Cascadia Wildlife Blog
News from the Wolverine Tracking Project and more
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!
Rain in the valley, snow on the mountain, and an undeniable bite to the wind!
Winter is just around the corner. Much of the forest is settling in for the long seasonal slumber. The trees and perennials are steadfastly storing their summer bounty below ground, seeds are stored away for spring growth, and animals are changing their behaviors in preparation for the snow.
Whether you are one to spend these cooler days like black bears and other forest hibernators, tucked away under blankets or by the fire with a book, or if you are one to brave the elements - we hope you are looking forward to the new season as much as we are!
Learn more: Community Clubs
Both our summer camera and scat surveys are coming to an end, but we are still busy collecting photos and genetic samples from the forest. As we transition to winter, we are excited to share some of our final findings from the summer season with you.
The first images we want to share with you are of one of our striking target species, the Sierra Nevada red fox!
Top and bottom: A Sierra Nevada red fox explores an alpine camera site with Mt Hood in the background
These are some of best Sierra Nevada red foxes photos we have ever received! You can clearly see the red coat of this fox in the morning light, as well as Mt Hood in the background. We have detected Sierra fox at this alpine site consistently throughout the summer, although the photos have so far only been at night when foxes are more active. This camera site has been taken down for the winter, so these images were a wonderful send-off from such a beautiful site. During the winter, we much more commonly detect Sierra foxes below treeline than in the summer, and we hope to get to see this fox again soon!
We also received many, many photos of coyotes this season, but none quite so investigative as this individual...
Top to bottom: a coyote rolls on scent bait placed at a camera site
This individual rolled around this rock face for just under a minute. Mammals (from coyotes to bears to ungulates and more) use scent as a way to communicate. Our smelly camera sites provide a great opportunity for communication from rubbing parts of their body or by marking with urine and scat. The most clear kind of scent communication is when the animal is attempting to deposit its own scent on something else, and the animal will roll or rub its scent glands onto a variety of surfaces. Animals will scent mark with all parts of their body, including their backs, necks, heads, and faces.
However, sometimes mammals will also try to get the scent from something else (usually another animal) deposited on itself. When an animal covers itself in the scent left by other animals, this isn't exactly communication. We actually don't know exactly why they do this! But we speculate that this occurs when an animal wants to mask their own scent, perhaps to hide their scent when they hunt prey. We suspect this is what this coyote was doing. Maybe this individual was about to go off and find itself some dinner!
The individual made sure to come check out the camera after they had a thorough roll around. Check out the whole video here.
Left and right: A coyote checks out one of our trail cameras
We also received many images of black bears this past month, including this individual that had a similar reaction to the bait as the coyote.
Top to bottom: a black bear rubs it's face against a rock face
This bear also seemed intrigued by the bait, but instead of rolling their entire body in it, they rubbed their head against the smell. In general, bears are much more conservative rollers than coyotes. Where a coyote might roll with enthusiasm, a bear might be content with a cheek rub.
Along with canines and black bears, our cameras also detected some felines, including a mountain lion.
Top and bottom: A mountain lion walks across a log
And some bobcats.
Top: Bobcat eyes reflect in a night-vision image. Bottom: A bobcat walks through a camera site
Both of these big cats do not hibernate and will continue to hunt throughout the winter. Both cats are generalists, meaning they can prey on a wide variety of animals, so their diet will shift to prey that is more attainable throughout the winter months. While many small mammals such as ground squirrels and marmots hibernate during winter, other mammals such as snowshoe hares and mice stay active - great food for our bobcats, and they are content to stay at higher elevations throughout the winter where this food is plentiful. Ungulates (deer and elk) will also stay active through the winter, though they head to lower elevations where there is more opportunity to forage. Mountain lions, who prefer ungulates over other foods, also follow them down the mountain.
Speaking of ungulates, many deer walked past our cameras. Bucks, does, and fawns all made an appearance.
Left to right, top to bottom: A doe walks through a camera site, a fawn walks through a camera site, a buck with new antlers sniffs around a camera site
Throughout autumn deer fawns were losing their spotted summer coats and gaining their adult winter coats. But don't let the coats fool you! The youngins will stick by their mothers side for one to two years before going out on their own.
