As we near the end of the winter season and head into spring, the snow begins to slowly melt away and our forests begin to wake up. With warmer weather comes breeding season, new growth of plants, and more abundant food sources for the wildlife. As insects take to the wing and feed our avian community returning from migration, we begin to notice a shift in the dynamics of the forest. We look forward to the spring ahead and enjoy looking back on February and the wildlife sightings it provided us.
As always, thank you to all of our wonderful volunteers who are braving the winter weather on snowshoe and digging through the snow to reach our cameras so that we can bring you these photos. We have had a great season so far, and winter's not over yet! We still have a month of wildlife tracking and two months of camera surveys in Mt Hood National Forest to complete the winter wildlife survey season.
For those of you excited to get outside, make the most of the snow while it lasts, welcome the transitioning seasons, or simply explore the natural world, we hope to see you at one of our upcoming classes or clubs!
Upcoming classes and Clubs
Late winter/early spring is the perfect time to get to know our local songbirds, and our Bird Language Series is a great opportunity to do so! Beyond bird identification, this 8-class series in field and classroom explores what the postures, song, chatter, and even silence of birds can tell us about what's happening on the landscape - the location of predators, presence of other humans, and even our own awareness and mindset. Starting March 22. Read more.
Check out our other upcoming classes, like
Advanced Sign Tracking (March 7)
Intro to Wildlife Tracking at Hoyt Arboretum (March 21)
See all upcoming Classes.
Looking for more to do in the community?
Tracking Club meets the last Sunday of every month.
Nature Book Club meets March 24 to discuss Rain: A Natural and Cultural History by Cynthia Barnett.
More info on Community Clubs
There has been an abundance of wildlife sightings on Mt. Hood this past month, including our beautiful and elusive target species: the Sierra Nevada red fox!
A Sierra Nevada red fox observes the area and looks into a nearby camera
The Sierra Nevada red fox was first confirmed on Mt. Hood in 2012 by Cascadia Wild's trail cameras under the Wolverine Tracking Project. Despite their small numbers, attempts to list these animals as threatened or endangered have failed in recent years due to the lack of information on their populations and whether or not they are interbreeding with other red fox subspecies.
Cascadia Wild uses data collected on this subspecies to aid researchers and conservationists in their attempt to protect the Sierra Nevada red fox. Due to their elusive nature, there are many questions left to be answered, such as their population sizes, distribution, genetics, and ecology. Data is gathered by Cascadia Wild through our camera surveys, winter tracking surveys, and summer scat surveys.
A Sierra Nevada red fox examines the camera site and bait tree
These foxes are always an exciting find, and they have graced our higher-elevation cameras a handful of times this season. Their curiosity of the bait trees are hard to misinterpret, and the body language they exhibit is not unlike that of our canine companions.
Some fun facts...
Other canid visitors include the coyote.
A coyote strolls through a camera site in the fresh snow
Coyotes are generally monogamous and tend to maintain pair bonds for life. Their litters are raised by both parents and parenting duties are also frequently taken on by older siblings in the family group. They travel both alone and in packs usually consisting of an alpha male and female, their relatives, and some members of other families.
Coyote packs tend to live in territories that they will defend against neighboring packs. They mark these these territories with scent markings such as urine, feces, and rubbing against objects like trees.
Left to right (mobile: top to bottom): a coyote marks its territory with feces; the territory is observed by scent; a coyote marks its territory with urine; two coyotes mark their presence by rubbing up against a tree trunk.
There is some evidence that suggests individual coyotes mark their territory more frequently when they are traveling with a pack! This group of 5 is seen claiming their stakes on the land.
A pack of coyotes roll on the ground and smell the surrounding area
A coyote examines the camera site
Some fun facts...
Other carnivorous mammals caught on our cameras this past month include the stealthy bobcat.
A bobcat sits underneath a tree
Bobcats have a wide range of diet, including small mammals such as hares, squirrels, birds, and even the occasional larger game like deer. Bobcats use their stealth to hunt, remaining hidden to their prey until they attack with a leaping pounce of up to 10 feet.
A bobcat sneaks through the camera site at night
These felines are the most common wildcat in the United States, yet they seldom cross paths with humans due to their solitary, nocturnal, and elusive nature.
A common meal of the above carnivores are the snowshoe hares.
