Cascadia Wildlife Blog
News from the Wolverine Tracking Project and more
WELCOME TO A NEW YEAR
Happy New Year! 2022 was a great year for us. We saw so many amazing animal photos retrieved from our cameras, and fascinating tracks and sign of animals on our tracking surveys. We were so excited to get some target species detections in the past year, including several red fox camera sightings, as well as finding marten tracks. We are excited to see what 2023 brings! Thank you to everyone that has supported us over the past year.
We had three tracking surveys in December, and our volunteers saw track and sign of a variety of animals. Let's take a look at some of the last tracks they found before ringing in the New Year!
While trekking through the snow at Mt. Hood, some of the most common tracks to find belong to Douglas squirrels and snowshoe hares. These animals are always on the move, looking for plant matter to eat amongst all of the snow.
Luckily, these animals both have fairly distinct gaits that we can learn to identify! Below is a Douglas squirrel trail. These animals hop forward, with their rear feet swinging around their front feet and landing slightly ahead of where their front feet are planted. Additionally, if the prints are clear enough to make out toes, you will see four toes on the front feet of a Douglas squirrel and five toes on the rear feet.
A Douglas squirrel trail, left as it hopped all over the surrounding snow.
Next let's look at a snowshoe hare trail. Like the Douglas squirrel, these animals hop forward with their rear feet landing ahead of their front feet. One difference we can see from the squirrel trail, however, is that a snowshoe hare's front feet will land one slightly in front of the other, rather than side by side. This allows the hare to have more stability while moving quickly. With that pattern and such large rear footprints, a snowshoe hare trail is often easy to identify once you know what to look for!
From top to bottom: A snowshoe hare trail, with rear feet landing in front; this hare was traveling in the direction of the camera. A closer look at a single snowshoe hare track, with front feet overlapping a bit and larger rear feet close to the camera.
Now you know how to identify two of the more common tracks you might see at Mt. Hood! While our volunteers saw tons of these tracks in December, they also saw some more unique track and sign. Let's take a look at some other highlights!
Here is another sign of squirrel. One must have been sitting in this tree while eating something, and all of its scraps fell to the ground below!
The remainder of a squirrel's snack lays on the snow beneath a tree.
Our volunteers also found evidence of an even smaller critter! A deer mouse left this trough-shaped trail through the snow, before scurrying down into a tunnel below the snow. These tunnels give the mouse a better chance of going undetected by predators.
A trough-shaped trail, left by a deer mouse, leads to a tunnel under the snow.
Our volunteers also found some tracks belonging to members of the mustelid family! These animals generally have long bodies that are low to the ground. Mustelid feet have five toes, and they move with a unique bounding gait. This gait also has the rear feet landing in nearly the same spot as the front feet.
First, we have a weasel trail. These could be from a short-tailed or long-tailed weasel, but they can overlap in size, so it can be hard to positively identify. It looks like the feet overlapped a bit in some spots as well.
A weasel trail moving away from the perspective of the camera.
Volunteers also found a marten trail! This is a Wolverine Tracking Project target species, as there is a healthy population at Mt. Hood and they are good indicators of forest health. For this trail, you can see a similar gait to the previous weasel. We have also included a single track, where you can see how the feet landed in similar spots and are overlapping.
From top to bottom: A marten trail loops around in an arc. A close-up shows the marten's individual feet landing closely together.
Those are just some of the animals that volunteers might cross paths with on a tracking survey. Check back in next month to see what else they find!
The Wolverine Tracking Project Winter Wildlife Surveys have drawn to a close, and summer is just on the horizon. As we take a look back at findings and best photos from the season, we have a lot to celebrate! And, if you are so inclined, check out our official Wolverine Tracking Project annual research report here, for all the findings of the past year!
If you're a returning volunteer and would like to join the Wolf Team, contact us and let us know!
And now the review!
Wolverine Tracking Project Winter Findings
A snowy scenic image of Newton Creek submitted by a volunteer. A small creek divides two snowy banks, with a line of snow tipped trees and Mt. Hood in the background.
Volunteers retrieved beautiful trail camera images, took stellar pictures of tracks, kept their eyes peeled for scat, urine, and other sign, and supporters helped us meet our fundraising goal! All of these contributions allow us to continue building a robust narrative of the animals of Mt. Hood National Forest and allow us to keep documenting wildlife in a meaningful way. Whether you were part of a Camera Crew, a Tracker, or had wanted to join but weren't able to due to pandemic, or if instead you supported us from home: Thank you, thank you!
