Cascadia Wild blog
News from the Wolverine Tracking Project and more
In January, we introduced our first ever Tracking Challenge. Every few weeks this winter, we'll be sharing a new challenge and a series of posts to inspire you to explore your neighborhood, parks, or the mountain for signs of wildlife in the tracks and sign they leave behind.
For our first challenge, we asked you for photos of tracks from any animal, no matter who made them. We received some excellent submissions! Here are the winners of the most distinct and the most clear tracks:
Most Clear Tracks
Left to right/Top to bottom: @buttsuponatime captured these perfect cat tracks! Carlene Blaich (Camera Crew and Tracking Team) found these exceptional snowshoe hare tracks on Mt. Hood. Kurt Zias wins honorable mention for some of the most clear marten tracks we have seen!
Most Unusual Tracks
Left to right/Top to bottom: Kurt Zias captured these screech owl tracks - notice the mouse trail to the right! Heidi Perry and John Lehne (Tracking Leaders and Camera Crew) encountered a black bear on a mid-winter stroll on Mt. Hood. Honorable Mention: Ray Anderson and Kathleen Baker (Camera Crew) didn't need tracks to identify this backyard visitor!
Explore the Natural world
Spring classes start next month!
Wildlife Camera and Tracking surveys
And now the wildlife news you've been waiting for!
First off, we would like to share our target species sightings this month.
Top: A Sierra Nevada red fox sniffs around one spot on the ground.
Bottom: a Sierra Nevada red fox walks through the frame, stopping to sniff the ground.
These two detections of Sierra Nevada red fox happened at night, about a week apart. They may be the same individual, or they may not. The same individual can look very different in different light settings, at different distances from the camera, and when detected in different modes of motion. Whether are not they are the same individual, both detections show the fox in question was very interested in something on the ground.
Another camera also detected another Sierra Nevada red fox… Or did it?!
A fox runs through the background of a camera site.
This individual is certainly a fox, but these photos were taken outside the expected range of Sierra Nevada red fox, as this site is stationed at a bit lower elevation than they have been documented in Mt. Hood National Forest. This site is also a bit higher elevation than we would typically expect to find a lowland subspecies of red fox. So who could this be?
The story of red fox subspecies and populations gets complicated. There are three different subspecies of red foxes in Oregon, the Sierra Nevada subspecies in the Cascades, the Rocky Mountain subspecies in the mountains of Eastern Oregon, and a lowland subspecies that is thought to be non-native in the sagebrush and bunchgrass country. In biology, the usual definition of a species is a group of animals that can breed with each other and produce fertile offspring (meaning their offspring can also have offspring). A group of animals is deemed a subspecies when they form a distinct group that is genetically distinguishable from the rest of the species. They are usually separated from the rest of the animals in the species by some sort of geographic or behavioral barrier. For example, the American black bear is a well known species of bear, but did you know they have 16 subspecies? These subspecies include the Florida black bear, the Louisiana black bear, and the West Mexican black bear, among others.
With our red foxes, what first seemed like three distinct subspecies, clearly separated from each other geographically and by differences in preferred habitat, is starting to become more cloudy. Rocky Mountain red fox have been detected close to Bend, Sierra Nevada red fox have been detected near the Willamette National Forest at lower elevations than they were expected to be found, the population on Mt Hood has been found to carry at least a few non-native genes, and now there is a mystery fox found in the no-man's land between where we expected to see Sierra Nevada and lowland subspecies.
At this point, we are wondering: Is this individual in the picture above an outlier, either from the Mt. Hood population or from lower elevations? In California, Sierra Nevada red foxes have been documented traveling at lower elevations during dispersal, and dispersal would not be out of question for any fox this time of year. Or, does this detection hint that the range of either Mt. Hood's Sierra fox might be lower than expected, or lowland foxes higher than expected?
Further documentation and obtaining genetic samples would be important in our understanding of home ranges, dispersal practices, and connectivity of Mt. Hood's Sierra Nevada red fox and other foxes in our region. We are excited to see what future documentations may tell us. For now, we wish this fox well on their way, wherever they may be going and whoever they may be.
Our cameras also detected another canine - the coyote!
Left to right/Top to bottom: A coyote looks into the camera. A coyote smells one of our bait boxes. A coyote pops a squat near a fallen tree trunk. A coyote trots through a camera site.
These lovable canines remain active throughout winter, and we detect them all over the forest at all different elevations. However, with much of the plant matter being dead or dormant, coyotes have to rely on their skills as a predator and scavenger to find their next meal. With an impressive range, they can roam up to 40 square miles searching for food (though probably not in a single day!). Their thick winter coat helps them stay warm as they look for their next meal.
Our next detection is a big predator, much like a canine, but in a much smaller package. Can you tell what species they are? They have a long body, short legs, and a fuzzy face, but don’t let that fool you…
A blurry weasel darts away from our bait tree.
We detected a weasel! What these small mammals lack in fat stores, they make up for with ruthless survival tactics. Weasels do not have a permanent den, but instead will use their small, long body to sneak into rodent’s dens, prey upon the rodent, and then use the rodent’s den for a nap. They curl up into a ball ball to conserve heat, and once they're rested, they set out again to find new prey. Due to their fast metabolism, weasels need to eat at least five times a day.
Now onto our feline friends. First up, the mountain lion! This is our first mountain lion detection this season, or least the back half of one.
The torso, back legs, and tail of a mountain lion seem to be walking out of frame.
Mountain lions do not hibernate or migrate great distances in winter, meaning they stay in the same general area year-round. With that being said, mountain lions are altitudinal migrants and follow ungulates to lower elevations during winter to retain a dependable food source. Much like us, throughout the snowy months, mountain lions will visually track deer using their footprints in the snow.
Much like their feline cousin, bobcats also stay active all winter.
Left to right/Top to bottom: The eyes of a bobcat glow in the night. A bobcat dashes by. A bobcat calmly walks through a camera site.
For most of the year bobcats are crepuscular, but in winter they transition to being more active throughout the day to have a better chance of finding some diurnal prey.
Another important forest carnivore, black bear were detected! However, unlike the canines and felines of the forest, black bear are not typically active all winter.
Left/top: A black bear is barely discernible as an outline in the wintry weather. Right/bottom: Bear tracks in the snow.
