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!
snow falls on mt. hood
The snow is fresh on Mt. Hood and the animals have been hard at work prepping for winter. Just like our animal friends, we have been busy wrapping up our summer season. We send a huge "Thank you!" to everyone that has volunteered with us this summer! With that, we are very excited to start Winter Tracking Surveys soon. Strap on some snowshoes and join us in looking for animal tracks and sign in the snow, our virtual trainings start this week!
We will be sharing lots of photos and videos brought back from several of our camera sites, as well as discussing a genetic sample found on a scat survey! We will also be highlighting some interesting behaviors and physical changes that animals will be undergoing with the change of season.
A strong sense of smell
We have had numerous detections of black bear at our camera sites this month. These animals can pick up on scents as far as a mile away! Many animals pass through our sites, so it makes sense that bears come to investigate and sniff around!
From top to bottom: A bear covered in debris poses with head low to the ground, investigating smells at our site. A different site has a bear smelling a log. An adorable cub rolls around near a large downed tree.
leaving a scent
Our volunteers have also brought back photos and signs of some canid species. These animals are highly social and often travel in groups! When seen at our cameras, however, we typically see them alone or in pairs. Canids also love to let other animals know where they've been! They will often mark roads, trails, and sites with urine or scat, and frequently rub or roll on the ground to leave their scent. This works out well for us, as it makes them easier to study!
From top to bottom: A coyote urinates near a tree while a second coyote stands facing the camera. The same two coyotes rub and roll around, leaving their scent at the site. A coyote sniffs around at a different location.
In addition to the coyote detections at our camera sites, we had a volunteer that found a scat sample that likely belonged to a gray wolf! Canids like the coyotes above and gray wolves are facultative carnivores, which means that in addition to preferably eating prey animals, they will also eat berries, carrion, and whatever else they can find if necessary. This is sometimes evident in scat samples, as we may find plant matter in addition to things like hair or bone fragments from prey.
Scat sample that is likely from a gray wolf. The large size, cylindrical shape with tapered ends, and hair are notable for identification.
We have another detection from an animal that is quite known for leaving its mark - the striped skunk! We have recently seen an uptick in detections of these animals, which is a pleasant surprise.
A striped skunk moves through a camera site, pausing to sniff at the base of a tree.
Next are some mountain lion and bobcat detections. Unlike the canids we talked about, members of the feline family tend to be more secretive. They are much more likely to mark under logs, rocky overhangs, or other areas that receive less traffic. They may also bury their scat, rather than leaving it on a trail like canids. Despite these differences, we will see felines display similar rubbing and rolling behaviors at our sites!
From top to bottom: A bobcat perches and stretches on a log at night. A bobcat lays in the center of one of our sites. A mountain lion rubs its face and body near a downed tree. A mountain lion approaches and smells a stump during the daytime, a more unusual sighting!
Developing winter coats
We also had detections of a few species that will be sporting winter coats that look quite different from what we have seen during the summer! Deer and elk develop thicker winter coats with long guard hairs that are more moisture-resistant. For deer, this coat is notably thicker and grayer than their summer coat. For elk, both males and females develop a two-layered coat that looks like a mane covering their necks.
From top to bottom: A female deer stands with her back to the camera. A larger buck stands near a camera at night. A male elk visits a site at night as well, thicker hair covering the neck is quite visible.
We also detected a snowshoe hare, who will be developing a white winter coat soon! This will allow the animal to better blend in with the snow that is now on Mt. Hood, providing better camouflage from predators.
A snowshoe hare hops near a tree, then leaps away.
Stashing food for the winter
Next up are some members of the rodent family! We had many detections of Douglas squirrel, western gray squirrel, and chipmunk. These animals have been very active through fall, storing food to eat while they spend more time in their dens in winter. Douglas squirrels use a method called "larder hoarding," where they will create just a few very large caches of food. In contrast, western gray squirrels use "scatter hoarding," where they will have numerous caches that are smaller in size. Various chipmunk species will use either of these methods.
From top to bottom: A Douglas squirrel hops through the snow. A western gray squirrel stands quite close to one of our cameras. A chipmunk sits to the left of the camera.
We had one more rodent detection, this time a more unusual species! The northern flying squirrel is active at night, so they are not as commonly seen. Unlike the rodents above, hoarding food behaviors are not well-documented for these animals. Maybe we'll find out how they prepare for winter soon!
A northern flying squirrel hops throughout the site during the night.
Finally, we have some bird detections to share as well!
From top to bottom: A Steller's jay sits on a stump. A small flock of turkeys pass through a site.
That's it for this month's blog! Thank you to all of our volunteers for bringing back these photos and genetic samples, and thank you for reading!
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!