Every year, bucks grow new antlers. During a bucks first year, they will just grow little antler nubs, or buttons - hence their name of "button bucks." As a yearling, they will begin to grow their first set of antlers. These antlers will typically be smaller than the antlers of older adults, as they are often just a couple of spikes with little to no branching. You can make out in the photos that at this point, this gent's velvet has shed and their antlers are done growing, completing what may be their first rite of passage into adulthood! Genetics and health also play a role in how large or small a buck's antlers are each year - some yearlings can grow large antlers, while some 5 year olds still just have the spikes.
Along with deer, our cameras also detected quite a few elk. Many of these elk were traveling with a much larger group.
Top to bottom, left to right: Elk cows walk through site, elk cows and fawns walk through site, an elk bull walks by the camera, an elk cow with fawn looks at trail camera, elk cows and fawn walk though camera site
For most of the year, elk stay in same sex groups, or groups composed of cows and calves. Throughout the year these herds can get very large, sometimes with more than 200 members. However, from August to early winter dominant bulls will follow groups of cows. These harems are formed during mating season, and will have 5 to 20 cows and one or two bulls. A dominant bull is a bull that is in their prime, somewhere between about 5-10 years of age. Bulls breeding success will peak at age 8. These bulls will protect their harems from other bulls. Older and younger bulls will stay on the periphery of these large harems or find their own harems closer to winter.
Our cameras also detected some mammals, and a first!!
Top to bottom: A mink explores a log
For the first time in Cascadia Wild history, a camera detected an American mink! Minks are semi-aquatic and feed on a diet consisting of rodents, fish, frogs, and birds. They are most often nocturnal and will almost always look for food at night. Minks do not hibernate, so this new friend will be looking for food all winter (when they're not bundled up in their burrow!).
Our cameras also detected some of our usual small mammals including skunks, golden-mantled squirrels, western gray squirrels, and a Douglas squirrels.
Top to bottom, left to right: a skunk, a golden-mantled squirrel, a western gray squirrel, and a Douglas squirrel.
The Douglas squirrel (bottom right photo) has a much shorter tail than is expected. Though tails serve a few functions, one of the most important functions of a squirrel tail is balance. Squirrels use their tails for balance as they scamper through the brush or jump from tree to tree. This partly explains why tree squirrels tend to have longer tails than ground squirrels, and flying squirrels tend to have even longer tails than tree squirrels.
It is not unusual for a squirrel to lose part of their tail. Squirrels have many natural predators, such as snakes, hawks, raccoons (and more) who will bite down on a squirrel's tail, and squirrels can also lose part of their tail to snags in trees or fences. When met with a predator or snag, a thin covering of tail skin and muscle can be torn away without life-threatening impacts.
Volunteers have been hard at work on scat surveys this month! So far this season, volunteers have collected at least 9 potential wolf scat samples and 15 potential fox scat samples!
Here is some potential wolf scat from a recent Wolf Scat Survey.
When identifying wolf scat, three important factors are shape, size, and contents. We look for hair and/or bone in the scat, which is indicative of a carnivorous diet. Canines are opportunistic and can have seeds, grasses, berries, and even insects in their scat! However, wolves are especially carnivorous canines, and we especially expect to see hair from ungulates, their preferred diet. A twisted shape with tapered ends is also characteristic of canines, and for wolves we look for an average diameter of at least 1.25 inches - large enough to exclude all coyotes and most large dogs.
In this sample, there seems to be some matted hair in the scat, which is positive sign. Even the largest dogs tend to have vague contents, reflecting a uniform diet of kibble and other dog foods. The general shape of this sample fits, too. The largest piece has a twisted shape and the ends are tapered. The average diameter might be just shy of 1.25 inches, meaning perhaps this was a very large meal for a coyote, or perhaps a wolf had a small meal.
One of our volunteers also found some potential Sierra Nevada red fox scat.
This scat displays the canine characteristics of shape and contents, and it also is indicative of fox scat due to its smaller size: under 1/2" or the size of your pinky.
Both scats, along with the several others that volunteers have collected over the season, are potentially valuable sources of information about these important canine carnivores that call Mt. Hood National Forest home. While the snows on the mountain may have concluded our alpine fox scat surveys, there may still be a few more good weeks of wolf scat surveys left. As we head into winter, though, we will be collecting less scat and transitioning to seeking out tracks. Lots to look forward to!
Until next time, stay safe, stay warm, and enjoy the season.