Cascadia Wild blog
News from the Wolverine Tracking Project and more
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!
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.
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.
Amidst all the uncertainty of the season, one thing remains constant: our natural world. On the hillsides of Mt Hood, rivers and lakes are ripe for swimming, huckleberries are reaching their peak, spring's newborns are exploring their range, and some juveniles have even fully fledged! We hope that you have had the opportunity to spend time outdoors and enjoy the bountiful beauty of the Pacific Northwest summer.
2019-2020 Annual Report
Our 2019-2020 Annual Report is out! Check it out for a summary of all that we were able to accomplish during the year, from our annual budget to our classes, clubs and events, to community engagement.
Also, in case you missed it, our Wolverine Tracking Project 2019-2020 Report was also released a few months ago. This report covers all the findings of the Wolverine Tracking Project. Check it out or read our end of winter blog to see detailed photos and findings.
A big thank you to everyone who made 2019-2020 a success!
Tracking Club met at the end of July for the first time since February, and it was great to get our noses to the dirt again! Tracking Club is an informal gathering for beginners and experts alike; all are welcome. Join us the last Sunday of each month at Oxbow Park.
Tracks found at the July Tracking Club. Left: Mink tracks follow the bank of the Sandy River. Right: The tracks of great blue heron (large) and spotted sandpiper (small).
Nature Book Club is held online the fourth Tuesday of every month. Participants come together to discuss the ways nature writing shapes our experiences and relationship with the natural world. Our next meeting is August 25 to discuss Rare Bird: Pursuing the Mystery of the Marbled Murrelet by Maria Mudd-Ruth.
Learn more about our Clubs and Events
While we are eagerly awaiting a time when it is safe to send all our camera crew volunteers to the field, a handful of volunteers have been helping maintain our 16 wildlife cameras stationed around Mt Hood National Forest. Like seasons' past, we have installed cameras to focus on our target species: Sierra Nevada red fox, gray wolf, Pacific marten, and the ever elusive wolverine.
This summer season has delivered a wide range of wildlife, including one of our target species, the Sierra Nevada red fox!
A Sierra Nevada red fox explores the camera survey site
The Sierra Nevada red fox has been one of our target species since they were detected on our cameras in 2012. We frequently detect Sierra Nevada foxes in the wintertime at our cameras stationed just below the tree-line. We have detected them during the summer as well, just much less frequently. We are lucky to have a couple of detections this summer. These sightings were at high elevation, which is fitting since Sierra Nevada red foxes have only been found above 4,000 ft in Oregon so far, but these sightings occurred even higher than that. This is valuable information for us, because we initially hypothesized that we were more frequently detecting Sierra Nevada red foxes during the winter because they were experiencing food scarcity and therefore would be more drawn to our meat baits. However, now that we have detected individuals at high elevations for two summers in a row, this could suggest that these foxes are migratory and spend the summer months at higher elevation and the winter months at lower elevation.
Foxes are opportunistic and will eat berries, plants, insects, and even carrion. But the primary diet of Sierra Nevada red foxes is carnivorous and is mainly comprised of small rodents. Because of this, Sierra Nevada red foxes tend to be most active when rodents are: at dusk and during the night. Perhaps that explains why our cameras detected these individuals at night!
Our largest regular visitor this season has been the black bear.
One black bear walks through a camera site
Despite their name, not all black bears have a dark black coat. Their coats can range from light brown to jet black and some individuals can even have blonde or white coats! Black bears are more commonly cinnamon, blonde, or brown in the west than other parts of the country - researchers think this might be to help them blend in with the abundant meadows we have out here. However, about 70% of black bear individuals nationwide have black coats.
A mama bear and her yearling explore a camera site
Black bears are typically solitary animals, with the exception of occasional social groups or a mother bear and her cub. A cub litter can usually range anywhere from one to four, and cubs will typically stay with their mothers for two years, sometimes longer, until they are ready to be on their own. Here, our cameras spotted a mama and her yearling walking around the site.
Our feline friend the bobcat walked through our sites on several occasions.
Top to the bottom, left to right: a bobcat pauses, a bobcat walks over some fallen branches, a bobcat trots through a camera site
This cat is named due to its tail, which appears to be "bobbed". Bobcats are elusive and nocturnal, thus are rarely spotted by humans. Luckily our camera's have detected a few individuals this season!
Another one of our Mt Hood felines, the mountain lion, stopped by.
