Cascadia Wildlife Blog
News from the Wolverine Tracking Project and more
WELCOME TO A NEW YEAR
Happy New Year! 2022 was a great year for us. We saw so many amazing animal photos retrieved from our cameras, and fascinating tracks and sign of animals on our tracking surveys. We were so excited to get some target species detections in the past year, including several red fox camera sightings, as well as finding marten tracks. We are excited to see what 2023 brings! Thank you to everyone that has supported us over the past year.
We had three tracking surveys in December, and our volunteers saw track and sign of a variety of animals. Let's take a look at some of the last tracks they found before ringing in the New Year!
While trekking through the snow at Mt. Hood, some of the most common tracks to find belong to Douglas squirrels and snowshoe hares. These animals are always on the move, looking for plant matter to eat amongst all of the snow.
Luckily, these animals both have fairly distinct gaits that we can learn to identify! Below is a Douglas squirrel trail. These animals hop forward, with their rear feet swinging around their front feet and landing slightly ahead of where their front feet are planted. Additionally, if the prints are clear enough to make out toes, you will see four toes on the front feet of a Douglas squirrel and five toes on the rear feet.
A Douglas squirrel trail, left as it hopped all over the surrounding snow.
Next let's look at a snowshoe hare trail. Like the Douglas squirrel, these animals hop forward with their rear feet landing ahead of their front feet. One difference we can see from the squirrel trail, however, is that a snowshoe hare's front feet will land one slightly in front of the other, rather than side by side. This allows the hare to have more stability while moving quickly. With that pattern and such large rear footprints, a snowshoe hare trail is often easy to identify once you know what to look for!
From top to bottom: A snowshoe hare trail, with rear feet landing in front; this hare was traveling in the direction of the camera. A closer look at a single snowshoe hare track, with front feet overlapping a bit and larger rear feet close to the camera.
Now you know how to identify two of the more common tracks you might see at Mt. Hood! While our volunteers saw tons of these tracks in December, they also saw some more unique track and sign. Let's take a look at some other highlights!
Here is another sign of squirrel. One must have been sitting in this tree while eating something, and all of its scraps fell to the ground below!
The remainder of a squirrel's snack lays on the snow beneath a tree.
Our volunteers also found evidence of an even smaller critter! A deer mouse left this trough-shaped trail through the snow, before scurrying down into a tunnel below the snow. These tunnels give the mouse a better chance of going undetected by predators.
A trough-shaped trail, left by a deer mouse, leads to a tunnel under the snow.
Our volunteers also found some tracks belonging to members of the mustelid family! These animals generally have long bodies that are low to the ground. Mustelid feet have five toes, and they move with a unique bounding gait. This gait also has the rear feet landing in nearly the same spot as the front feet.
First, we have a weasel trail. These could be from a short-tailed or long-tailed weasel, but they can overlap in size, so it can be hard to positively identify. It looks like the feet overlapped a bit in some spots as well.
A weasel trail moving away from the perspective of the camera.
Volunteers also found a marten trail! This is a Wolverine Tracking Project target species, as there is a healthy population at Mt. Hood and they are good indicators of forest health. For this trail, you can see a similar gait to the previous weasel. We have also included a single track, where you can see how the feet landed in similar spots and are overlapping.
From top to bottom: A marten trail loops around in an arc. A close-up shows the marten's individual feet landing closely together.
Those are just some of the animals that volunteers might cross paths with on a tracking survey. Check back in next month to see what else they find!
For some of our alpine trail cameras, it's even starting to get a bit wintry!
Snow on an alpine slope after a recent mountain storm.
Before the snows stick around for good, we hope you are enjoying the crunch of leaves, crisp air, and are taking the time to read some good books, take some long walks, spend time with those you love, and connect with the natural world.
For a little added inspiration, join us for our Nature Book Club and Halloween Tracking Club!
Looking forward to winter? So are we!
