Cascadia Wildlife Blog
News from the Wolverine Tracking Project and more
Winter is coming!
The winter Solstice is right around the corner, but with the storms and snow of the last week it certainly feels as though winter has already arrived here in the Pacific Northwest. Our winter wildlife surveys are in full swing, volunteers on our tracking and camera crews are busting out their snow shoes and puffy jackets and braving the elements to bring us some amazing wildlife findings!
This winter Cascadia Wild is partnering with ODFW to take part in the Western States Wolverine Occupancy Survey! This multi-state, multi-agency survey effort aims to determine the current distribution of wolverines in the western United States. Cascadia Wild is honored to be participating in this survey, the results of which will undoubtably have important implications for the future management and conservation of wolverines. Who knows, this could even be the year wolverines return to Oregon!
With the coming of winter, we expect to see some behavioral changes in many of the wildlife species found on Mount Hood. For example, deer tend to move to lower elevations in search of better foraging opportunities. Often times this results in the movement of larger predators that prey upon deer, such as coyotes and mountain lions, to lower elevations as well. In addition to the movement of deer and some predators, we also typically see less bears at our higher elevation sites, as they hunker down for a deep sleep over the winter. At lower elevations where the winter is not as extreme, bears can be active all winter.
We are excited to share the best of our winter camera and tracking surveys so far! Without further ado, let's get into it!
Perhaps our most unusual finding over the last month was this owl and deer interaction captured on one of our trail cameras!
An owl crouched on the forest floor is disturbed by a passing buck.
We don't often get trail camera footage of owls, and certainly not ones that are this clear. Trail cameras give us this amazing opportunity to peak into the lives of wildlife living in the forests nearby- we feel extra lucky to have witnessed this interspecies interaction!
We had a lot of other deer detections this month- at sites across the elevation gradient on Mount Hood. This will likely change as snow begins to accumulate at higher elevations! In addition to the changes in deer distribution during the winter months, deers diet will also change. In the summer deer mainly subsist on grasses and forbs (herbaceous flowering plants) but in the winter will begin to rely more heavily on woody plants.
From the top: A young deer with small budding antlers looks into the camera;Three deer are seen foraging in an open meadow; a buck with a large rack pauses in the middle of the camera site.
We also had a few detections of elk this month. Elk cows and calves move together in large herds through the winter, while bulls are more likely to strike out on their own after the breeding season.
An elk herd comes barreling through a camera site!
Elk belong to the same family as deer (Cervidae), they are both hoofed, ruminant mammals. Ruminants are hoofed herbivores that have four compartments in their stomachs! In one of these compartments -the rumen- plant material is fermented by symbiotic microbes. Plant cell walls are made up of cellulose, which can't be digested without the assistance of these little gut microbes! After being processed in the rumen and reticulum, food is regurgitated as cud and then re-digested. This time it will pass through all 4 compartments and be excreted as poop! Speaking of elk poop *ahem* scat, as those of us in the tracking field like to call it- check out this picture of elk scat our trackers found on a recent survey!
Scat found on a recent tracking survey, likely from an elk.
A recent tracking survey also found what is likely coyote scat!
Coyotes are opportunistic omnivores- they will eat berries, fungi, insects, fish, small mammals and fawns, depending on what is available. Our trackers weren't able to find the plant that produced these berries in the field but did some serious sleuthing back at home and determined that they likely belonged to the Arctostaphylos genus.
We also had several coyote detections on our trail cameras over the past month!
From the top: Two curious coyotes sniff around a baited log at night; a coyote checks out a camera site; a coyote gives a bait box on a tree a quick sniff.
Coyotes weren't the only large carnivores we spotted in the forest this month. We also had bobcat and bear detections at several sites.
Bobcats consume mostly small mammals such a snowshoe hare, rabbits and squirrels. Their diet remains fairly consistent throughout the year.
A bobcat on the prowl!
Black bears, the only bear found in Oregon, are considered to be the "least carnivorous" of the large carnivores. Black bears eat berries, fruit, herbaceous vegetation, insects and occasionally fawns or carrion. Black bears typically gorge themselves during the fall (eating up to 20,000 calories a day!) and then live off their fat reserves during their winter dormancy.
From the top: A black bear gets groovy rubbing up against a tree; A black bear stares into the camera; Two bears, a mama and her cub, come padding through the forest.
The smallest of the carnivores we spotted this month was this little weasel!
A weasel bounds through a camera site.
We have both short tailed and long tailed weasels in Oregon. Both are carnivorous, but short-tailed weasels dine primarily on mouse-sized prey, while long tailed weasels hunt slightly larger prey, such as ground squirrels or mountain beavers.