Not only were black bears detected on camera in January, but a camera crew also found their tracks while checking a different camera. It is very exciting to see these bear tracks in such beautiful detail! In fact, these bear track photos WON the Tracking Challenge for Most Unusual Tracks found on Mt. Hood! (See More Tracking Challenge Winners)
Left/top: The front right paw print of a black bear. Right/bottom: The left hind print of a black bear.
The first photo above shows the right front paw. You can make out all five toes, and below the toes are the palm pad. Black bears also have a heel pad below the palm on each foot, which may not always register, as is the case in this photo. The second photo above shows the left hind paw print. Many a bear track may have been confused with sasquatch (and vice versa!), and you can begin to see why. However, unlike human feet, the inside toe is the smallest and lower than the others, and the "big toe" is on the outside. The hind foot has larger palm and heel pads than the front, and, in this case, the heel pad registered. You can make out the claws and the folds of skin on this bear's foot, too!
Now you may be wondering: why is a black bear awake in winter? Bears are not “true” hibernators like many animals that burrow and hole up for winter. In the winter, bears, raccoons, and skunks hibernate by going into torpor, an involuntary state of reduced activity and lowered metabolic rate for energy conservation, but not into a total and extended dormancy like chipmunks, bees, toads, and so on. The overall time a black bear can spend in its den in torpor hibernation varies geographically from 0-7 months, and in Oregon it has been reported as usually lasting between 5-6 months. However, whereas true hibernators like ground squirrels need to wake up every week or so for sustenance and to pass waste, bears can stay in their torpor state without needing to wake for up to 100 days - or they can remain in torpor for much shorter periods. During warmer spells, black bears in torpor are more likely to stir and may emerge to forage, as perhaps was the case with this individual.
All these important carnivores around, and no wonder! We have also been detecting a lot of ungulates, deer and elk, who make up important parts of the diets of coyotes, mountain lions, and black bears.
An male elk with a thick reddish mane eyes the trail camera.
The camera sites captured several large elk herds on the move, and it's a sight to see! But have you ever wondered how to tell if you're looking at an elk or a deer? This elk above exhibits the thick mane and hump on the shoulders that is common in elk and absent in deer. Compared to deer, adult elk are also significantly larger, the hair of their mane and legs is dark, they have a large white rump patch, and their tail is short and completely white.
Top: A large herd of elk gather in a clearing.
Bottom: An animated gif showing elk passing by in front of a camera.
In Oregon, we have two subspecies of elk: Roosevelt and Rocky Mountain elk. We also have two species of deer, white-tail deer and mule deer, plus a subspecies of mule deer called black-tailed deer. White-tail deer have brown hair on the dorsal (top) surface of their tail, and mule deer have a white tail with a brown tip. The deer shown below are black-tail deer. You can tell where they get their name: the topside of their tails are covered with dark hair. All these deer also have white hair on the ventral (underside) of their tails - all the better to signal to the herd with!
Left to right/Top to bottom: Two deer race through the snowy camera site clearing. Two deer stand nose to nose. Two deer walk through the snow. A young buck shows off his winter molt. Another buck approaches the camera.
Snowshoe hare continue to be regular and welcome visitors to several camera sites.
Left to right/Top to bottom: A snowshoe hare crouches in some underbrush. A snowshoe hare hops through a snowy camera site. A snowshoe hare bounds along a game trail.
There were also many squirrel sightings, like these western gray squirrels:
Left to right/Top to bottom: A western gray squirrel pauses on a log; bounds through the snow; pauses in a grassy clearing; sits upright amid snow patches; and streaks through a camera site.
Did we go a month without a Douglas squirrel sighting...? Rest assured we did not!
A Douglas squirrel pauses on a log, obscured by fog.
Trackers also encountered a lot of squirrel and snowshoe hare tracks on transects! These common winter wildlife species both can have bounding trail patterns, and learning to tell the two apart can be tricky at first.
Left/top: A snowshoe hare left all four paw prints in the snow. Right/bottom: A snowshoe hare trail in snow.
Now, this is one classic snowshoe hare print above! Notice the "T" shape made the two larger hind paw prints side by side, and the two smaller circular front paws prints one after the other. The mismatched size of the prints made by larger hind paws and smaller forepaws is a good characteristic to look for in hare tracks (but squirrels tracks have this characteristic too!).
See the series of "T"s as the hare hopped along? This rabbit's stride (the distance between two prints made by the same foot) was 23" in this picture. Now, compare this to squirrel tracks:
Left/top: a cluster of a set of squirrel tracks in the snow. Right/bottom: A squirrel trail in the snow intersects with a trail of humans.
In the close up of squirrel tracks above, we see larger hind paws positioned in front of smaller fore paws, as with the snowshoe hare, but it appeared as a cluster of four prints rather than a "T". Hare's front feet tend to leave a staggered "T" pattern, while the front feet of squirrels tend to land side by side. You can see this consistently play out in their trial pattern on the right/bottom above.
Below is the first raccoon that cameras have detected this season. Raccoons remain active year-round. Like bears, they do not fully hibernate, but are less active during the winter. Here's a cropped photo with the exposure increased - that striped tail is a giveaway!
A raccoon, barely visible, walks through some fallen logs.
Our final visitor this past month was the striped skunk!
A striped skunk strides off into the undergrowth.
Like black bears and raccoons, these mammals are less active throughout the winter as they undergo hibernation torpor. Looks like these snowless conditions were still good rambling for this skunk.
Until next time, smell ya later! And be well.
We want to start things off this New Year by thanking all of our readers, our volunteers, and our supporters for all their contributions that made 2020 such a success!
And, we have great news for 2021!
Read more about about our classes.
This month, we made the difficult decision to cancel our Group Tracking Surveys for the remainder of the season. As the pandemic numbers in our region continue to climb, and with the introduction of the new strain of coronavirus, and given the social nature of the group tracking surveys, we feel that it is in the best interest of the health of our volunteers, tracking leaders, and greater community. We are still encouraging self-organized surveys, and we are looking forward to a time when we can all reunite on the mountain and follow snowy trails together again soon.