A mountain lion looks at the camera
While it may look like the mountain lion is smiling for the camera, it is actually performing a flehmen response. This behavior can be identified when a mammal curls back its upper lip and exposed its front teeth. This allows for pheromones or other scents to be transferred to the vomeronasal organ, which is located above the roof of the mouth. A mammal may perform the flehmen response when it's investigating new odors or tastes. This image is particularly cool because the flehmen response is most often observed in ungulates, so observing it in a big cat is a treat!
One of the most common visitors to our sites are coyotes.
Top to the bottom, left to right: one coyote smells bait and one coyote rolls on the ground, one coyote sniffs the ground, one coyote pauses with one front paw raised.
Coyotes are one of more investigative visitors to our sites, and are often detected sniffing all around the site. Our cameras also often see them marking the site, either by feces, urine, or rubbing. Above are images of coyotes rubbing their backs on the ground, as well as sniffing their surroundings. The last image features a coyote pausing with their paw raised, which is indicative that they were concentrating on something in their area. Perhaps they were looking for the source of what they were sniffing!
Another common visitor to our sites are black-tailed deer. Now that summer is in full swing, our cameras have been detecting does with their fawns.
Top to the bottom, left to right: a doe and two fawns stand together, a doe stands and two fawns explore, one fawn bounds through a camera site
Fawns are characterized by their brown coats with white spots, this pattern helps them camouflage into tall grass and brush. Fawns are born in the late spring and will weigh between 6 and 8 pounds. It is common for a doe to give birth to twins, though a single birth is not unusual. Does and fawns can create family groups which are led by the oldest mother, while bucks will not help raise the fawns and instead create bachelor groups for the summer.
Top to the bottom, left to right: top three images - a buck walks closer to the camera, a buck looks into a camera, a buck stops to observe the camera site
Bucks can be distinguished from does due to their large antlers. Antlers are actually an extension of the deer's skull and are usually only found on male deer. As growth occurs at the tip of the antler, cartilage is added which is later replaced by bone tissue. As the antler is growing, it is covered with a vascular skin called "velvet". The velvet is almost fuzzy in appearance. The velvet supplies oxygen and nutrients to the growing bone. According to a Cornell University Press publication, deer antlers grow faster than any other mammal bone! Once the antler has reached its ultimate size, the velvet is lost and the bone dies. This dead bone is the most mature phase of antler.
On average larger than black-tailed deer, our cameras also often detected elk.
An elk bull walks through a camera site
Elk are one of the largest species within the deer family and are one of the largest terrestrial animals in North America. Bulls are distinguished by their their antlers and loud vocalization consisting of screams known as bugling.
Beloved for their tall ears and endearing hop, rabbits are no strangers to our sites.
A rabbit hops through a camera site
Rabbits and hares are common and important prey for larger mammals, such as bobcats, foxes, coyotes, and even birds of prey. They have adapted to moving swiftly through forests to avoid being an easy meal, finding a wide range of plant matter for their own snacking. As a food source for larger carnivores and as avid herbivores themselves, rabbits play an important role in the ecosystem.
Left to right: a Douglas squirrel sits on a log, a Northern flying squirrel walks through the grass.
The Mt Hood forest is full of a variety of small rodents, and though they have somewhat similar characteristics, each species is physically and behaviorally distinct. This season we have received images of the Douglas squirrel, the northern flying squirrel, the golden-mantled ground squirrel, and the yellow-bellied marmot. Douglas squirrels are tree squirrels with bushy tails, brown coats and tan bellies, though they appear very dark in black and white photos. They are one of the smallest squirrels in Oregon and are active year-round during the daytime. The Northern flying squirrel are also tree squirrels with dark coats, but their bellies are white and their tails are not as bushy; their tails often appear flat in our photos. Weighing under five ounces, they are the smallest tree squirrel in Oregon. Like the Douglas squirrel they are active year-round, except they explore their surroundings during the night.
Left to right: A Golden-mantled ground squirrel looks into the camera, a Golden-mantled ground squirrel walks by the camera
As opposed to tree squirrels, who dwell in trees, ground squirrels spend most of if not all of their time on the ground. In contrast to the Douglas squirrel and Northern flying squirrel, the golden-mantled ground squirrel is, as the name suggests, a ground squirrel. Golden-mantled ground squirrels are active during the daytime in warmer months, they hibernate throughout the winter season. Their body size and markings lead them to be commonly mistaken for chipmunks, however they are distinctive due to their lack of face stripes and singular lateral white stripe bordered by two black striped on each side of their body.