Speaking of squirrels! We saw lots of squirrels at our camera sites this past month. Ground squirrels are most likely snuggled up enjoying a cozy hibernation by now. However we saw plenty of Western gray squirrels, Douglas squirrels and even some Northern flying squirrels, all of which will remain active throughout the winter.
From the top: A Western gray squirrel sniffing at a bait log; A Douglas squirrel carrying a big cone; A Northern flying squirrel scampering across the forest floor.
One of our camera crews also spotted some beautiful squirrel tracks in the snow!
Squirrel tracks in the snow.
That's all we have to share with you this month but we will be back in the new year with more wildlife findings! We wish all of you a joyous holiday season and a happy New Year!
It's hard to believe it's September, and almost Fall! This time of year is always exciting for us because it means it's almost time to dust off the ol' snowshoes, start watching the snow reports on the mountain, and get ready for Winter Wildlife Tracking and Camera Surveys!
Registration is open for Winter Wildlife Surveys!
Tracking Club: Spiders and Invertebrates
Nature Book Club
Wildlife survey findings
Although winter may be on the horizon, our summer wildlife surveys are not over yet, and this past month was a busy one in the forest! We have lots of different animals to share with you and, with that, some fun facts. Let's get into our camera survey findings for the month leading up to September.
Black bears (Ursus americanus) were consistently present at many of our camera sites this summer. Although only one species of bear resides in Oregon, the black bear, elsewhere in the country they can be confused with other bears such as grizzlies. Black bears' coats come in a variety of colors, including cinnamon, blue-black, brown, a combination of light and dark, and even white! Size will also vary intraspecifically (between members of the same species), making it difficult to use size alone as a factor in identifying bears. Some black bears can even be larger than grizzly bears! So, how do we tell black bears apart from grizzly bears?
It's all in the face! A lot can be determined through looking at the facial profile and ear shape. Black bears have a straight face profile from forehead to nose tip. Looking at a side profile of the face, a straight line can be drawn from the eyes to the end of the nose. Black bears' ears are, on average, longer, larger, pointed, and more upright. Keep in mind the angle in which you look at the bear could skew their facial profile, as well as if they've recently been in water, which will make the fur wet and cling close to the body, changing the size comparison of the ears to the rest of the body. In comparison, grizzly bears have a concave facial profile and smaller, rounder ears.
Take a look at the bears we detected throughout this past month and notice variations between these individuals, despite them all being black bears. Note that the last bear is young and not yet full size.
Top to bottom: A cinnamon colored black bear makes their way towards the camera, taking a moment to sniff the bait log; a brown colored black bear walks away from the camera, showing their paws and tiny tail; a blue-black colored brown bear investigates a curious smells by putting their face to the ground, resembling a downward dog yoga position; a young black colored bear investigates the bait log.
Bobcats (Lynx rufus), despite their small size (about twice the size of a domestic cat, on average), are ferocious carnivores. They usually prey on small mammals like rabbits/hares, squirrels, woodrats, and voles. The largest animal a bobcat has been known to kill is deer! If this occurs, it often happens in the winter months when food is more scarce to find and deer have a harder time getting around in the snow. In pursuit of food, bobcats have been known to climb up tall trees and expertly navigate around rocky terrain. Unlike their domestic counterparts, bobcats have no aversion to water and are quite skilled swimmers. Adult bobcats have no natural predators, although if the opportunity presents itself, larger predators will target bobcats, in particular juvenile bobcats.
This past month we detected a mother bobcat and her two kittens (shown below)! These felines will mate in early spring and after 60-70 days, anywhere from 1-6 kittens are born. These two kittens were likely born at the tail-end of summer, and will stay with their mother until they are around 8 months of age, dispersing in the winter time to find territory of their own. Other than when mating and rearing offspring, bobcats are solitary creatures, as exemplified by the other detections we've had of them.
Top to bottom: A female bobcat walks through the camera site while her two curious kittens roam around the bait stump; out on a rocky outcrop at night, a bobcat thoroughly checks out the camera; a bobcat passes through the forest during the day; a bobcat climbs on the bait log and sniffs around.
Below are two photos of bobcat scat. The scat is blunt ended, contains no tapering or twisting, and is pretty much one solid tube, leading us to believe this is scat deposited by a feline. At around 0.5-0.75" in diameter, it's the right size for a bobcat scat. Feline scats are more likely to be segmented than canine scats - which can be close look-a-likes - as they are extremely dense due to their carnivorous nature. In the second photo there are some hairs that can be seen, take a look for yourself!
