion. But the primary diet of Sierra Nevada red foxes is carnivorous and is mainly comprised of small rodents. Because of this, Sierra Nevada red foxes tend to be most active when rodents are: at dusk and during the night. Perhaps that explains why our cameras detected these individuals at night!
Our largest regular visitor this season has been the black bear.
One black bear walks through a camera site
Despite their name, not all black bears have a dark black coat. Their coats can range from light brown to jet black and some individuals can even have blonde or white coats! Black bears are more commonly cinnamon, blonde, or brown in the west than other parts of the country - researchers think this might be to help them blend in with the abundant meadows we have out here. However, about 70% of black bear individuals nationwide have black coats.
A mama bear and her yearling explore a camera site
Black bears are typically solitary animals, with the exception of occasional social groups or a mother bear and her cub. A cub litter can usually range anywhere from one to four, and cubs will typically stay with their mothers for two years, sometimes longer, until they are ready to be on their own. Here, our cameras spotted a mama and her yearling walking around the site.
Our feline friend the bobcat walked through our sites on several occasions.
Top to the bottom, left to right: a bobcat pauses, a bobcat walks over some fallen branches, a bobcat trots through a camera site
This cat is named due to its tail, which appears to be "bobbed". Bobcats are elusive and nocturnal, thus are rarely spotted by humans. Luckily our camera's have detected a few individuals this season!
Another one of our Mt Hood felines, the mountain lion, stopped by.
A mountain lion looks at the camera
While it may look like the mountain lion is smiling for the camera, it is actually performing a flehmen response. This behavior can be identified when a mammal curls back its upper lip and exposed its front teeth. This allows for pheromones or other scents to be transferred to the vomeronasal organ, which is located above the roof of the mouth. A mammal may perform the flehmen response when it's investigating new odors or tastes. This image is particularly cool because the flehmen response is most often observed in ungulates, so observing it in a big cat is a treat!
One of the most common visitors to our sites are coyotes.
Top to the bottom, left to right: one coyote smells bait and one coyote rolls on the ground, one coyote sniffs the ground, one coyote pauses with one front paw raised.
Coyotes are one of more investigative visitors to our sites, and are often detected sniffing all around the site. Our cameras also often see them marking the site, either by feces, urine, or rubbing. Above are images of coyotes rubbing their backs on the ground, as well as sniffing their surroundings. The last image features a coyote pausing with their paw raised, which is indicative that they were concentrating on something in their area. Perhaps they were looking for the source of what they were sniffing!
Another common visitor to our sites are black-tailed deer. Now that summer is in full swing, our cameras have been detecting does with their fawns.
Top to the bottom, left to right: a doe and two fawns stand together, a doe stands and two fawns explore, one fawn bounds through a camera site
Fawns are characterized by their brown coats with white spots, this pattern helps them camouflage into tall grass and brush. Fawns are born in the late spring and will weigh between 6 and 8 pounds. It is common for a doe to give birth to twins, though a single birth is not unusual. Does and fawns can create family groups which are led by the oldest mother, while bucks will not help raise the fawns and instead create bachelor groups for the summer.
Top to the bottom, left to right: top three images - a buck walks closer to the camera, a buck looks into a camera, a buck stops to observe the camera site
Bucks can be distinguished from does due to their large antlers. Antlers are actually an extension of the deer's skull and are usually only found on male deer. As growth occurs at the tip of the antler, cartilage is added which is later replaced by bone tissue. As the antler is growing, it is covered with a vascular skin called "velvet". The velvet is almost fuzzy in appearance. The velvet supplies oxygen and nutrients to the growing bone. According to a Cornell University Press publication, deer antlers grow faster than any other mammal bone! Once the antler has reached its ultimate size, the velvet is lost and the bone dies. This dead bone is the most mature phase of antler.
On average larger than black-tailed deer, our cameras also often detected elk.
An elk bull walks through a camera site
Elk are one of the largest species within the deer family and are one of the largest terrestrial animals in North America. Bulls are distinguished by their their antlers and loud vocalization consisting of screams known as bugling.
Beloved for their tall ears and endearing hop, rabbits are no strangers to our sites.
A rabbit hops through a camera site
Rabbits and hares are common and important prey for larger mammals, such as bobcats, foxes, coyotes, and even birds of prey. They have adapted to moving swiftly through forests to avoid being an easy meal, finding a wide range of plant matter for their own snacking. As a food source for larger carnivores and as avid herbivores themselves, rabbits play an important role in the ecosystem.
Left to right: a Douglas squirrel sits on a log, a Northern flying squirrel walks through the grass.