Multiple snowshoe hares make their way through our camera sites
Snowshoe hares have evolved to molt to a white coat for the winter to match the snowy backdrop, and molt back to brown once the snow melts away; this way, they do not stand out like little lightbulbs in the dark forest, and they are able to camouflage with their environment year-round. However, as demonstrated above, sometimes these color changes do not happen as they should. As the global climate changes, the presence or absence of snow at different times of the year becomes less predictable, and hares are sometimes unable to quickly change their coat to match - a phenomenon biologists call "camouflage mismatch".
Abundant in our forests, the snowshoe hares are nimble and fast; a necessary advantage as a favorite snack of bobcats, coyotes, foxes, and even some birds of prey. These hares have large, fuzzy feet that help them to effectively navigate their snowy habitats, similar to the snowshoes of our volunteers.
Other herbivorous inhabitants of our forests include the black-tailed deer.
Left to right (mobile: top to bottom): a deer jumps over some fallen logs; an up-close shot of a deer walking underneath the camera; a deer walking up close to a camera.
Black-tailed deer inhabit the forested mountains and foothills near the Pacific coast. They are resident animals, meaning they do not migrate south, but do tend to move to lower elevations during the winter months. Their home-range consists of about 3 square miles of land, yet they tend to travel in solitude - aside from the small family groups of mothers and their young, or the bachelor groups of bucks formed during the summer months.
You can find more information about deer in our last blog.
A female black-tailed deer exhibits a flehmen response
A flehmen response is a reaction to intriguing smells - commonly urine - where the upper lip of the animal is curled back to expose the vomeronasal organ to the scent in order to get a good whif. In fact, the word "flehmen" comes from the German verb for "to curl". However, this response is not just "sniffing" - it may be compared to sniffing in high resolution.
This black-tailed deer doe is seen exhibiting a flehmen response, likely in response to the urine of another deer. You may have observed a cat or another ungulate like a horse displaying this same behavior before. While not uncommon, a flehmen response is more frequent in black-tailed deer males than females. In fact, there seems to be an annual cycle for flehmen responses in black-tailed deer; observations are much more frequent in the winter during breeding season as deer are on the lookout for a mate.
Also seen is a less common winter visitor: a striped skunk.
A striped skunk runs through a clearing, leaving behind small tracks in the snow
Striped skunks tend to hole up for the winter; however, similar to bears, they do not undergo true hibernation. Instead, both skunks and bears exhibit something called torpor: a state of decreased metabolic and physiological activity, allowing an animal to survive through periods of food shortages. More information on torpor can be found in our last blog.
Though skunks tend to be known for their foul smelling spray, they are actually docile animals that will happily leave humans alone and go on with their day. Their spray defense is typically only used as a last resort; if they feel threatened, they will first try to run away from the threat. If that doesn't do the trick, they may arch their back and raise their tail as a warning. Only if they still feel threatened will they release their spray, which can reach a whopping 12 feet.
Before we review some of the findings from our tracking surveys, we want to extend our congratulations to our trackers, tracking trip leaders, and greater tracking community that came out for our CyberTracker Track and Sign Evaluation! For two days, participants were taken to various locations in Mt Hood National Forest and asked questions about the track and sign found on the landscape, such as: who made this track or sign? how was this animal moving? what was the gender of this animal?
At the end of the weekend, everyone who participated received internationally recognized wildlife tracking certification! Six out of ten participants even received Level 3 Certification! Thank you to David Moskowitz for leading the evaluation on behalf of CyberTracker, and everyone who came out to share their knowledge, perspectives, and tracking skills with us - we are truly impressed by our community!
We found a lot of great tracks and sign, and here are some of the highlights from the course:
Left to right/Top to bottom: the class discusses track morphologies; following one of many snowshoe hare trail; the tracks of a male bobcat show clearly on a light dusting of snow and dark substrate; tracks of two deer crossing a road; a set of clear weasel tracks found near a bobcat trail; David discussing a mound created by a mountain lion; a trail sign post that has been used more than once by black bear for rubbing; and a vine maple branch that has been browsed upon by deer.
It's been a great month for our tracking surveys, too! This February we hosted our annual overnight tracking trip in the Tilly Jane area.
Left to right/Top to bottom: sizing up a snow shelter footprint; looking out from a snow shelter entrance; and the long shadows of sunset on a burn area fall onto a snowy field with Mt Hood in the background.
The group followed animal trails by day before setting up snow shelters and camping under the clear skies of a full moon. The conditions for a great time could not have been better!
Tracking surveys have also been finding a lot of great track and sign. One of the most common signs on the winter landscape is snowshoe hare.