Top to bottom: a bobcat scat, in 3 pieces. The first piece is quite long and blunt, the other two pieces are much shorter but still quite stubby; an up close photo of the long scat from the first photo. A wild strawberry is in the foreground, and small hairs can be seen in the scat, which is turning a white-gray color.
Next, we have another member of the feline family, the mountain lion or cougar (Puma concolor, sometimes also referred to as Felis concolor). Their coat color ranges from tan, light brown, brown-orange, and gray-brown, and like bobcats, are solitary creatures. Their main food source is deer, which they kill with a powerful bite to the neck. A mountain lion can leap up to 20 feet while hunting! In addition to deer, they target elk, bighorn sheep, and sometimes even raccoons, birds, and small mammals.
Unfortunately, these majestic big cats are listed by the IUCN as Near Threatened in some locations, though not in Oregon. At one time, however, they were in danger here. In 1843, in what is now considered Oregon, a mountain lion bounty program was initiated, which continued until 1967 when the animal was reclassified as a big game animal. By 1961, it was estimated that around 200 individuals were left and were in danger of being extirpated (locally extinct). In 1994, Measure 18 was passed in Oregon, banning the use of hounds to hunt mountain lions. Since then, they have been recovering, and as of 2019, Oregon's Fish and Wildlife Department estimates the mountain lion population in Oregon to be over 6,000 individuals. However, this count includes kittens, most of whom don't survive until adulthood.
Top to bottom: a nighttime sighting of a mountain lion, who sniffed a branch before taking off; a photo of a mountain lion during the day, just about to step over a downed log.
Moving onto a different family, we have the Canidae family, consisting of coyotes, foxes, wolves. The coyote (Canis latrans) is an intermediate sized canid and, like other animals we discussed, also come in a variety of coat colors, including grayish, cinnamon, brownish, or a combination of those colors. Coyotes on the eastern and western sides of the state have differences in color and markings, although this difference is so subtle it can easily be overlooked. In western Oregon, individuals tend to be darker and have more brown coloration than their eastern counterparts. Albino coyotes with pink eyes and foot pads have also occurred in Oregon, although extremely rare!
Historically, Oregon's coyote populations were kept in check by gray wolves, which were extirpated from the area in the 1800-1900s and only recently re-introduced, leaving that role unfilled, which in turn has lead to a boom in coyote populations over those years. Although many have vilified coyotes as pests in farm and urban settings due to livestock and pet killings, coyotes play an important role in the ecosystem by controlling rodent populations and foraging on carrion that could otherwise spread disease if left to rot. Cemeteries and golf courses have noted the significant reduction of damages made by gophers and other rodents due to coyotes. Coyotes also help control geese populations that destroy young crops and feral cat populations that prey on birds. We speculate that the coyote below is catching their next meal and wish them luck!
A coyote listens and watches intently at something - possibly a prey animal - before springing into action off-screen.
Additionally, coyotes have complex social structures and will use scent marking as a form of non-verbal communication. The two coyotes shown below exemplify marking via urination, which is done by both males and females. Both coyotes are believed to be males, using a lazy pee squat instead of the normal lifting of the leg.
Left to right or top to bottom: a coyote, facing towards the camera, in a pee squat; another coyote, facing away from the camera, urinates at the same spot as the previous coyote did.
Naturally curious, coyotes will sniff and explore sites quite often. Based on our observations, like the ones below, they seem to do this more than other animals (except for black bears).
Top to bottom: two coyotes sniff and explore the area near the bait stump; a white-tip tailed coyote jumps onto the bait log with their front paws.
Coyotes will also rub and roll on scents they deem worthy. Studies have shown that the rub-roll behavior is most frequently documented during the summer and early fall, although coyotes do roll around in the snow at times as well. This rub-roll behavior has been accredited to preference for certain baits over others, where the most attractive smelling baits elicited the highest numbers of rub-roll responses. Take a look at the rub-roll behavior exhibited by the coyote below!
A single coyote sniffs around the camera site before rubbing and rolling on the ground in response to the scent-lure.
The striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis), below, is one of two skunk species found in Oregon and the Mt. Hood National Forest. About the size of a domestic cat, striped skunks are normally docile and unobtrusive, but can be susceptible to rabies infections. Their most widely known characteristic is the ability to spray a foul smelling odor from the underside of their tail. Not to worry, as skunks are mainly nocturnal creatures (most active during the night) and humans are unlikely to encounter one while out hiking. Like other animals, the striped skunk has intraspecific coat color variation that ranges from the classic white stripe and black body, entirely white, rich brown replacing the black body, or yellow replacing the white stripe.
