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