A snowshoe hare crossroads with ample scat
A print of a snowshoe hare sitting: the small front feet are in front (on the left), hugged by the large hind feet, and an imprint of the round tail sits behind (on the right) - under the tail print is a rabbit pellet, or scat!
A snow "cave" is made by snow on a sapling: the tracks here show the frequent comings and goings of snowshoe hare to this site. The amount of packed snow at the entrance of the "cave," the stipped branches, and the pile of needles indicate that a hare used this area for feeding if not also rest and hiding.
Hare tracks were found entering this snow tunnel! Trackers searched the area and found another set of tracks exiting the snow some distance away!
We have also been finding a lot of squirrel tracks, and the similar tracks of their carnivorous forest counterpart, weasel! Can you tell the difference between squirrel and weasel in the tracks below?
Left to right/Top to bottom: measuring the clear prints of a short-tailed weasel; the bounding gait of a weasel through snow; a tracker inspects the bounding gait of a squirrel through deep snow; and measuring the tracks of a squirrel.
In our last blog, we discussed how squirrel and hare tracks can be distinguished from one another, but weasel and squirrel can be even more difficult to tough to tell apart. Also commonly found with a bounding gait, weasel tracks can be of similar size, too. One way to tell these apart is by the toes. Squirrels have five toes on their hind feet and four in front; weasels have five toes all around. Squirrels will also have longer toes than claws (for grabbing onto food and tree limbs) and weasels will have longer claws than toes (for grabbing onto their forest prey). Compared to weasels, the first and fifth digit of a squirrel's hind toes are splayed more to the side, while the middle three are kept closer together and pointed more forward, in a 1-3-1 orientation. Weasel toes, on the other hand, will often be more evenly spaced.
Another common track has been the deer mouse. These tracks would be difficult to discern if not for their size! Some of the smallest tracks in the forest, you would be very lucky with excellent conditions if you were able to make out toes in their prints.
Left to right/Top to bottom: a deer mouse bounds through crusty snow; and a deer mouse bounds through a thinner layer of fluffier snow.
Each of these photos show the same animal performing the same hopping gait. However, the animal is making its way through two different qualities of snow. The first photo shows each foot clearly defined as the animal almost post-holes through snow that has been made more rigid through melting and refreezing, each foot clearly showing where it broke through the surface. In the second photo, we can see the tracks less clearly as the snow hasn't gone through the same weather and is more easily disturbed, yet still light and fluffy enough to pick up a foot drag.
We have also seen a lot of sign from our forest carnivores. One thing all our wildlife have in common is: what goes in, must come out!
Left to right/Top to bottom: canid scat (coyote or fox); felid scat (bobcat or small mountain lion); likely coyote scat containing ungulate fur.
Scat can tell us so much about an animal, from genetic information, to diet and individual health - all of which in turn helps us paint a picture not only of their population but of the ecosystem to which the animal belongs. The top two photos belong to two different families of animals, canid and felid. Comparing the two, you can see that canid scat is a bit more twisty than felid scat, which comes out more round and segmented, like Lincoln Logs. Both have bits of hair, which attest to their more carnivorous diet.
The bottom photo is likely coyote scat, and contains what is likely ungulate fur. Examination of the fur showed that it crimped when pinched between the nails, indicating a hollow hair follicle. Ungulates and polar bears are the only mammals with hollow fur, an adaptation which helps them stay insulated in the cold.
Until next time, we hope you can get out there and enjoy some of the bounty that winter has to offer before it's gone!
Happy Winter, Happy Holidays, and Happy (almost) New Year!!
Since our last post, we have transitioned from Fall to Winter, and we have been busy!
Earlier this month, we held our first ever fundraiser, Mystery Tracks, and it was a great success in many ways. Not only did we surpass our fundraising goal, but we had so much fun doing so! We also learned that, regardless of current skillset, there is a tracker in every one of us. Excellent work to all who came out to sleuth some tracks and make this a night for the books! And thank you to Jean’s Farm for hosting, Ecliptic Brewing for the keg, and Steve Engel for the masterful plaster track casts.
We would also like to thank everyone who has donated or become a member this month!
If you're considering making a tax-deductible donation on behalf of yourself or a loved one,
there's still time to donate and help us start off strong in 2020.
As a community-based, volunteer-run organization, each dollar makes a difference, and we could not do this work without you!
We are Cascadia Wild!