We are busy getting ready another season of wildlife surveys! We hope you can join us as we head out to the mountain and document the wildlife of Mt Hood National Forest!
Register for a Camera Crew or Tracking Team by October 24!
Wildlife Survey Findings
Our summer surveys are winding down, but that doesn't mean life in the forest is stopping! Here's the best of our camera and scat surveys from the past month. Next month, we'll be back with a highlight of all the findings from the summer season!
While trail cameras haven't documented any of the target species from the Wolverine Tracking Project yet this season, we did find a few instances of potential Sierra Nevada red fox tracks and scat, as well as a potential gray wolf track. Scat from our target species is just as valuable as photos - if not even more so - since it has the possibility to provide a wealth of genetic information.
Top: Two likely Sierra Nevada red fox tracks in a soft, light-brown path. A hand is there for scale. Bottom: A goopy, hairy scat, which has good potential to belong to a fox. The ends are tapered, the average diameter is less than half an inch, and the scat looks relatively fresh.
Shown above are potential tracks and scat from a Sierra Nevada red fox. Potential suspects for this track are domestic dog, coyote, and fox - all members of the canine family. The heel pad on the front foot (top track) is closer to the toes than it would be for a coyote. The heel pad is also more linear than triangular in shape, as a coyote or dog's would be. Based on this evidence, we believe this track has very good potential to belong to a red fox.
The scat shown in the second photo is tapered on the ends and contains a lot of fur. The size (about the size of a pinky) is also spot on for our fox scat collection guidelines, so this has good potential to be from a fox. Once genetic testing is done, we'll be able to know for sure who this scat came from.
The tracks below could belong to a gray wolf! Unfortunately the track has been smeared, so we're not able to make out the details, but the shape and size of this imprint lend themselves to be a potential wolf track. Another animal this could belong to is a large domestic dog. However, due to the sliding, we can't be sure of one or the other.
A nearly four inch canine track, imprinted in mud.
Now onto the other wildlife of the forest! We'll kick things off with bears, in tune with last week's Fat Bear Week - however we'll be looking at black bears instead of grizzlies, as Oregon only houses that one species of bear.
We saw this chunky bear passing through the camera site. Black bears should be gorging themselves on food by now, and they'll be going into hibernation within the next month or two. It is important that bears gain as much weight as possible before going into hibernation (torpor), because they will utilize their fat stores to help get them through the winter.
Top to bottom: A large adult black bear walks by; a smaller, subadult black bear looks up at the camera as they walk.
Black bears experience what's called delayed implantation, meaning the female won't get pregnant immediately after mating, which happens in the summer months. Instead, if she is healthy and has gotten enough to eat in the summer months, she will get pregnant in late fall or early winter, and birth her cubs around January. Bears aren't "true" hibernators, which makes sense, since the sow (female bear) wakes up several times during hibernation to birth and take care of the young. Bears of any sex can wake up throughout hibernation - especially if conditions are warm enough to encourage a bit of mid-winter foraging.
Black bears have a 2 year reproductive cycle - they mate every two years and naturally, only have offspring every two years. To tie it all in, the cubs stay with their mother for - you guessed it - around two years. This cub will stay with their mother for another winter before heading out on their own.
A juvenile black bear cub explores the bait setup and looks around before walking off to the right of the screen.
Wow! We wonder what has got this bear in such a hurry!
Fun fact: black bears have a top speed of around 35 mph! Although they're not likely to chase you down since they're usually pretty shy around humans, it's still a good idea to periodically call out into the forest (especially in early spring when the bears are just starting to wake up) to let them know of your presence.
A small black bear bounds across the camera site at an alarming speed.
These black bears are displaying a flehmen response! Many animals, not only bears, will utilize this technique to gather information on novel or interesting smells. They will also utilize the response to determine the reproductive status of a mate. The word flehmen is German in origin, meaning "to bear the upper teeth".
Top to bottom: A close up of an adult black bear, looking at the camera with what looks like a goofy grin on their face (flehmen response); an adult black bear sniffs the ground close to the bait setup, opens their mouth briefly, then continues sniffing before walking off.