Meanwhile, as snows fall on the Mt. Hood National Forest, life continues on its winter course! Some of our most exciting wildlife finds are in the winter. Read on to find out about some of the wildlife documented on our Camera Surveys, Self-Organized Tracking Surveys, and other findings from our community while spending time in nature!
Read more about the Wolverine Tracking Project
Over the past month, we have seen a flurry of inquisitive Pacific marten activity! Pacific marten are one of our four target species along with wolverine, gray wolf, and Sierra Nevada red fox. Marten are an indicator species of upper elevation forests - if the marten population is healthy, we can infer that the ecosystem as a whole is healthy.
Top: An animated GIF of a Pacific marten, shown first appraising the bait tree, then approaching and sniffing the bait box, and finally bounding away through the snow. Bottom: A series of the three individual photos of the GIF above.
Pacific martens and their cousin, the weasel, have a typical gait and track pattern literally referred to as "bounding." The mechanics of the bound for the marten is that the whole body is used in the jumping motion, and both front feet are moved forward followed by both back feet which land just where the front footprints were - and the motion repeats!
Martens are active year-round and do not hibernate. Individuals readily adapt their patterns of hunting and resting, these camera sightings of marten have occurred both in broad daylight and in the dead of night.
Top: A marten travels through the camera site in the snow. In this nocturnal marten visit, the animal appears much larger than in previous images due to proximity to the camera; this effect is known in photography as forced perspective. Middle: A nocturnal marten leaves a trail of footprints in the snow past the bait box. Bottom: A marten hurries towards the bait box in a blur of motion.
This was a very lucky month indeed to have so many marten detections!
Coyotes are frequent visitors regardless of the season, as they also remain active year-round. They have been particularly interested in our bait this past month.
Top to bottom, left to right: Two coyotes visit a site and one of them investigates our bait, marking the spot to leave its own scent there, too; one coyote puts their paws up on the bait tree to get closer to the bait; a coyote rolls on the ground near a bait tree; and two coyotes visit a camera site and one of them sniffs our bait - or possibly where the coyote in the first photo marked!
There is no straightforward answer to why coyotes might like smelly bait, but we often detect them sniffing or rolling in bait that we find smells quite... well... off-putting. They could simply like the smell and want to put on a little "perfume", or it could be a more poignant survival technique. Researchers posit that, along with other reasons, they interact with smelly things in hopes that it makes them smell like larger animals which would thwart predation, or on the flip side, mask their own scent from the animals they hunt. Either way, many coyotes leave our camera sites smelling stinky!
Even with the arrival of our first winter snows, black bears continued to surprise us with their visits on the east side of Mt. Hood. These photos were taken in late December, a little late in the season for black bear to still be active and not hibernating! Interestingly, black bears were also observed to be active in the same area in January of last year.
Left to right, top to bottom: a black bear rumbles off without sparing a glance for the camera or bait; a black bear walks along the game trail; a black bear's attention is arrested by something off-camera; a black bear stands still, as if contemplating the snow beneath their feet.
As always, deer have also been abundant, especially at our lower elevation and east side sites, where deer tend to travel to during the winter. During the deer mating season (or "rut"), when these pictures were taken, we observed many handsomely antlered bucks trailing after does. Those antlers surely came in handy during clashes with romantic rivals.
Top: An animated gif of a doe gingerly stepping through a clearing and over some fallen branches, followed closely by a buck. Bottom, left to right: a bucks antlers on close display; and a buck at a slow trot down a game trail.
In the winter, when male deer from the year prior are adult size and the antlers of mature deer have shed, it becomes much more difficult to distinguish male and female deer by sight. Winter coats appear at their fullest at this time as well.
Top: a member of a snow-dusted deer herd checks out the bait.
Bottom: A deer peeps out from behind a curtain of evergreen boughs.
Snowshoe hares continue to be in their element as winter waxes on, keeping nocturnal activity interesting for the trail camera on otherwise quiet snowy nights
A snowshoe hare pauses as snow flurries around them.
Another constant and lively presence was the western gray squirrel. They are the largest tree squirrel in Oregon and will remain active throughout the winter months.
A western gray squirrel crosses a fallen log (left) and another pauses for a moment, ready to dash off (right).
Squirrels aren't always so cooperative for our motion-activated cameras, as this Douglas squirrel demonstrates:
Small, fast, and hardly visible in the shadows of a snowy landscape, a Douglas squirrel pauses under a log.
Twinkling snowfall and determined, self-organized trackers made for some great finds!
Our first tracks belong to a mustelid, the weasel! As discussed above about their cousin marten, weasels also have a bounding gait which is typical for animals with short limbs and long, tube-like bodies.
Left: Tracks which show the bounding gait of a weasel. Right: Close up of a weasel track.
Another track that was seen out on Mt Hood was left behind by a bobcat. Feline tracks will usually register four toes in the front feet and four toes in the hind feet and have a “direct register walk” gait, which means that the hind footprints usually land on top of the front footprints of the same side, and the footprints are evenly spaced. However, here, it looks like the bobcat had stopped walking and rested. The lower parts of the bobcat's legs left those long imprints in the snow.
Bobcat tracks layered on top of each other in the snow
Some of the most common tracks found belong to snowshoe hare and squirrel.
These two animals have similar gaits, which makes sense seeing how they both hop through the snow, similar to the bounding gait of weasels and martens. The abundance of these tracks is a good sign for bobcats and other carnivores who stay active throughout the winter. Can you tell which tracks belong to which species?
Top two images: Douglas squirrel tracks and trail. Bottom two images: Snowshoe hare tracks and trail.
The top two images are of squirrel tracks and the bottom two images are of snowshoe hare tracks.
Off the mountain, in Portland’s Oxbow Park, some members of our community found some intriguing animal sign. This first image is of a bird's nest, well-weathered by the Portland rain.
A bird's nest in a moss covered tree
Next we have a two different kinds of woodpecker holes on a cedar tree. This pileated woodpecker hole is many years old and has scarred over. The little holes are due to a sapsucker that has drilled holes to bring sap out. We've never seen a sapsucker drilling on top of an old pileated hole before!
An old woodpecker hole in a cedar tree
Last, but not least, two volunteers found some striking sign. On their way out to a camera check they came across the bones of a small deer. These ungulates are important prey animals for many carnivores, such as canines, felines, and bears that roam the forest. These bones are also an important source of calcium and other minerals and nutrients for many wildlife of the forest, including other herbivores and omnivores.