Left to right: a Yellow-bellied marmot looks at the camera, a Yellow-bellied marmot pauses on a rock
Though significantly larger than the previous species, the yellow-bellied marmot is also a ground squirrel. Like the golden-mantled ground squirrel they are also winter hibernators and are actually one of Oregon's longest hibernators, resting from as early as July through April or May. They are our states only marmot and one of the largest squirrels in Oregon. They can be identified by their brown or golden coloring, squat legs, and somewhat bushy tail.
A striped skunk stands on a log
Striped skunks are omnivorous, meaning they eat both meat and plant matter. Their diet influenced by the seasons: in the warmer months their diet is primarily insectivorous when grasshoppers, beetles, crickets, and other arthropods are abundant. During colder months the switch to a more carnivorous diet and they will eat smaller mammals, hatchlings, and eggs.
One of the most exciting detections was of a Greater sandhill crane.
There are actually two individuals in this photo, can you spot the second one?
Two sandhill cranes walk through a camera site
This species is Oregon's tallest bird and is characterized by its red crown and white cheek patches, which contrast with its light gray or brown body. There are only a few pairs of sandhill cranes nesting in the east Cascades, and this bird is one of ODFW's Conservation Strategy Species, so this was a very exciting — and lucky — sighting
Members of our gray wolf and Sierra Nevada red fox surveys have been busy hitting the trails and forest service roads to search of our two canid target species. So far, we have 10 probable Sierra fox scat samples and 8 promising gray wolf scat samples! This genetic data is invaluable in helping us learn about the population, native ancestry, and habitat use of these canids. Combined with the long-term data collected on our wildlife camera and winter tracking surveys, the scat surveys help to tell an overall story of the forest ecosystem that these rare carnivores call home.
Identifying scat can be terribly tricky!
There are some traits common to all canine scat such as
However, our target canines have more specific characteristics
Comparing these two samples, they are similar because are both twisted in shape and contain both hair and plant matter. However, the potential gray wolf scat is larger overall than the potential Sierra Nevada red fox scat.
If you are planning on hiking the alpine trails of Mt Hood and would like to help out with our Sierra Nevada red fox scat survey, let us know! The more eyes we have on the mountain trails, the more we learn about this rare animal, which in turns helps determine their protections.
Contact us for info on how to join, or read more about the Sierra Nevada Red Fox Scat Survey.
For those of you who are unfamiliar, this is what GPS data looks like from our scat surveys. This is a “track” or GPS route from a recent survey. Note the CaW (Cascadia Wild) shout-out!
Thank you to all our volunteers who keep our wildlife surveys going strong and to our community for your valuable support. Until next time, we hope to see you out in the woods and enjoying some PNW sunshine!
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!
Our summer season is winding down, but this time of year is when things really start to heat up for us at Cascadia Wild! Like our friends in the forest, we are busy gathering all our resources together to ensure a great winter survey season.
We have several upcoming classes, including classes in wildlife tracking for every skill level - don't miss out on our Pressure Releases class December 7 and 8th! - and classes in ornithology and our Naturalist Training Program - see our full list of offerings here: About Our Classes.
This hope of their return is what started the Wolverine Tracking Project, and though the project has grown to incorporate other wildlife, the hope is still alive today. Join us this winter as we continue our search for wolverine and document other rare carnivores like gray wolf, Sierra Nevada red fox, and Pacific marten. Our Winter Tracking Surveys, done by snowshoe in small groups and led by 1-2 experienced Tracking Leaders, start in December, and training has already begun. Training dates are filling up quickly, so register here soon: Join a Tracking Team. A big thank you to those who have already signed up!
Our Camera Surveys also collect abundant wildlife data and operate year-round. We have just completed our Winter Camera Survey orientations, and we are excited about all the new volunteers that have joined us and to see so many returning faces!
We have set up our first winter cameras, and as of this past weekend, all our summer cameras have either been taken down or reset for winter, when we use different bait and have different installation procedures. It will be a few weeks before we have footage back from the winter sites, but in the meantime, summer footage is still rolling in. We have a lot of summer footage to catch up on, so here it goes!
Perhaps the most exciting news from the past several weeks is the detection of Sierra Nevada red fox!
A Sierra Nevada red fox inspects the camera and smells then rolls in the commercial scent bait at one of our high elevation sites. See the full video here.