Now that we are officially in Winter, the Wolverine Tracking Project winter surveys are in full swing! We are getting a lot of footage back from our camera surveys, and a handful of tracking surveys have also been completed. There’s a lot more ground and many months still to cover, but we are off to a great start and have a great group of volunteers helping out this season. Thank you to everyone who is lending their hands, eyes, and time to help document the wildlife of our national forest.
In case you missed it, we have some big news...
WOLVES IN MT HOOD NATIONAL FOREST!
Gray wolves detected by Wolverine Tracking Project Camera Survey, 2019
Sources at ODFW indicate that these individuals, detected on separate occasions at different sites, could be the breeding pair of the White River wolf pack, who have taken up residency on the Warm Springs Reservation and the eastern edge of Mt Hood National Forest. A target species of the Wolverine Tracking Project, we are interested in how the presence of gray wolves will shape the ecosystem of the lands they chose to call home. In hopes of also helping to define their range, we will continue to keep a lookout for these newcomers with several cameras positioned along the forest boundary. As the pack grows and disperses, or as other wolves move in, we expect to see more of them.
Since the wolf detections above, snows have arrived on our mountain, just in time to greet the season. This means we are seeing a lot more of other kinds of animals at our camera sites, including another of our target species: the Sierra Nevada red fox.
This winter, we have 9 cameras located in the immediate Timberline/Government Camp area and an additional two in the outlying area, all specifically focused on targeting this subspecies, one of the most rare mammals in North America and endemic only to the montane slopes of the Sierras and Cascades south of the Columbia River. As winter sets in, they seem more drawn to our sites than in summer, and frequency of detection increases. This is perhaps due to higher concentrations of red fox at the “lower” elevations of our typical sites (their summer range may include the talus slopes where installing camera traps is more difficult). Or, perhaps they are more drawn to the meat bait in these leaner months. Here we can see video compilation of what looks like two different foxes timidly checking some sites:
In both of these videos, the foxes seem drawn to the meat and fox urine we have baited the tree with, yet they are exercising caution. In the second video, what appears to be the same fox came back at least three times over a course of 9 days. Compared to bears or wolverine, who are both notorious when it comes to getting their paws on food, canids tend to be more hesitant, and our Vulpes vulpes necator here is no exception.
Read more about the Sierra Nevada red fox.
Coyotes inspecting bait sites
Coyotes, almost a guaranteed visitor at many of our locations, can also be cautious when it comes to inspecting bait.
Coyote going for a roll near a bait tree
However, coyotes tend to quickly overcome their hesitation and are just as likely to go for a good roll in, or near, the bait (see above)! Whether marking their territory or perfuming their coats, this is one behavior we can almost always count on from these canids.
Family Felidae are also curious about the smells at a site.
Bobcats inspecting the smells at a site
These bobcats are much less hesitant than their canid counterparts, however, and if they show an interest in the bait will generally directly approach it, sometimes even marking it with their scent before leaving (rubbing, urinating, or even rolling in it in less common instances).
Even deer will check out a bait site:
Two does inspect bait on a tree
Though, as herbivores, deer are not interested in bait as a food source, it is in their interest to know who else may be in an area, and so the site behooves inspection.
Other times, they are just passing through...
Clockwise from top left: a doe casually browses her way through the field of view; two does meander through the snow; a young buck contemplates some snowberries; and a yearling seemingly poses for his portrait.
We've been seeing a lot of family Cervidae this month, which includes both deer and elk. Elk seem to have very little interest in bait, though they do sometimes like to inspect cameras. Elk are seemingly always on the move, seeking out the best sites for grazing and shelter every couple of days.
Female elk (cows) on the move
Like deer, elk are crepuscular. Generally, though not always, elk are found grazing at night in large herds (or harems). A ruminant, elk can graze about 20 pounds of vegetation a day! At daybreak or soon after, elk disperse into smaller groups and bed down in shelter (typically forested areas).
Male elk (bulls) on the move
Male elk, or bulls, will often travel solo this time of year. Late summer to early winter is elk breeding season, or rut, and the mature individuals pictured here are likely in pursuit of a harem.
Other animals who display little caution at sites?
A black bear (left) inspects a snag belt (which collects hair for genetic analysis), and a female bear (sow, right) thoroughly inspects a site with her two cubs of the year (coy).
As mentioned above, bears are well-known for being brazen when it comes to food. More so, they tend to be thoroughly curious. As an apex predator, extreme caution is not a characteristic necessary to their survival, though they seem to take great interest in their surroundings.