Camera Crews committed over 1000 hours to checking cameras and recording and uploading data! Trackers committed 137 hours and surveyed over 15 miles of transects, for a total of 181 tracks surveyed!
Happy Spring! While snow and cold will linger around the mountain for a bit, there is an undeniable warmth on the breeze. In the valleys, buds are bursting on trees, spring ephemerals are opening to greet the season, and we welcome all the new growth that this season brings!
At Cascadia Wild, we are celebrating the season with offerings of Spring Botany Classes and a new Tracking Challenge!
Our last tracking challenge was All About Squirrels, and here are the Tracking Challenge Winners!
Left to right (or top to bottom): Clearest Squirrel Tracks by Graham Hulbert (Tracking Leader); Most Unusual Squirrel Tracks by Alexis and Andrew (Camera Crew); Best Squirrel Sign by Sophie Dimont (WTP Intern).
Meanwhile, winter's not over yet for the Wolverine Tracking Project! Read on for our latest findings from our winter wildlife camera and tracking surveys.
wildlife Camera and Tracking surveys
We've had a couple detections - and a couple possible detections - of target species this month!
We are excited to share this camera footage of one target species, the Sierra Nevada red fox:
A Sierra Nevada red fox enters a snowy clearing to inspect a camera site.
We had two separate detections from this camera in the same night, a few hours apart. It is impossible to say whether this is the same individual without genetic evidence, but in both instances the fox in frame was cute and curious! If the sightings are of two separate individuals (of opposite sexes) we hope they are a pair. These images were taken during red fox mating season (January and February), and kits conceived during these winter months will be born between March and May.
A Tracking Leader also recently found some tracks that could possibly belong to a Sierra Nevada red fox:
Left to right (or top to bottom): A canine trail up a snowy hill on Mt. Hood; a canine track in deep snow is carefully measured.
The trail pattern and size of these tracks are right on for fox tracks. However, these characteristics could also indicate that these tracks were made by a coyote or domestic dog. Unfortunately, due to less than ideal snow quality, it is difficult to look for more differentiating characteristics. In an ideal tracking scenario we would look at the shape of the negative space between the toes and heel pad. In domestic dogs and coyotes, this negative space is shaped like an "X". In red foxes, this shape is an "H". This print is a double register - meaning the hind foot has stepped on top of the front print, obscuring the details of the front track. If we could clearly see the front track, we could also look at the shape of the heel pad. In coyotes and dogs, this shape is trapezoidal; on foxes, the heel pad is more "squished" looking and can show up looking more like a horizontal line.
For now, we'll have to log this track as "canine" - no matter how excited we might be about the possibility of detecting our most elusive montane fox!
This tracker also found some potential Sierra Nevada red fox scat on the same survey:
Small scat in the snow, with tape measure and a memo book for size reference.
This scat has a dramatic tapered end and is about as thick as your pinky finger, which are both good indicators for fox. However, like the tracks found nearby, the scat is also a little formless which could be due to age, diet, or even the snow. It's hard to know who this scat belongs to based on visual clues alone, but this sample was collected and genetic analysis can tell us for sure.
One of our long-time volunteers also sent us these canine tracks, which may belong to another target species, the gray wolf:
Left to right (or top to bottom): A trail of probable wolf prints leads off through the snow; a probable wolf print shown up close.
When considering canine tracks that may belong to a wolf, the most important consideration is size. Wolf tracks are larger than coyote tracks and much, much larger than foxes. They are also much larger than most domestic dogs, except for large breeds like Great Dane, Mastiff, and Rottweiler. And so, determining who these tracks belong to requires differentiating between large domestic dog tracks and wolf tracks.
Compared to domestic dog tracks, wolf tracks typically show a greater distance between the two outer toes (the interdigital space). The toes also point straight ahead instead of out, like they tend to do in dog tracks. Claws are long and pronounced, and thinner than in dog tracks. Wolf tracks also show a longer track with a proportionally smaller heel pad, and the track will show a downward angle in the direction the wolf is traveling, since they do not walk as flat footed as dogs do.
Like our possible fox tracks above, however, we don't have enough details to say for sure that these belong to a wolf and not a domestic dog. Details of the trail pattern and context would also be helpful to confirm an identification. Thus, we can only say that these are probable wolf tracks - but still an encouraging sighting nonetheless!