A striped sunk climbs on the downed bait log and walks along it, sniffing as they do.
We had our first owl sighting of the summer! There are 14 species of owls in Oregon, and 10 of them are confirmed in the Mt. Hood National Forest, although by this photo we're not able to make a determination on which species this is. Owls are mostly nocturnal and they prey upon insects, fish, frogs, woodrats, flying squirrels, and other small mammals that are active at night. This sighting, however, happened during the day, and it appears the owl is holding something in its talons - maybe a squirrel or other prey animal.
Fun fact: Not all owls have the classic "whoo" call and each species' call is distinct and unique. Here are two examples of very different calls from the northern pymy owl and barred owl.
The vague shape of wings and an owl's head can be seen, along with a figure at the owl's feet, possibly a prey animal such as a squirrel.
Another bird of prey that was seen this month is a hawk. This hawk is most likely a red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) but another candidate could be Swainson's Hawk (Buteo swainsoni) as they are nearly identical from this back view angle. Whichever hawk this may be, it's likely to be a juvenile, since the coloration and banding patterns of the tail feathers changes as they mature. Both hawks are of similar size and coloring, having light morphs and dark morphs. These two morphs appear similar from the back, but the underside of a light morph hawk are mostly white or off-white with a dark belly band.
The backside of a possible red-tailed hawk about to land on a rock, with wings outstretched.
Are you batty for bats? Us too! This is also our first bat detection over the summer! There are 15 species of bats within Oregon, 9 of which are found in the Mt. Hood National Forest. In Oregon and worldwide, bats are declining, with 9 of the 15 species in Oregon listed as Conservation Strategy Species. We're not able to make an identification on which species the individual shown below could be. Bats are incredibly important members of the ecosystem, eating insects known to be pests to farmers & humans, pollinating over 500 species of plants, and dispersing seeds. Bats eat around 1,000 insects every hour, which adds up to nearly half their body weight by the end of the night. These nocturnal mammals use echolocation to figure out the location of their prey. Echolocation utilizes high pitched sound waves emitted by the bat, which bounce off objects and insects in the area, allowing the bat to know their precise location.
A blurred photo of a bat flying close to the camera.
Next up, deer. The deer in the photos and GIFs below are most likely Columbian black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus columbianus, commonly known simply as black-tailed deer), a subspecies of mule deer. In Oregon, 4 types of deer exist (white-tailed deer, Columbian white-tailed deer, mule deer, and Columbian black-tailed deer). Mule deer are also present in the Mt. Hood National Forest, but the differences are subtle. Black-tailed deer have tails that are all black on the top, as seen in one of the photos below.
Breeding, for all these deer, occurs from late October through early December, and after about 7 months, fawns are born. Fawns will typically lose their distinct white spots by September, so we're keeping an eye out for that in the next few weeks. Females will usually give birth to twins, but the number of offspring depends on suitable habitat. We've seen does with only one offspring as well as does with twins on our cameras. This past month we've seen quite a few single fawns, shown in a couple instances below. Females, on average, will live longer than males - 15 years compared to 9 respectively. This is due to a number of reasons including fighting during the mating season and hunting of bucks.
Deer are the mammals most commonly seen on our cameras and while they've been known to stick around the camera site and check it out, we also get plenty of sightings of them moving through the site. Below you'll see instances of both situations.
Top to bottom, left to right: a single doe passes through, followed by a doe and her fawn, and lastly a straggling doe, who rushes to catch up with the herd; a buck shows off his antlers, caught with his tongue partially out; a doe and fawn simultaneously check out the camera site; two deer, barely visible above a field of purple flowers, watch a bird fly overhead; a fawn licks their lips after sniffing the bait log.
What's chunky, has short legs, a bushy tail, and is the largest squirrel in Oregon? Why, the yellow-bellied marmot (Marmota flaviventris), of course! Their brown-gray coats allow them to blend into their preferred habitat, rocky outcrops, although in some circumstances will use a pile of logs or an abandoned building. Marmots hibernate, adult males preceding all others. Following them are adult females, yearling females, and lastly yearling males. If you were hoping to see a marmot with your own eyes this fall, there's only a few weeks left to do so! They spend a mere 135-150 days above ground, going into hibernation starting around late September and not emerging until around May.
Top to bottom, left to right: the side-view of a yellow-bellied marmot on top a rock, standing proudly.