Though this site was only up for 5 weeks, we had two separate visits from our target species Vulpes vulpes necator - one of the most rare mammals in North America, and an uncommon sight at our summer cameras! We have been operating under the hypothesis that we see this high-mountain fox at our cameras more frequently in the winter because they are drawn in more by the type of bait we use: in summer months we use commercial, scent bait; in the winter we use an eco-friendly meat bait. However, given this detection, we are now considering that perhaps elevation is key. It's possible that these foxes are only at higher elevations in the summertime, living off the ample mice and golden mantled ground squirrels (see below) on these more barren slopes, following food sources down the mountain as winter sets in. This is something to explore in coming seasons, and testifies to how little we know about this elusive animal.
A golden mantled ground squirrel forages and inspects the camera - hello!
We also saw quite a few rolling coyote as well. Like the fox above, not many canids can resist the urge to roll in some nice, stinky bait. Here are a couple sampling the potpourri of Hiawatha Valley Predator (one of our commercial scent baits):
Coyotes roll in commercial scent bait.
Coyotes can also be stoic. The lean and lanky look of this coyote indicates it could be a juvenile, but with its transitional coat it's hard to tell:
Compare to this coyote, who is a bit ahead of the game with its bushy winter coat:
The red coloration of this coyote is remarkable, and it's suitable camouflage for the pine needles on the ground. Coyotes can be difficult to discern from other canids, like foxes and wolves, especially when they have coloring like this. One giveaway is the tail: coyotes most often have a dark tip on their tail, while red foxes often have a white-tip on their slightly more bushy tail. Though it should be noted that gray foxes, who are rare on our mountain but more common to the south, also have dark-tipped tails, and coyotes can even sometimes have white-tipped tails, so it's best to take in other visual clues to their identification. Another clue: the ears are long and pointed on a coyote, but a fox has more rounded ears (see the photo of Sierra Nevada red fox above for a great ear-comparison). Compared to a wolf, coyotes are smaller, have slender faces with narrower snouts, their legs are more long and thin, and they walk more closely to the ground.
This site detected several instances of coyote, including a couple instances where the coyote was carrying prey!
We also had another instance detecting a lucky animal with its dinner:
This bobcat is carrying what is could be a gray squirrel, not unlike a squirrel seen at the same site just a couple weeks prior. However, with striped skunk also in the area, anything is fair game!
We also detected a bobcat doing something we don't often see: rolling in the bait!
This is a trait much more commonly seen with canids, like the ones above, and is the first time our cameras have caught this from a felid. The reasons behind a cat doing this are likely the same as a dog: to relieve itchy backs, disguise their scent, an/or cover themselves in something that smells so good.
We also caught a few instances of bobcats scent marking trees, like this one:
And we got to see some photos taken in the daytime, really showing off their distinct markings:
Most of our footage of mountain lions is also at night, but we detect them during the day from time to time, and caught some beautiful shots at one of our eastern sites:
We also detected several instances of another of our common forest predators, the black bear:
This bear, not a strict carnivore by any means, is likely foraging in the vegetation. Like most other animals right now, bears are busy gathering their winter stores. Whereas squirrels stash their stores, bears carry their stores with them.
Bears are thoroughly inquisitive, curious animals, and often spend a good deal of time inspecting sites, like this one seen here smelling both our bait area and the camera.
A bear inspects the bait log and the wildlife camera. See the full video here.
One of our summer sites used meat bait, and this was a very popular attractant for the neighborhood bears.
One instance the bear went after the bait, another instance the bear gave up and instead had a good scratch, and a third instance the bear forewent the bait entirely and climbed the tree. Whether the bear climbed the tree to get a better vantage point or was spooked by something in the area, is hard to say. It's possible it could have been spooked by one of the several cattle wandering through these woods:
These cows were also interested in the bait. In the second photo, the lighter cow is holding its mouth open in what is called a Flehmen response - something we haven't seen yet this summer but is common in ungulates like cows, deer, and elk, as well as in felids and bears. This is when an animal curls back its lips and breathes into its mouth, holding the air behind its teeth to better smell an area (read more about Flehmen response here).
The bait was also a strong attractant for a family of deer, the youngest still with their summer spots.
We saw deer at several of our other sites as well, like these two young bucks enjoying some early snow:
Given the antler and overall compact size of these two, and given that their muscle development does not seem mature (compare overall size and especially neck thickness with the buck below), it is likely that these gents are yearlings. Yearlings will also often travel in bachelor groups of two. While there may be additional deer we do not detect outside of the camera's field of view, a group of two would also support this age guess.