We also detected another target species - and this time we are sure of it! These photos below show the fierce mustelid, Pacific marten.
Left to right and top to bottom: Several detections show a Pacific marten approaching the bait tree in the center of a snowy camera site. It is unclear if these are the same or different individuals each time.
The photos above are from three separate detections of marten at this same site, where they have also been detected throughout the season. Like the Sierra Nevada red fox, we can't know for certain if this is the same individual without genetic data. Martens spend the winter roaming and hunting alone, and the territories of males will overlap with those of females, but males defend their territories against other males. So if these are separate individuals, they may be polygynous partners.
This magnificent mountain lion was also documented:
A mountain lion stands in a snowy clearing.
A rare detection in the mountains in winter, this is the third sighting of a mountain lion at this location this winter. The camera crew even found fresh mountain lion tracks at the site at each camera check! Oregon has a healthy population of about 6,000 mountain lions. Hunting regulations were instituted in 1961, after the population had been decimated to approximately 200 individuals, and thankfully they have since rebounded.
Another feline was also detected, the bobcat! The two white spots which visible on the back of their ears are thought to be false eyes which deter predators. Such distinctive markings (as well as the white underside of their tail) may also help trailing cubs follow their mother.
Top: A bobcat picks its way through the snowy camera site clearing. Bottom: A bobcat photographed mid-stride.
Bobcats have classic feline tracks, with toes that sit in a curve above the heel pad, allowing the space between the toes and heel pad to form a C shape. With a length of 2 1/2 inches, these tracks are too small to belong to a cougar but are just the size you would expect for a bobcat.
Left to right: A dainty trail of prints in several inches of snow left by a bobcat; a partially snow-obscured bobcat print photographed up close.
Coyotes were regular visitors by night and day, as they have been throughout the winter season.
Left to right/Top to bottom: A coyote sniffs around the bait sight clearing and then pauses in front of the trail camera; White Tip (a coyote noted previously at this camera site for her white-tipped tail) watches on as her companion urinates on the bait stump; a coyote rolls in bait on the forest floor; a coyote visiting at night-time stands on hind limbs to thoroughly investigate the bait box; a coyote digs in front of the bait tree while a cohort looks on with interest.
The camera sites also documented many, many deer, exemplifying a diversity of age and size found between deer and even within the same herd.
Left to right/Top to bottom: Deer of many sizes parade past the trail camera; a deer tentatively steps into a snowy clearing; a deer elegantly pauses with their forelimb raised; two deer dusted with snow walk by; a deer with head lowered enters a sun-dappled clearing.
Elk also roam the forest. They sometimes appear on our trail cameras solo, but they can appear in quite large herds, too - especially this time of year.
Left to right/Top to bottom: A bull elk shows their profile to the camera; a bull looks away from the camera; a group of elk stand in a cluster looking in different directions.
Although snowshoe hares are common sights on our trail cameras, their quantity does not diminish their quality.
A hare bounds around a camera site, looking out of frame and at the camera.
Snowshoe hares are an incredibly important prey species for many omnivores and carnivores, like two of our target species, Sierra Nevada red fox and gray wolf. In fact, they are such an integral part of the food chain that their population size can directly affect the population of predators in the area. But to catch a snowshoe hare, a hopeful carnivore must have keen eyes and quick paws. In winter, the coats of snowshoe hares often turn from brown to white, to help them blend into the snowy world around them. Also, snowshoe hares can cover up to 10 feet of distance in a single bound, and they can bound away from carnivores at a top speed of 27 miles per hour!
Other important prey species include the the California ground squirrel, western gray squirrel, and the Douglas squirrel.
Top to bottom: A California ground squirrel runs onto a log and then off a log; two western gray squirrels chase each other towards a stump; a Douglas squirrel runs across the snow.
California ground squirrels are known to hibernate during winter, but can emerge from their winter sleep as early as January, though some are not seen until March. Looks like this one in the first photo is an earlier riser! Western gray squirrels and Douglas squirrels are active all winter. In the second photo, we can see two gray squirrels chasing each other - either in a territorial or mating display.
We also detected striped skunks wandering by a couple of our cameras.
Top to bottom: a skunk walks away from the camera, a skunk walks parallel to the camera
We also detected a couple turkeys!
Two turkeys have a leisurely walk through a camera site.
We hope you are able to get out and enjoy a leisurely, spring stroll through the woods, too.
Thank you for checking out our blog, and be sure to check back in next month for more wildlife news!