The Mt Hood forest is full of a variety of small rodents, and though they have somewhat similar characteristics, each species is physically and behaviorally distinct. This season we have received images of the Douglas squirrel, the northern flying squirrel, the golden-mantled ground squirrel, and the yellow-bellied marmot. Douglas squirrels are tree squirrels with bushy tails, brown coats and tan bellies, though they appear very dark in black and white photos. They are one of the smallest squirrels in Oregon and are active year-round during the daytime. The Northern flying squirrel are also tree squirrels with dark coats, but their bellies are white and their tails are not as bushy; their tails often appear flat in our photos. Weighing under five ounces, they are the smallest tree squirrel in Oregon. Like the Douglas squirrel they are active year-round, except they explore their surroundings during the night.
Left to right: A Golden-mantled ground squirrel looks into the camera, a Golden-mantled ground squirrel walks by the camera
As opposed to tree squirrels, who dwell in trees, ground squirrels spend most of if not all of their time on the ground. In contrast to the Douglas squirrel and Northern flying squirrel, the golden-mantled ground squirrel is, as the name suggests, a ground squirrel. Golden-mantled ground squirrels are active during the daytime in warmer months, they hibernate throughout the winter season. Their body size and markings lead them to be commonly mistaken for chipmunks, however they are distinctive due to their lack of face stripes and singular lateral white stripe bordered by two black striped on each side of their body.
Left to right: a Yellow-bellied marmot looks at the camera, a Yellow-bellied marmot pauses on a rock
Though significantly larger than the previous species, the yellow-bellied marmot is also a ground squirrel. Like the golden-mantled ground squirrel they are also winter hibernators and are actually one of Oregon's longest hibernators, resting from as early as July through April or May. They are our states only marmot and one of the largest squirrels in Oregon. They can be identified by their brown or golden coloring, squat legs, and somewhat bushy tail.
A striped skunk stands on a log
Striped skunks are omnivorous, meaning they eat both meat and plant matter. Their diet influenced by the seasons: in the warmer months their diet is primarily insectivorous when grasshoppers, beetles, crickets, and other arthropods are abundant. During colder months the switch to a more carnivorous diet and they will eat smaller mammals, hatchlings, and eggs.
One of the most exciting detections was of a Greater sandhill crane.
There are actually two individuals in this photo, can you spot the second one?
Two sandhill cranes walk through a camera site
This species is Oregon's tallest bird and is characterized by its red crown and white cheek patches, which contrast with its light gray or brown body. There are only a few pairs of sandhill cranes nesting in the east Cascades, and this bird is one of ODFW's Conservation Strategy Species, so this was a very exciting — and lucky — sighting
Members of our gray wolf and Sierra Nevada red fox surveys have been busy hitting the trails and forest service roads to search of our two canid target species. So far, we have 10 probable Sierra fox scat samples and 8 promising gray wolf scat samples! This genetic data is invaluable in helping us learn about the population, native ancestry, and habitat use of these canids. Combined with the long-term data collected on our wildlife camera and winter tracking surveys, the scat surveys help to tell an overall story of the forest ecosystem that these rare carnivores call home.
Identifying scat can be terribly tricky!
There are some traits common to all canine scat such as
However, our target canines have more specific characteristics
Comparing these two samples, they are similar because are both twisted in shape and contain both hair and plant matter. However, the potential gray wolf scat is larger overall than the potential Sierra Nevada red fox scat.
If you are planning on hiking the alpine trails of Mt Hood and would like to help out with our Sierra Nevada red fox scat survey, let us know! The more eyes we have on the mountain trails, the more we learn about this rare animal, which in turns helps determine their protections.
Contact us for info on how to join, or read more about the Sierra Nevada Red Fox Scat Survey.
For those of you who are unfamiliar, this is what GPS data looks like from our scat surveys. This is a “track” or GPS route from a recent survey. Note the CaW (Cascadia Wild) shout-out!
Thank you to all our volunteers who keep our wildlife surveys going strong and to our community for your valuable support. Until next time, we hope to see you out in the woods and enjoying some PNW sunshine!
Summer is cruising along! We hope you are getting out there, picking some berries, counting stars, and enjoying the season to the fullest. Volunteers on our camera and scat teams are getting out there and bringing back invaluable footage and genetic samples of our forest wildlife. Thank you to everyone who has contributed!
If you're looking for another excuse to get out to the woods, look no further! We'll be at Bark's Summer Base Camp to lead a Tracking Workshop on Sunday, September 1st - come for the day, a few nights, or the full two weeks of camping, workshops, and forest and beaver habitat surveys! Family friendly and FREE. We hope to see you there.
Keep the Sierra Nevada red fox scat survey in mind as you head out to the mountain trails this summer!