For family Cervidae, this is a busy time of year: rut, or mating, season. The soft velvet of buck antlers has been shed, and the hardened antlers are now being put to use.
Generally, the rut for black tailed deer begins in the first week or two of November, though that timing can vary due to a number of factors, including a cooler season, early snow, changes in food resources, or the individual. You can see that the buck above has one antler smaller than the other, which could be due to a growth abnormality or a sign of an early season sparring match with another buck.
For elk, we have passed the peak of rut in Oregon, but it's not uncommon for a second or third rut "wave" to happen around this time of year. Not long after seeing this cow - or female elk - and her calf, we saw the mature bull elk pictured below:
It's not hard to imagine that this bull is covering a lot of territory right now, searching for a mate. If you hear something like this while you're out in the woods, there are elk around! While male elk will bugle year-round, it is especially common during rut.
We hope you all are staying warm and having good luck readying your own winter stores while enjoying the changing of the seasons. Until next time!
Mt Hood from one of our high elevation summer cameras, in early October.
Summer is cruising along! We hope you are getting out there, picking some berries, counting stars, and enjoying the season to the fullest. Volunteers on our camera and scat teams are getting out there and bringing back invaluable footage and genetic samples of our forest wildlife. Thank you to everyone who has contributed!
If you're looking for another excuse to get out to the woods, look no further! We'll be at Bark's Summer Base Camp to lead a Tracking Workshop on Sunday, September 1st - come for the day, a few nights, or the full two weeks of camping, workshops, and forest and beaver habitat surveys! Family friendly and FREE. We hope to see you there.
Keep the Sierra Nevada red fox scat survey in mind as you head out to the mountain trails this summer!
We're creating quite the stockpile of promising Sierra Nevada red fox scat, as well! Not every survey will collect scat, though, and that is as valuable as genetic information - lack of evidence of their presence is data that reinforces the rarity of this animal - and knowing what areas they are using is as helpful as knowing what areas they are not. Once we have enough samples, we send the samples for analyses to our partner at Cascades Carnivore Project (who is also researching the Cascade red fox, a cousin in the alpine areas north of the Columbia River). Depending on the quantity we collect, the whole process can take a year. The more we collect, the more timely we can get the data analyzed and communicated to researchers and management - and the better data set we will have.
Wolf survey: We also recently sent off five wolf scat samples to be analyzed by ODFW, and are looking forward to the news! A recent survey also found two new scat samples.
Depending on habitat connectivity, availability of prey, and other dynamics, a wolf pack can have a hunting territory of 50-1000 miles (larger territories commonly found in arctic and subarctic areas). While we know the White River pack is nearby, we are still learning about their territory, and a wolf from that pack or another could decide to venture out and claim new territory at any time. It's a good idea to keep an eye out for their signs, especially on the eastern side of the mountain - we never know where they may end up!
We've now seen footage from all our sites, and have a lot of photos for you, including some firsts of the season - and a first ever for this survey! As usual, we saw a lot of elk, deer, coyote, black bear, a couple mountain lions, and a couple bobcats. We of course saw a lot of Douglas squirrel, a lot of very busy chipmunks, at least one ground squirrel, and a few handfuls of unidentifiable rodents, but the star rodent this time was the largest member of the family Sciuridae, the yellow-bellied marmot!
This is the first time we have caught one of these giant ground squirrels at our cameras! They tend to live on and build deep burrows in talus slopes or alpine meadows, and, though it's not unheard of, it's a wonder that we would find one in this area, which is high-subalpine. Perhaps this one has recently been displaced or has chosen this sub-alpine forest for its abundant edible mosses, grasses, and wildflowers - favorite snacks of marmots.
These dapper rock chucks are named for their coloring, however, they turn tail and burrow at the slightest onset of cold. One of the longest hibernators in our region, marmots can begin hibernation as early as the end of July/mid August, but usually take the dog days of summer to continue building their winter stores.
The biggest present danger to this marmot is coyotes, but wolverines would also be a formidable foe if they reclaim their historic range.
Speaking of Mustelidae (the weasel family, of which wolverines are a part), we also caught sight of the first weasel of the summer!
This lithe and well-camouflaged animal has a unique, identifiable characteristic that sets it apart from other mammals of its size: a long, black-tipped tail which appropriately lends to its name of 'long-tailed weasel.' We always enjoy finding this voracious rodent-hunter on our cameras.
We also saw our first sooty grouse of the season at the same site (lower left corner).