Ungulate carcasses laying on open ground, leaves have collected around the bones
A Very Special Sighting
Keri Sprenger, a long time Wolverine Tracking Project volunteer and current Winter Camera Survey volunteer, shared with us these gorgeous photos from her encounter with a Cascade red fox at Paradise Park on Mt. Rainier. Cascade red foxes are a subspecies of montane (high altitude) red fox which occupy the Cascade Range north of the Columbia River. Our target subspecies, the Sierra Nevada red fox, are only found in the Cascades and Sierras south of the Columbia River.
Top: A Cascade red fox glances back at the camera. Bottom: The same Cascade red fox with cross phase coloration stands in full profile at the edge of a snowy road. Photo credit: Keri Sprenger, Wolverine Tracking Project volunteer.
This individual is a cross phase fox, one of three color phases which occur in wild red fox populations, along with the quintessential red phase and silver phase (black). Color phase is a lifelong, genetically determined coat coloration, also called a polymorph, and does not vary with age or season. Cross phase foxes are characterized by a band of dark fur running down their back and shoulders in a cross shape. This individual is further distinguished by a white sock on their left hind paw.
The Cascade red fox is also characterized by a white half-sock on her left hind foot. This distinctive white foot has been noted by many visitors of Mt. Rainier's Paradise Park over the years. This animal looks close due to use of a telephoto lens. Photo credit: Keri Sprenger, Wolverine Tracking Project volunteer.
Cascades Carnivore Project, one of our partner organizations, has a project focusing on Cascade red fox conservation. Cascades Carnivore Project has highlighted a female Cascade red fox named Whitefoot, whom they first encountered in 2011. Could this be her?! If so, this would make this fox at least 9 years old - which is quite old for a wild, montane fox!
If you are ever on Mt. Rainer keep an eye out for this fox, and photograph from a respectful distance.
Thank you to Keri and all our amazing volunteers, your sharp eye for beautiful wildlife reminds us why this area of research is so exciting and important!
The days are getting warmer and longer, the birds are returning from winter migration, and animals everywhere are bringing a new generation of wildlife into our forests...needless to say, winter has ceased and made way for spring, marking the end of our winter survey season. While this season may have been unexpectedly cut short, the Cascadia Wild team of volunteers and members still managed to bring in countless wonderful photos and record many wildlife tracks while it lasted.
Please enjoy this season recap of the Wolverine Tracking Project's Camera and Tracking Survey highlights!
Winter is in full-swing, January brought us deep snows and lots of photos from the Wolverine Tracking Project, and looking ahead, February is shaping up to be a busy month with March not far behind!
See below for news on our camera and tracking surveys. But first, check out some of the classes and events on the calendar.
Upcoming classes & events
As always, Tracking Club meets the last Sunday of every month.
Nature Book Club meets Feb 25 to discuss Reading the Forested Landscape by Tom Wessels.
More info on Clubs
A big thank you to our volunteers who have been braving the elements to maintain our camera sites! All the fresh snows on Mt Hood have given our camera crews a lot of opportunity for snowshoeing, digging cameras out of the snow, and bringing back some great photos! We've captured a few winter photos like this (below):
A snow-covered camera takes a programmed, daily photo
However, thanks to our volunteers braving the elements, we have also detected a lot of wildlife. When the heavy snows weren't burying our cameras, which were originally installed about five and a half feet up a tree, they were making some cameras appear to be at ground level. The result? These wonderful close-ups:
A Pacific marten inspects a camera, leaving behind footprints in the freshly fallen snow
It is always exciting to see a Pacific marten, especially so intimately. We love that we can also see such clear tracks as it departs, too. Note the elongated foot pad of its back feet, circled by five toes. This print is characteristic of mustelids, the family which Pacific marten, wolverine, fisher, mink, weasel, and so on belong.
A little about marten...
Snow-level cameras also detected some other animals, which make up our marten's carnivorous diet:
A deer mouse leaves a trail (left/top) and a snowshoe hare comes for a visit (right/bottom).
The fresh tracks of the deer mouse show it's hopping gait - though much smaller, it is very similar to the trail a snowshoe hare would leave: small front feet landing first and the larger, more powerful hind feet landing second just ahead of the front feet.
We also detected an up-close and candid portrait of another target species: the Sierra Nevada red fox!
A Sierra Nevada red fox makes its way through deep snow
Again, you can see the tracks of this montane fox in the snow. With a meandering trail like this and nose to the ground, it's not hard to assume this fox is hunting. Rodents often burrow into the snow, using the insulating layer as protection from predators and the cold.
Foxes at three different sites inspect the bait trees (top row and bottom left). A video shows multiple visits of what appears to the be the same fox to one site over a period of three weeks (bottom right).
These many visits from these rare, native foxes help us understand their habitat use. We have also collected a few viable hair samples from some of these sites. Like scat samples, hair samples may help give us important genetic information to help us understand their population history, genetic diversity, and habitat connectivity. Hair samples are collected on wire brushes, which are attached to the black belt on the tree just under the bait.
Our region is home to three kinds of montane fox, the Sierra Nevada red fox (Vulpes vulpes necator) in the Oregon Cascades and Sierras, the Cascade red fox (V.v. cascadensis) found in the Cascades north of the Columbia River, and the Rocky Mountain red fox (V.v. macroura) who are native to northeast Oregon. And, just this week, it was announced that there is a population of Rocky Mountain red fox living near Bend, and likely has been in this area for some time! Just like the Sierra Nevada red fox in our backyard, the montane fox can be elusive and difficult to study, even when they are right under our nose.
Other recent visitors include the ever-present coyote.
Left to right (mobile: top to bottom): a coyote fixates on a tree; two coyotes look on while a third rolls in fresh snow; a coyote with a white-tipped tail pauses, then leaps over a log to smell a stump; and finally, a coyote stands chest-deep in the snow, likely listening for rodents. Though the final coyote's retreat was not captured, its tracks show it departed the way it came, taking the time to circle (and likely mark) the stump behind it (final photo).