Some smaller animals are just as brazen as a bear...
Left to right: mice, Clark's nutcracker, and Canada jays are opportunistic at baited sites.
...while other animals can be troublemakers. In the photos above, a striped skunk of family Mephitidae inspects and disassembles a hair snag belt.
Weasels are often seen at our sites in winter, and they will approach bait fearlessly.
Long tailed weasels passing through our sites
The long-tailed weasels above, however, are not displaying interest in the bait. This could be because there is plentiful food for them, like mice, voles, and even larger animals like rabbits and chipmunks. Closely related to skunks and in the same family as wolverine (Mustelidae), it is not surprising that these animals have a diverse carnivore diet and display little caution.
Some other animals tend to always be oblivious to the bait, like these snowshoe hares, though they often tend to perk up a little for the camera:
Two snowshoe hares seem to pause for a photo mid-bound. One hare is in its winter coat (left) and the other, detected before snowfalls, is still in its summer coat (right).
These members of family Leporidae sport large, snow-defying hind legs and have another helpful adaptation: camouflage. The hare on the right appears to still be wearing its darker summer coat, while the hare on the left has changed its seasonal coloration to match the freshly falling snows. Perfectly timed for the season!
Another fearless, though somewhat rare animal detected by our cameras? A herd of camera crew volunteers!
Camera crew are often seen during site maintenance checks in groups of two to four. The above photo shows a particularly large group at a field training earlier this season. Keep an eye out if you are in the woods this time of year: they are a joyful bunch and we hear it can be contagious.
Whereas cameras can offer rich detail of the wildlife they detect, they can only tell the story of what is directly in front of the lens and can miss the peripheral story of all that goes on around them. Tracking surveys step in to compliment the wildlife camera data, telling us a story of the life upon a landscape. Surveys are conducted by snowshoe on Mt Hood almost every winter weekend with groups of up to 12, which include two Cascadia Wild endorsed and trained Tracking Trip Leaders. The surveys follow 1.5 mile transects (and more if time allows) and document the tracks found along the way, including: track size, gait, track quality, and species identification. A lot can be learned about the land and wildlife by reading these signs. Read more.
One of the most easily distinguishable animal tracks in our forest is the snowshoe hare:
Snowshoe hare tracks in snow displaying the characteristic cluster of a hopping gait
A helpful hint in identifying this species is to look at the trail pattern: there are four footsteps all together in one area, and another four together following it, indicating hopping. For these hares, the prints in the front of the clusters are actually the back feet, and the prints in the back of the clusters are the front feet. Hares will land with their front feet, followed by their back feet, and they will swing their large back feet forward further than their front, ready to spring into the next bound.
We've also been seeing quite a few squirrels:
Squirrel (likely Douglas squirrel) tracks in snow displaying their characteristic double-register
Here, each print is actually two prints - both the front and back foot stepping in the same spot. This is called a double register.
And we've even found some mice!
Mouse tracks in snow, also displaying the characteristic clusters that indicates hopping
The mouse has the same trail pattern as the hare: hopping, with all four feet coming down in the same area.
One of the more exciting tracking finds so far has been Pacific marten. The Pacific marten is also one of our target species: their presence is an indicator of healthy upper-elevation forest.
Detail of Pacific marten tracks in snow (left) and the meandering trail of a Pacific marten (right)
The trail of the marten can be seen above. Several times it appeared to slow to a walk, pause - perhaps looking around - and often kept to the cover of the small saplings. Marten, another mustelid, are also voracious carnivores and it's possible to imagine it skirting the trees on its meandering path, in search of a vole, deer mouse, or other small animal.
A Canada jay perches on a snowy bough
Occasionally, we even get to see wildlife! A common sight are Canada jays. While we do not keep data on these birds, we do like seeing their familiar faces. Like their Corvid cousins - scrub and Stellar jays, Clark's nutcrackers, crows, ravens, and so on - Canada jays are adaptable, have diverse diets, and are generally regarded as highly intelligent, personable, and sneaky. These characteristics lend them and others in family Corvidae the nickname "Camp Robber."
There are few better ways to spend a winter day than strapped into snowshoes documenting the wildlife in our backyard...
...and enjoying the scenery...
...with a great group of trackers:
Thank you all for being a part of Cascadia Wild, this year, in previous years, and in the years to come!
Until next time...
Happy Solstice! Happy Winter!
Our best wishes to you in the New Year!
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!