We also got some bear track and scat photos turned in this past month. Both their tracks and scat are usually relatively straightforward and easy to identify as they are the biggest animals in the forest. The tracks are characterized by the toes being in a line above the foot pad (versus on either sides of the foot pad in canines or felines). Black bear scat in summer is characterized by the presence of berry seeds, as they are highly omnivorous. There's usually a whole bunch of scat to go along with it, too!
Left to right, or top to bottom: Two distinct tracks left by a black bear; a large pile of scat with berry seeds dispersed, a hand is there for scale.
We had several coyote detections this month. They're one of the more curious creatures when it comes to checking out the bait setup and will scent-mark, roll, rub, and paw at the site. The coyotes below exhibit pawing and scent-marking via urination. They are doing this in response to the sticky, stinky bait that's meant to attract our target species, but works really well for attracting many others as well.
Top to bottom: A coyote paws and sniffs at the ground by the bait stump; a coyote pops a squat and marks the ground near the bait setup before taking off.
What soulful eyes! These two coyotes looked directly into the camera. The photos are practically good enough to be profile pictures!
Top to bottom: A coyote looks into the camera head-on while standing in the middle of the camera site; the head and leg of a coyote is shown, the coyote is looking directly into the camera.
This coyote seems to be distracted by something and is looking into the blanket of trees behind the bait stump. Their voluminous tail indicates they're preparing for cold weather by growing a nice, thick winter coat.
The back and side of a speckled gray, white, and light brown colored coyote, who has a thick, fluffy tail. The coyote is looking at something in the trees in the background.
We've also got some coyote tracks to share, shown in the photo below. It looks like this path was used by quite a few animals! Here we see coyote tracks (circled in green) and skunk tracks (circled in red). Coyote tracks are distinguishable from feline tracks most notably by the overall shape of the track and orientation of the toes. Canine tracks are symmetrical and more oval in shape, and their front two toes are side by side. Feline tracks are more circular, and they have one toe that is longer than the rest, like a human's middle finger. Since one toe sticks out further than the rest, it ends up appearing further ahead than the others. However, misidentification of coyote tracks most commonly happens with domestic dog tracks (depending on size of dog), not feline tracks. Coyote toes tend to point forward more than a dog's and their tracks aren't as round.
Skunk tracks most often get mixed up with raccoon and opossum tracks. However, if you know what to look for, the three have characteristics that clearly distinguish them from one another. Skunks have an extra heel pad, denoted by the red arrow in the photo (although this may not show up in all tracks). They also have five toes on both the front and hind feet, and there is an obvious gap between the toes and the heel pad. Raccoons' five toes will connect with the rest of the foot, so the track has no gap between the toes and the heel pad. Their toes are also longer than a skunk's would be, and look a bit like fingers. Lastly, opossums, like both skunks and raccoons, also have five toes, but their thumb extends out to the side. This is quite easy to see on their hind foot, as the thumb is quite large and leaves a very distinct track. On the front feet, the toes tend to splay out, and the thumb is harder to distinguish. Like with raccoons, their toes also connect with the heel pad.
Several skunk and coyote tracks on a soft, light brown dirt path.
Moving onto the feline family, we had a few bobcat sightings throughout this past month. It's possible this one is catching their next meal! These (usually) solitary creatures feed on rabbits/hares, squirrels, small birds, mice, and even juvenile deer.
A bobcat darts into the left side of the screen, looks around, then moves to a different spot where they sniff the ground.
A couple of beautiful bobcats were captured during the daytime, allowing us to see their gorgeous spotted and striped coats.
Left to right, or top to bottom: A head-on shot of a light brown bobcat. Spots and stripes on their legs can be seen; a sideview of a bobcat in mid-stride. The bobcat is medium brown with lots of spots on the body and striping on the legs.
Most bobcat detections are of them passing through the camera site at night. Below is one of their more typical visits.