We've also detected a few bobcat:
Left to right (mobile: top to bottom): a bobcat walks past a bait tree; bobcat walks down a game trail; bobcat inspects a bait tree; bobcat leaves tracks in fresh snow; bobcat smells the base of a bait tree; and a bobcat passes through a site with what looks like a freshly caught hare
The bobcat on the right (or bottom), is difficult to make out. However, this lucky visitor is sporting a freshly caught hare! Bobcats (Lynx rufus) are well-adapted for snowy mountains, and, like foxes, marten, and coyotes, snowshoe hare are a favorite snack. Bobcats often hunt at night, and like the marten, don't let their small size fool you! They can cover 10 feet of ground in one pounce.
We are more likely to see bobcats on the mountain in the winter than their felid cousin, mountain lion. Mountain lions (Puma concolor) are less adapted to snowy environments than bobcat and are more often detected at lower elevations than where most of our cameras are located.
Another visitor we don't expect to see in the winter? Black bear. However, our cameras did pick up a bear between snows, a bit later than we would expect to see one.
A black bear walks down a game trail between winter snows
Bears do not hibernate in the same way as most other animals, like some rodents and reptiles, who lower their body temperature along with their metabolism and sleep throughout the whole winter. Instead, they enter a state called torpor where their metabolism slows down, but their body temperature remains elevated and they are able to wake more easily. They can wake from this sleep-state during winter if the weather warms or they are disturbed, and they may even leave their dens, eating opportunistically if they come across food, but do not tend to venture out for long. Other animals that enter a similar torpor state are raccoons and skunks - plenty of reasons why it is always good to be aware of your surroundings in the forest! Whether this particular bear is taking a mid-torpor stroll or has yet to enter this state for the winter is hard to say.
One animal, we are not surprised (but always happy) to see is the black-tailed deer.
Left to right (mobile: top to bottom): A doe in the snow; a buck in the snow; three deer in the snow; a buck on a game trail
Did you know Oregon is home to four native subspecies of deer? Mt Hood National Forest is home to the Columbian black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus columbianus), a subspecies of mule deer. These deer are found from the coastal ranges to the Cascades, and their range runs from California to northern British Columbia (a sister subspecies, Sitka black-tailed deer, is found in Alaska). Rocky Mountain mule deer (O.h. hemionus), another mule deer subspecies, are also native to Oregon, and they are found on the east side of the Cascades summits, most commonly on the east side of our state - fittingly, their range also includes both the American and Canadian Rockies. Black-tailed deer are a little smaller and darker than mule deer, but both have large, mule-like ears. While mule deer seem to prefer open steppe, black-tailed deer tend to prefer brushy areas of coniferous and mixed-coniferous forests, sticking close to clear cuts and burns for browsing opportunities.
Oregon is also home to two subspecies of white-tailed deer: the Columbian white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus leucurus) and the Northwest (Idaho) white-tailed deer (O.v. ochrourus). The Columbian white-tailed deer is the most rare deer in Oregon. They only live along the lower Columbia River and Umpqua Basin, and the Columbia River population is a federally protected endangered species. The Northwest white-tailed deer is found in the northeastern corner of our state and has a healthy population. As a species, white-tailed deer grow increasingly more abundant as you move toward the east coast. They can be found from Canada to South America and prefer mixed-deciduous forest types.
In our area, you are most likely to see Columbian black-tailed deer - or if you are lucky, the rare Columbian white-tailed deer. Columbian white-tails have long tails they keep held closely to their bodies, and black-tails have shorter tails held loosely to their bodies. If you head a bit further east, you may see the Northwest white-tails; these are the smallest deer of all and have very wide tails. The antlers of each species are different, too. If the antlers are fully developed, white-tailed deer have one main beam on each antler, with points coming of the main beam; black-tailed deer (and mule deer) will typically have a fork coming off the main beam, with points coming off each branch. Check out ODFW's site to read more about our native deer or watch a video on Columbian black- and white-tailed deer identification.
Almost as copious as deer and as perennial as coyote, are our forest corvids.
Left to right (mobile: top to bottom): Clark's nutcracker; Canada jay; and a video compilation of the two species visiting the same tree over two weeks - almost every 1-2 frames is a new visit.
Plentiful snows, hearty trackers, and some luck have resulted in some great tracking surveys!
One tracking team encountered three separate bobcat trails:
Detail of bobcat tracks; another bobcat's trail
The track quality on these tracks is great, even with a dusting of snow falling after they were laid. These photos show nice clarity of both the individual tracks and the trail pattern, and you can easily see the characteristic felid shape in these tracks. Compared to canid tracks, the whole of the print is quite circular and the thick, oblong pad is surrounded by four evenly spaced "toe beans." When distinguishing between dog and cat tracks, it's better to pay attention to these characteristics, rather than the presence or lack of claws: while felid claws are retractable (and canids are not), a bobcat or mountain lion can extend its claws for traction - something you may see on, say, a snowy/muddy/icy mountainside.
Distinguishing bobcat from mountain lion is easy, at least for the adults of the two species: go by size! Under 2.25" diameter is likely bobcat; greater than 2.75" is likely mountain lion.
The two tracks we are seeing the most of are snowshoe hare...
Left to right (mobile: top to bottom): the meandering path of a snowshoe hare; older tracks show the commonly seen track pattern of undefined, large hind feet ahead of the small front feet; a tracking team examines a snowshoe hare trail along a log; detail of exceptionally clear hare tracks.
Similar to the snowshoe hare, the older squirrel tracks show the commonly seen track pattern of undefined, large hind feet ahead of the small front feet; detail of clear squirrel tracks.
The abundance of hare and squirrel is great news for the bobcat, whose tracks were found above, and the rest of our forest carnivores. The photos above show how similar these two animal's tracks are, both animals having bodies well-suited for bounding along, close to the ground. They can be difficult to discern from one another, but hare will be larger than a squirrel, and hare's tracks often have less definition due to the impressive amount of fur covering their pads and toes. Squirrel tracks are also more uniform and boxy - note how well the feet line up on the bottom set of squirrel photos, compared to the more staggered landing of the hare's front feet.
In our forest, we have two kinds of non-hibernating squirrels: the Northern flying squirrel and the Douglas squirrel. However, it is difficult to tell their tracks apart. One way to tell? If you can follow the trail to the start, there will be a "landing strip" where the flying squirrel hit the ground. If you have clear enough tracks, you may be able to tell that the 5th toe on the hind foot (the "pinky toe") is almost as long as any other toe - that's a flying squirrel, too. Read more squirrel track analysis by David Moskowitz.