A member of the mustelid family, the weasel (Mustela spp.), presents itself below. There are two types of weasels in Oregon and the Mt. Hood National Forest, long- and short-tailed. Short-tailed weasels prefer meadows, fields, brushy areas and open woods, and forest edges for suitable habitat. Long-tailed weasels prefer habitats near water, but both species have overlapping habitats. The camera site in the photo is adjacent to a river and the weasel in the photo is rather large, leading us to believe this may be a long-tailed weasel. There can be overlap in size, so it's not always possible to tell which species is which in photos.
Don't be fooled by their small stature as both these species prey on small rodents such as mice, chipmunks, voles, shrews, rats, and squirrels. Although they can be active during the day, weasels are normally nocturnal. This is consistent with our sightings as we have only seen detections of weasel at night. They do not hibernate and are active at all times during the year. Often, fur color is white during the winter and brown in the summer, although individuals can have brown pelage in winter.
Standing on top of a downed log, a weasel with eyes glowing in the dark.
An important prey species for many species throughout the forest, and the largest native tree squirrel, is the western gray squirrel (Sciurus griseus). Like most tree squirrels (except the northern flying squirrel) the western gray almost exclusively exhibits diurnal behavior (active during the day). This squirrel is omnivorous and eats conifer seeds, acorns, fungi, insects, berries, other fruit, and some green vegetation. They are listed as a sensitive species in Oregon, as competition from eastern gray squirrels and fox squirrels have led to a decline in their numbers.
These squirrels are fast-moving creatures and this summer, we've frequently seen them in cahoots with one another, climbing logs, and running around like the visit below.
Two western gray squirrels chase one another over a downed log.
The last member of the Sciuridae family we are sharing this month is the Douglas squirrel (Tamiasciurus douglasii), which are also in decline in recent decades. This has largely been attributed to loss of preferred habitat - mixed mature conifer forests - and competition from invasive squirrels. The Douglas squirrel is a Conservation Strategy Species in Oregon. They are smaller than the western gray squirrel and have a orange-red belly and light brown-gray fur on the head and back. The Douglas squirrel does not hibernate and spends the fall months gathering seeds and cones in mass quantities, earning them the title of larder hoarders. Other favorite foods include bird eggs, berries, seeds, flowers, leaf buds, and fungi.
Fun fact: These squirrels have a mutualistic relationship with fungi. As they eat and subsequently discard the reproductive parts of fungi, Douglas squirrels spread fungus spores around the forest, connecting vast mycorrhizal networks that are incredibly important for the health of trees.
A Douglas squirrel in the foreground, carrying what appears to be a leaf in its mouth.
Our last animal to share this month is the bushy-tailed woodrat (Neotoma cinerea). Although this rodent is no squirrel, they boast a squirrel-like tail that is wholly unique to members of the Cricetidae family, which contains over 600 species including New World mice and rats, voles, lemmings. Thirteen subspecies of woodrats are recognized, 4 of them are in Oregon, and possibly 2 in the Mt. Hood National Forest. They are prey for many species of birds and mammals, including owls, martens, fishers, and bobcats. While not normally included in their diet, coyotes, spotted skunks, long-tailed weasels, red-tailed hawks, wolverines, and foxes will all prey on this rodent.
A woodrat scampers around the camera site, pausing every so often.
Although this month there were no camera sightings of Sierra Nevada red fox - one our target species - we did have a volunteer turn in a potential scat from this small canine. The scat is twisted and tapered, a good indication of canine scat, but measuring at around 0.5" in diameter, it's on the cusp of our cutoff for fox scat. We won't definitively know who this scat belongs to until genetic testing can be done, but we can make our best educated postulation in the meantime.
Top to bottom: a potential Sierra Nevada red fox scat. It is old and starting to turn a gray-brown color. A ruler is next to it for scale; the same scat, but different segments are shown. There is one long piece and several smaller pieces, and like the first scat, is turning a gray-brown color.
Another volunteer also found some wild turkey feathers and a probable turkey scat. Turkeys have been in part of Oregon's history since 1961, when they were first introduced to the area. Now, more than 10,000 turkeys live all over Oregon. Did you know male turkeys are called toms or gobblers and females are called hens? In the same vein, juvenile males are jakes and juvenile females are jennies. The scat below is from a tom, as scat from hens are more balled up instead of a 'J' shape.
Left to right or top to bottom: two barred feathers from a turkey, alternating dark brown and light yellow to cream color; a probable male turkey scat which has a lot of volume to it and it turning white. The scat follows a gentle 'J' shape.
That's going to do it for this month's sightings and findings! Tune in next month where we will showcase our monthly blog and Wildlife Review, highlighting the best of the best findings of the summer!