A cautious bobcat sniffs in a crouched position before getting up and walking over a downed log.
Pop goes the weasel! This weasel "popped" by one of our camera sites last year, but due to unfortunate circumstances, we weren't able to retrieve the camera until now. Too bad the camera wasn't in focus to capture this little one...
A blurry, closeup photo of a weasel crouching on the snow. The weasel has dark brown coloring on their head and down their back, and a white chest.
Thankfully we had another weasel sighting this month! Usually we'll detect weasels at night, but this time one was spotted in the daytime. Both long and short-tailed weasels are present in Mt Hood National Forest, but sometimes it can be tricky to tell them apart because their size and habitats overlap.
A weasel is captured scurrying across a downed log.
Speaking of weasels, take a look at this weasel skull! This was found nearby the camera site shown in the photo above. Weasels are carnivorous mammals belonging to the family Mustelidae. Other members in that family are wolverines, badgers, otters, martens, minks, and ferrets, just to name a few.
Those razor sharp incisors help the weasel efficiently kill their prey. Despite their small stature (11-18 inches long), weasels take down mice, voles, squirrels, chipmunks, and even snowshoe hares!
Left to right, and top to bottom: The lower mandible of a weasel; the upper mandible of a weasel, mostly showing the front incisors; both the lower mandible and the rest of the weasel's skull. Put together in a line they are less than three inches in length.
Here we have a gang of elk. We haven't seen any elk since the start of summer, so it's nice to see them again. Older, more experienced cows (female elk) normally lead the group - this one consists of 9 individuals, where at least one individual is a calf (juvenile elk). Elk move in groups pretty much all of the time, but the group dynamic changes during the breeding season, which is in the fall. During most of the year, gangs of elk consist of cows & calves, but also may include young bulls. The older bulls are in gangs of their own for that time, until early fall when they temporarily join the cows, which is then called a harem. The dominant bulls try to gather as many cows into their harem as possible, competing with other bulls to do so. A successful bull will mate with multiple females in his harem. Harems range from a handful of cows to as many as 20 or 25 cows. During the mating season, adolescent bulls form small gangs of their own and hang around near the breeding harems, but don't participate. Although bulls socially dominate the harem, the group still moves with an older, experienced cow as their leader. Since elk breed in early fall, their activities are coming to a close soon. In about 8-9 months, healthy cows will bear a single calf each.
A gang of elk, mostly obscured by a tree, passes by. Several different individuals can be counted, including at least one calf.
Within the same family (Cervidae), we have deer. Deer are our most frequent visitor across the board for almost all sites, although they were detected with higher frequency in the height of summer than they are now.
Left to right, and top to bottom: A doe and her fawn put their heads together while sniffing the bait log; a doe curves her head and neck around to her backside to scratch an itch; a small deer comes up to a doe laying down in a field, after which the doe gets up and takes off, leaving a cloud of dust behind her.
By now, the bucks (male deer) have all shed their outer velvety coating to reveal the hard bone underneath it all. This buck has only two points on his antlers, indicating he is relatively young. Bucks grow more impressive antlers each year, peaking at around year seven.
A closeup of a young buck, who is sporting a 2-point antler that has shed its velvety outer layer to reveal hard bone.
Onto rodent sightings! First up, we have the California ground squirrel, who was spotted only twice this month. These squirrels are practically only seen on the east side of the forest, and live in relatively open areas such as fields, pastures, and lightly wooded forests. Thus, most of Mt Hood National Forest is not their preferred habitat, greatly favoring the warm, open areas of the Willamette Valley.
Left to right, or top to bottom: A California ground squirrel climbed a sizable tree stump and sniffs the top of it; a California ground squirrel on a downed log, with their head and upper body leaned over the log.