Whether in town or on the mountain, we hope to see you soon!
Happy Winter, Happy Holidays, and Happy (almost) New Year!!
Since our last post, we have transitioned from Fall to Winter, and we have been busy!
Earlier this month, we held our first ever fundraiser, Mystery Tracks, and it was a great success in many ways. Not only did we surpass our fundraising goal, but we had so much fun doing so! We also learned that, regardless of current skillset, there is a tracker in every one of us. Excellent work to all who came out to sleuth some tracks and make this a night for the books! And thank you to Jean’s Farm for hosting, Ecliptic Brewing for the keg, and Steve Engel for the masterful plaster track casts.
We would also like to thank everyone who has donated or become a member this month!
If you're considering making a tax-deductible donation on behalf of yourself or a loved one,
there's still time to donate and help us start off strong in 2020.
As a community-based, volunteer-run organization, each dollar makes a difference, and we could not do this work without you!
We are Cascadia Wild!
Now that we are officially in Winter, the Wolverine Tracking Project winter surveys are in full swing! We are getting a lot of footage back from our camera surveys, and a handful of tracking surveys have also been completed. There’s a lot more ground and many months still to cover, but we are off to a great start and have a great group of volunteers helping out this season. Thank you to everyone who is lending their hands, eyes, and time to help document the wildlife of our national forest.
In case you missed it, we have some big news...
WOLVES IN MT HOOD NATIONAL FOREST!
Gray wolves detected by Wolverine Tracking Project Camera Survey, 2019
Sources at ODFW indicate that these individuals, detected on separate occasions at different sites, could be the breeding pair of the White River wolf pack, who have taken up residency on the Warm Springs Reservation and the eastern edge of Mt Hood National Forest. A target species of the Wolverine Tracking Project, we are interested in how the presence of gray wolves will shape the ecosystem of the lands they chose to call home. In hopes of also helping to define their range, we will continue to keep a lookout for these newcomers with several cameras positioned along the forest boundary. As the pack grows and disperses, or as other wolves move in, we expect to see more of them.
Since the wolf detections above, snows have arrived on our mountain, just in time to greet the season. This means we are seeing a lot more of other kinds of animals at our camera sites, including another of our target species: the Sierra Nevada red fox.
This winter, we have 9 cameras located in the immediate Timberline/Government Camp area and an additional two in the outlying area, all specifically focused on targeting this subspecies, one of the most rare mammals in North America and endemic only to the montane slopes of the Sierras and Cascades south of the Columbia River. As winter sets in, they seem more drawn to our sites than in summer, and frequency of detection increases. This is perhaps due to higher concentrations of red fox at the “lower” elevations of our typical sites (their summer range may include the talus slopes where installing camera traps is more difficult). Or, perhaps they are more drawn to the meat bait in these leaner months. Here we can see video compilation of what looks like two different foxes timidly checking some sites:
In both of these videos, the foxes seem drawn to the meat and fox urine we have baited the tree with, yet they are exercising caution. In the second video, what appears to be the same fox came back at least three times over a course of 9 days. Compared to bears or wolverine, who are both notorious when it comes to getting their paws on food, canids tend to be more hesitant, and our Vulpes vulpes necator here is no exception.
Read more about the Sierra Nevada red fox.
Coyotes inspecting bait sites
Coyotes, almost a guaranteed visitor at many of our locations, can also be cautious when it comes to inspecting bait.
Coyote going for a roll near a bait tree
However, coyotes tend to quickly overcome their hesitation and are just as likely to go for a good roll in, or near, the bait (see above)! Whether marking their territory or perfuming their coats, this is one behavior we can almost always count on from these canids.
Family Felidae are also curious about the smells at a site.
Bobcats inspecting the smells at a site
These bobcats are much less hesitant than their canid counterparts, however, and if they show an interest in the bait will generally directly approach it, sometimes even marking it with their scent before leaving (rubbing, urinating, or even rolling in it in less common instances).
Even deer will check out a bait site:
Two does inspect bait on a tree
Though, as herbivores, deer are not interested in bait as a food source, it is in their interest to know who else may be in an area, and so the site behooves inspection.
Other times, they are just passing through...
Clockwise from top left: a doe casually browses her way through the field of view; two does meander through the snow; a young buck contemplates some snowberries; and a yearling seemingly poses for his portrait.
We've been seeing a lot of family Cervidae this month, which includes both deer and elk. Elk seem to have very little interest in bait, though they do sometimes like to inspect cameras. Elk are seemingly always on the move, seeking out the best sites for grazing and shelter every couple of days.
Female elk (cows) on the move
Like deer, elk are crepuscular. Generally, though not always, elk are found grazing at night in large herds (or harems). A ruminant, elk can graze about 20 pounds of vegetation a day! At daybreak or soon after, elk disperse into smaller groups and bed down in shelter (typically forested areas).
Male elk (bulls) on the move
Male elk, or bulls, will often travel solo this time of year. Late summer to early winter is elk breeding season, or rut, and the mature individuals pictured here are likely in pursuit of a harem.
Other animals who display little caution at sites?
A black bear (left) inspects a snag belt (which collects hair for genetic analysis), and a female bear (sow, right) thoroughly inspects a site with her two cubs of the year (coy).
As mentioned above, bears are well-known for being brazen when it comes to food. More so, they tend to be thoroughly curious. As an apex predator, extreme caution is not a characteristic necessary to their survival, though they seem to take great interest in their surroundings.
Some smaller animals are just as brazen as a bear...
Left to right: mice, Clark's nutcracker, and Canada jays are opportunistic at baited sites.
...while other animals can be troublemakers. In the photos above, a striped skunk of family Mephitidae inspects and disassembles a hair snag belt.
Weasels are often seen at our sites in winter, and they will approach bait fearlessly.
Long tailed weasels passing through our sites
The long-tailed weasels above, however, are not displaying interest in the bait. This could be because there is plentiful food for them, like mice, voles, and even larger animals like rabbits and chipmunks. Closely related to skunks and in the same family as wolverine (Mustelidae), it is not surprising that these animals have a diverse carnivore diet and display little caution.