Like other ground birds, a grouse is always a good sign for our forest carnivores like this bobcat, seemingly hot on its trail.
This other bobcat was very interested in the bait belt itself - but not the bait. Perhaps it was more interested in our human-scent from the camera setup than the canine-scent bait under the log; indeed, one of these two may present more danger than the other.
A fellow feline who rightly fears no animal, hominids included, this mountain lion took a moment of repose at our bait log...
...while another mountain lion was caught on the prowl.
We saw many black bear, like this one with its black and cinnamon coloration.
This bear visited a few times, and it really enjoyed using the camera tree as a scratching post, leaving us with quite a few pictures of the back of its head.
Two cubs of the year were caught at another site, though rarely on-camera at the same time. The mother, though (top background), was never far behind.
You can almost see the grin on this content coyote. This behavior could be fulfilling a purpose as simple as a good back-scratch. Or, considering the presence of deer in the area some nights prior, could be a way for the coyote to cover itself in the scent of its prey.
Meanwhile, another one of our cameras captured this very lucky coyote!
While the coyotes have seemed to move on from this site, for now at least, we did see a lot more hare:
More good news for our forest carnivores, a lot of members of the family Cervidae! Specifically, deer and elk.
The photos of this buck displays its summer velvet wonderfully. The antlers of a mature, well-fed and healthy buck can grow up to 1/4 of an inch a day. For bull elk, antlers can grow almost an inch a day. When velvet is present, the antlers are soft and susceptible to damage, and this is part of the reason why bulls and bucks will tend to stick to a smaller territory, with other males. The velvet sheds when the bone begins to set, about mid- to late-September, just in time for them to roam.
We didn't see too many bull elk this time, but we did see quite a few herds of cows and calves.
We also saw two elk that were tagged and collared...
And were treated to some beautiful photographs of a very curious elk! Hello!
We have one more first of the season to share with you, the raccoon:
If you live in a city, chances are you've seen one of these recently. Though more common to see in urban areas, they are still woodland creatures. Like coyotes and other fauna that easily transition to urban areas, they are highly adaptable to their environment. Their presence as scavengers and hunters is always a good sign, and it's always encouraging to see diversity in the forest.
Thanks for reading. We'll be back with more updates soon!
Summer is in full swing!
While that may mean staying up late under the stars, taking dips in glacial waters, and counting the hours spent outside in mosquito bites, at Cascadia Wild it also means hauling off to the woods to check on camera sites and combing trails for signs of Sierra Nevada red fox and gray wolf.
These wildlife surveys bring back valuable data, and in the past month alone we have collected over 8,000 viable photos, five wolf scat samples, one red fox scat sample, and, with our twenty or so new volunteers for the red fox scat survey, we are looking forward to more red fox samples, too!
You may have heard the big news last week about six new wolf pups in the White River Pack! This video, captured by biologists of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, is worth a watch with the sound ON. We hope the best for the newest members of this pack, and we are keeping an eye out for them! It's only a matter of time and luck before some of them disembark to find new territory of their own. We are very interested in how their presence will shape the ecosystem of wherever they choose to call home, and, should they come our way, the information collected from our wildlife surveys will help us understand that.
It bears repeating: All this work is made possible by the support of our community – whether you are a survey volunteer, member, have taken courses with us, or have offered financial or material support, your presence is invaluable. Together, we are deepening our understanding of the forest. Thank you!
And now, the camera highlights!
All our cameras are up, and we’ve gotten footage back from all but one. Since our first photos of the season, we’ve seen more elk, deer, coyote, black bear, and of course, squirrels. We also have our first summer sightings of turkeys, skunk, cougar, and bobcats!
Most of our footage so far is of deer, which is more good news for our mountain predators. This buck near Timberline was out way past his bedtime, however, and deer at night can indicate that their environment is relatively safe from predators, so it will be interesting to see what else this site finds over the summer.
If you're planning on being out at night, keep an eye out for this nocturnal critter! Striped skunks like this one may get a bad rap, thanks to their odorous nature, but they are highly adaptable omnivores and can be important for insect control. They have been known to eat wasps and even venomous snakes! It's not surprising that while they are now classified in their own family as Mephitidae (skunk and stinking badgers), they were long classified in the family Mustelidae, along with wolverines, weasels, martins, and their other similar, feisty counterparts.
That's all for now, and we're looking forward to seeing what the next few weeks bring in!
Until next time: take care, and thanks for being a part of our community!