We're creating quite the stockpile of promising Sierra Nevada red fox scat, as well! Not every survey will collect scat, though, and that is as valuable as genetic information - lack of evidence of their presence is data that reinforces the rarity of this animal - and knowing what areas they are using is as helpful as knowing what areas they are not. Once we have enough samples, we send the samples for analyses to our partner at Cascades Carnivore Project (who is also researching the Cascade red fox, a cousin in the alpine areas north of the Columbia River). Depending on the quantity we collect, the whole process can take a year. The more we collect, the more timely we can get the data analyzed and communicated to researchers and management - and the better data set we will have.
Wolf survey: We also recently sent off five wolf scat samples to be analyzed by ODFW, and are looking forward to the news! A recent survey also found two new scat samples.
Depending on habitat connectivity, availability of prey, and other dynamics, a wolf pack can have a hunting territory of 50-1000 miles (larger territories commonly found in arctic and subarctic areas). While we know the White River pack is nearby, we are still learning about their territory, and a wolf from that pack or another could decide to venture out and claim new territory at any time. It's a good idea to keep an eye out for their signs, especially on the eastern side of the mountain - we never know where they may end up!
We've now seen footage from all our sites, and have a lot of photos for you, including some firsts of the season - and a first ever for this survey! As usual, we saw a lot of elk, deer, coyote, black bear, a couple mountain lions, and a couple bobcats. We of course saw a lot of Douglas squirrel, a lot of very busy chipmunks, at least one ground squirrel, and a few handfuls of unidentifiable rodents, but the star rodent this time was the largest member of the family Sciuridae, the yellow-bellied marmot!
This is the first time we have caught one of these giant ground squirrels at our cameras! They tend to live on and build deep burrows in talus slopes or alpine meadows, and, though it's not unheard of, it's a wonder that we would find one in this area, which is high-subalpine. Perhaps this one has recently been displaced or has chosen this sub-alpine forest for its abundant edible mosses, grasses, and wildflowers - favorite snacks of marmots.
These dapper rock chucks are named for their coloring, however, they turn tail and burrow at the slightest onset of cold. One of the longest hibernators in our region, marmots can begin hibernation as early as the end of July/mid August, but usually take the dog days of summer to continue building their winter stores.
The biggest present danger to this marmot is coyotes, but wolverines would also be a formidable foe if they reclaim their historic range.
Speaking of Mustelidae (the weasel family, of which wolverines are a part), we also caught sight of the first weasel of the summer!
This lithe and well-camouflaged animal has a unique, identifiable characteristic that sets it apart from other mammals of its size: a long, black-tipped tail which appropriately lends to its name of 'long-tailed weasel.' We always enjoy finding this voracious rodent-hunter on our cameras.
We also saw our first sooty grouse of the season at the same site (lower left corner).
Like other ground birds, a grouse is always a good sign for our forest carnivores like this bobcat, seemingly hot on its trail.
This other bobcat was very interested in the bait belt itself - but not the bait. Perhaps it was more interested in our human-scent from the camera setup than the canine-scent bait under the log; indeed, one of these two may present more danger than the other.
A fellow feline who rightly fears no animal, hominids included, this mountain lion took a moment of repose at our bait log...
...while another mountain lion was caught on the prowl.
We saw many black bear, like this one with its black and cinnamon coloration.
This bear visited a few times, and it really enjoyed using the camera tree as a scratching post, leaving us with quite a few pictures of the back of its head.
Two cubs of the year were caught at another site, though rarely on-camera at the same time. The mother, though (top background), was never far behind.
You can almost see the grin on this content coyote. This behavior could be fulfilling a purpose as simple as a good back-scratch. Or, considering the presence of deer in the area some nights prior, could be a way for the coyote to cover itself in the scent of its prey.
Meanwhile, another one of our cameras captured this very lucky coyote!
While the coyotes have seemed to move on from this site, for now at least, we did see a lot more hare:
More good news for our forest carnivores, a lot of members of the family Cervidae! Specifically, deer and elk.
The photos of this buck displays its summer velvet wonderfully. The antlers of a mature, well-fed and healthy buck can grow up to 1/4 of an inch a day. For bull elk, antlers can grow almost an inch a day. When velvet is present, the antlers are soft and susceptible to damage, and this is part of the reason why bulls and bucks will tend to stick to a smaller territory, with other males. The velvet sheds when the bone begins to set, about mid- to late-September, just in time for them to roam.
We didn't see too many bull elk this time, but we did see quite a few herds of cows and calves.
We also saw two elk that were tagged and collared...
And were treated to some beautiful photographs of a very curious elk! Hello!
We have one more first of the season to share with you, the raccoon:
If you live in a city, chances are you've seen one of these recently. Though more common to see in urban areas, they are still woodland creatures. Like coyotes and other fauna that easily transition to urban areas, they are highly adaptable to their environment. Their presence as scavengers and hunters is always a good sign, and it's always encouraging to see diversity in the forest.
Thanks for reading. We'll be back with more updates soon!