Next we have the western gray squirrel. Typically we don't see these squirrels in pairs, but this summer has been the exception. These tree squirrels are distinct from other squirrels in Mt Hood National Forest due to their large, bushy, gray and white tails. These squirrels start burying conifer cones in the fall, to be dug up in the winter as a food source. Unlike the California ground squirrel, the western gray squirrel prefers habitat that is heavily wooded, since they are arboreal.
Left to right, and top to bottom: Two western gray squirrels, one on the ground to the right, and the other on the downed log facing the first squirrel; two western gray squirrels, one is facing away from the camera, looking at the second squirrel, who is on the ground looking intently at a tree; A single western gray squirrel bounds from a downed log to the right of the screen.
Those little feet sure do a lot of scampering! The tracks shown here are squirrel tracks. Although they don't look small in the photo, these squirrel tracks are only around 1-2 inches in length.
Multiple squirrel tracks on a soft, light brown dirt path.
Up next we have the chipmunk. They mostly inhabit coniferous forests and rocky outcrops. The two chipmunks found in Mt Hood National Forest are the Townsend's chipmunk and the yellow pine chipmunk, and both are omnivorous. They feed on insects, bird eggs, berries, acorns, maple seeds, conifer cones, fungi, and lichen.
Top to bottom, and left to right: A chipmunk is on a tree stump close to the camera. After sniffing a branch, putting their hands to their face, and climbing on top of one of the branches, the chipmunk leaves; the side profile of a chipmunk. Dark brown and white stripes can be seen stretching across the face; a chipmunk's backside, that has alternating dark and white stripes going down the back.
Next up we have the snowshoe hare, who are frequent visitors at certain sites and can be found pretty much all over Mt Hood National Forest.
A snowshoe hare jumps a step, looks into the camera lens, then bounds off to the right of the screen.
These tracks belong to a snowshoe hare. The photo is from the stranded camera, mentioned earlier, which we only retrieved recently. Hares usually make distinct "T" or "Y" shaped tracks. When a hare is bounding, the two smaller front feet land first, usually staggered one behind the other, and this makes the stem of the "T" or "Y". The large hind tracks land next, side-by-side and in front of where the front feet just landed, forming the top of the letter.
Tracks left by a snowshoe hare in the snow. The path of movement goes from left to right.
Our next rodent we have to share is the bushy-tailed woodrat, also known as the packrat. Normally we don't see this member of the Cricetidae family in such clear view as they are nocturnal, quick on their feet, and also very small (approximately 15 inches in length and weighing around 11 oz), making it a challenge for the camera to capture good photos. Woodrats are found in most parts of Mt Hood National Forest, save for the alpine and subalpine habitats.
A bushy-tailed woodrat leaps onto the ground, pauses and sniffs, then moves to the bait stump and disappears behind it.
Last up on our rodent list is the mouse. These agile creatures generally spend their time on land, but are good swimmers as well. There are many species of mice that can be found in Mt Hood National Forest, including deer mice, western harvest mice, pacific jumping mice, and house mice. Many species of voles, shrews, and the black rat can also be found in the forest. Different species inhabit different habitats. Some can be seen in all parts of the forest, while other species are limited to certain areas.
A mouse captured climbing on a tree log angled at 45 degrees.
These tracks were left by a mouse. Like the snowshoe hares, mice also place their front paws down first, followed by the back legs, which swing out and land in front of the front paws.
Tracks left by a mouse, going up towards the bait setup, then heading right till they are off-screen.
A Canada jay and hermit warbler also decided to stop by briefly. Canada jays are found all across boreal forests in the northern parts of the United States and in Canada, as well as in tall mountain ranges in the western United States. Hermit warblers are found in tall coniferous forests in mountainous areas along the coast of California to Washington. They winter along the coast of central and southern California.
Top to bottom: The backside of a Canada jay, who is positioned close to the camera, turns their head to the side before walking off to the right of the screen; a hermit warbler sits atop a branch close to the camera and looks directly into the lens.
That's all we've got for this month's blog! Tune in next month for our seasonal wildlife review where we highlight the best from our Summer 2021 surveys. Till next time!
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.