Some other animals tend to always be oblivious to the bait, like these snowshoe hares, though they often tend to perk up a little for the camera:
Two snowshoe hares seem to pause for a photo mid-bound. One hare is in its winter coat (left) and the other, detected before snowfalls, is still in its summer coat (right).
These members of family Leporidae sport large, snow-defying hind legs and have another helpful adaptation: camouflage. The hare on the right appears to still be wearing its darker summer coat, while the hare on the left has changed its seasonal coloration to match the freshly falling snows. Perfectly timed for the season!
Another fearless, though somewhat rare animal detected by our cameras? A herd of camera crew volunteers!
Camera crew are often seen during site maintenance checks in groups of two to four. The above photo shows a particularly large group at a field training earlier this season. Keep an eye out if you are in the woods this time of year: they are a joyful bunch and we hear it can be contagious.
Whereas cameras can offer rich detail of the wildlife they detect, they can only tell the story of what is directly in front of the lens and can miss the peripheral story of all that goes on around them. Tracking surveys step in to compliment the wildlife camera data, telling us a story of the life upon a landscape. Surveys are conducted by snowshoe on Mt Hood almost every winter weekend with groups of up to 12, which include two Cascadia Wild endorsed and trained Tracking Trip Leaders. The surveys follow 1.5 mile transects (and more if time allows) and document the tracks found along the way, including: track size, gait, track quality, and species identification. A lot can be learned about the land and wildlife by reading these signs. Read more.
One of the most easily distinguishable animal tracks in our forest is the snowshoe hare:
Snowshoe hare tracks in snow displaying the characteristic cluster of a hopping gait
A helpful hint in identifying this species is to look at the trail pattern: there are four footsteps all together in one area, and another four together following it, indicating hopping. For these hares, the prints in the front of the clusters are actually the back feet, and the prints in the back of the clusters are the front feet. Hares will land with their front feet, followed by their back feet, and they will swing their large back feet forward further than their front, ready to spring into the next bound.
We've also been seeing quite a few squirrels:
Squirrel (likely Douglas squirrel) tracks in snow displaying their characteristic double-register
Here, each print is actually two prints - both the front and back foot stepping in the same spot. This is called a double register.
And we've even found some mice!
Mouse tracks in snow, also displaying the characteristic clusters that indicates hopping
The mouse has the same trail pattern as the hare: hopping, with all four feet coming down in the same area.
One of the more exciting tracking finds so far has been Pacific marten. The Pacific marten is also one of our target species: their presence is an indicator of healthy upper-elevation forest.
Detail of Pacific marten tracks in snow (left) and the meandering trail of a Pacific marten (right)
The trail of the marten can be seen above. Several times it appeared to slow to a walk, pause - perhaps looking around - and often kept to the cover of the small saplings. Marten, another mustelid, are also voracious carnivores and it's possible to imagine it skirting the trees on its meandering path, in search of a vole, deer mouse, or other small animal.
A Canada jay perches on a snowy bough
Occasionally, we even get to see wildlife! A common sight are Canada jays. While we do not keep data on these birds, we do like seeing their familiar faces. Like their Corvid cousins - scrub and Stellar jays, Clark's nutcrackers, crows, ravens, and so on - Canada jays are adaptable, have diverse diets, and are generally regarded as highly intelligent, personable, and sneaky. These characteristics lend them and others in family Corvidae the nickname "Camp Robber."
There are few better ways to spend a winter day than strapped into snowshoes documenting the wildlife in our backyard...
...and enjoying the scenery...
...with a great group of trackers:
Thank you all for being a part of Cascadia Wild, this year, in previous years, and in the years to come!
Until next time...
Happy Solstice! Happy Winter!
Our best wishes to you in the New Year!
This week teams visited Bear Springs Near, Bear Springs Far, Alpine, Glade, Government Camp West, Meadows, Clear Lake, and Yellowjacket West.
Trackers visited Barlow Pass and reported back the "day of the weasel!"
Tracking Trip Updates
Above, mouse tracks with tail drag and a short-tailed weasel tunnel with breaks to the surface. Below, a weasel tunnel just below the surface.
Incredible views on a beautiful day!
Lastly, a moment in time captured in the snow in this bird's swooping track.
Wildlife Camera Findings
Bear Springs Near
Bear Springs Near enjoyed a mid-morning visit from this bobcat only once during the set. It's nice getting to see the bobcat in color, compared to our usual black & white nighttime captures.
A coyote dug a huge pit in front of the bait station. The outstanding sense of smell that all members of family canidae enjoy and utilize helped this coyote locate something buried deep in the snow. While it looks like it may have just found some old bait scraps, coyotes are fully capable of capturing live prey deep in the snow, although their methods differ from the charismatic style of foxes. Watch this video for a comparison!
Government Camp West
A bobcat saunters through the snow at Gov Camp West in the very early morning.
A fox at Government Camp is an exciting capture! This is the second lowest elevation we have seen foxes out, outdone only by a single fox at Teacup Lake last year.
Marten bound easily across the snow, and rather than digging or pouncing like the coyotes and foxes, they will tend to seek out hollows in the snow near trees or rocks and seek out prey in their tunnels from there. It is likely that this marten has a litter at home, and if not, it will soon! Young will typically be born between March and April.
This week we've seen some old favorites and made some new friends.
Camera teams went to Government Camp East, Little Zig Zag, and Yellowjacket East. Our tracking trip explored near Salmon River Meadows.
Tracking Trip Updates
The tracking trip to Salmon River Meadows found some incredible examples of snowshoe hare tracks. Check out this perfect bound!
We are still EXCITED about finding snowshoe hare tracks. Are you? Although they are undeniably some of the most common tracks to find in the snow, NOT finding them would be devastating. Snowshoe hares are a keystone species, and without them our forests would be drastically different. Whenever you see a coyote, fox, marten, or other carnivore track, thank a snowshoe hare.
While the keystone-species relationship between snowshoe hares and Canada Lynx has been discussed at length, their relationship to other species is equally interesting. When hare populations rise, their effect on willow and alder begins to take a toll. Incredibly, new willow and alder shoots will begin to produce a distasteful and slightly toxic substance to discourage the hares from decimating the young trees. As a result, hare populations begin to decline. Within a few seasons, willow and alder shoots lose the toxic substance and hare populations begin to rise again.
Wildlife Camera Findings
It's March which means it's that time of year for foxes! Breeding season is finishing up around now and come April, anywhere from 2 to 10 pups will come into the world in a cozy den, loyally tended to by both of their parents.
Every family has their share of drama, and Family Canidae is no exception. There is some history of hostility between the different members of the canine family, whether it be wolves and coyotes or coyotes and foxes.
Wolves and foxes seem able to tolerate one another, as their substantial size difference probably does not threaten competition between them. Now that wolves, coyotes, and foxes are all sharing Mount Hood National Forest again, we imagine the first fox-wolf meeting went something like this!
Marten are going to be expecting their kits in the next month or two as well! Marten, like the rest of the family mustelidae, exhibit delayed implantation; if you can believe it, their breeding season was way back in July or August!
This is not the first time this dusky grouse has appeared on camera. For a few months, she has made regular appearances perusing the snow around the camera looking for her favorite wintertime snack: pine and fir needles. Interestingly, this might be one of the last times we see her until next year, check out this article to find out why!
If you do get a chance to see this grouse before she heads back down in the spring, be ready because she is FEARLESS!
She was NOT fed or approached. Incredibly, she approached while the team was talking and assembling the camera, sticking around for the entire time! She would snack on pine needles, watch the camera team, approach, retreat to a nearby branch, and then do it all over again!
We had camera checks at Government Camp East, Meadows, Yellowjacket West, and Alpine. We've also had two tracking trips since our last update, including a trip leader day.
Tracking Trip Updates
Trip leaders spend a beautiful day together looking at snowshoe hare and squirrel tracks, then on their way back when the day was almost over - they saw fresh bobcat tracks! Over the next few photos, notice the trapezoid-shaped heel pad and lack of claw marks in the bobcat tracks and its neat, consistent direct register walk.
Are you intersted in becoming a trip leader? Participating in Cascadia Wild trainings and tracking trips is a great place to start learning the skills. As a leader, not only do you build experience participating with nature in a more intimate way, you get to share that experience with others! (Not to mention the trip leader tracking trips!)
The tracking trip to Snowbunny found hare, mouse, and multiple bobcat trails and brought back some wonderful photos.
Wildlife Camera Findings
We had lots of naughty visitors in our photos this week! Okay... maybe "opportunistic" is a better word. The bait at Alpine made it about two days into the set.
The bait at Government Camp East made it a bit longer than Alpine, lasting for two weeks. This coyote posed for so many beautiful photos, we suppose we can forgive her.
With two hours of work, perhaps she earned it...
Meadows was not spared... Another thief! And so casual about it, too!
Let's not forget that we had plenty of well behaved visitors, too. This bobcat at Governmetn Camp East is barely visible and was only around long enough for this single photo.
Another marten leaving perfect tracks at Meadows. It visited multiple times.
A coyote at Government Camp East. (Alright, this is probably the same one from earlier. But she's on good behavior this time!)
We had camera checks at Bear Springs Far, Clear Lake, and Government Camp West, plus our intrepid trackers went snow camping near Timberline. Check out what they found, plus hear about a couple upcoming events!
The overnight tracking trip (as well as all the snow in the city!) has us thinking about what we need to do to stay warm - and gets us thinking of all the different ways the animals in our region are specialized to deal with this winter weather.
Tracking Trip Updates
The snow tracking survey trip this week did an overnight trip to the Timberline area. They followed a marten trail, then in the evening some of them were amibitious enough to build snow shelters to help stay warm. The shelter below looks quite cozy!
This marten was traveling with a very unusual gait, but if you look closely, you can see 5 toes on all four feet.
Wildlife Camera Findings
Coyotes' ability to capitalize on any available resources might be one of their greatest adaptations that serves them through winter. Rodents? Great! Deer? Sounds good! Nuts and berries? Love it!
Bobcats (and lynx, too) are unusual in the feline family because of their short tails. Perhaps due to their preference to hunt in dense, woody areas, a long tail was no longer necessary in their quick-pivoting, brushy chases - similar to the Coopers Hawk, which has shorter, rounded wings for hunting among the tree branches.
Round two of the weasel escapades! This camera station is undoubtedly this weasel's favorite place to pass the time. The last camera set was a tale of weasel-vs-woodrat, while this set found a competitor-less weasel luxuriously enjoying its surroundings. (Check out the full sets for weeks of this weasel bounding and jumping through the days)
Weasels are extremely inefficient at conserving heat due to their high-surface-area body shape. To counteract this, they have an extremely high metabolism that keeps them on the move and searching for food. When they're lucky, the catch prey that had a nice, warm den for them to commandeer!
Snowshoe hares have adapted in many ways we are all familiar with, like their extremely large, furry hind feet that keep them up on top of the snow. Additionally, snowshoe hares typically turn white at the beginning of winter. In some areas, however, this change does not occur due to the lack of reliable and consistent snowfall. This is a good thing for these creatures, as their bright white fur would be a dead give-away on a brown, snowless day.
Tracking Trip Updates
A group visited Froglake Snopark over the weekend and observed coyote, squirrel, hare tracks. Coyote feeding habits differ in the winter as opposed to the more plentiful times of spring and summer, and we can expect to see them not only along the trails of their favorite prey animals, but also scavenging more often and doing their best to conserve their energy.
Wildlife Camera Findings
This Meadows marten left us picture-perfect tracks. Here we can observe the angled two-print pattern and we even see the hints of what could be the five toes and claw marks.
At the same camera, we got an excellent view of a coyote's meadnering tracks.
This Bear Springs Near coyote is displaying a habit most of us wish our dogs at home could resist! Scent-rolling, wallowing, or scent-bathing are all names for the act of rolling in something most of us would turn our noses up at. However, for these predators and our pups at home, this habit offers a convenient way to disguise their own scent. Not only is there the potential for them to hide their own scent from their prey, but it would also hide their scent from any predators coming after THEM! This is especially true for the smaller predators who practice this ritual.
Lastly, Alpine got picked over by two ravens, but they were kind enough to wait until only a few days before the camera check to steal all the bait!
More tracking and camera trips coming up, be sure to sign up and we will see you soon!