Cascadia Wildlife Blog
News from the Wolverine Tracking Project and more
Before we get into the findings, though, we want to share some of the happenings at Cascadia Wild. We hope everyone has been staying cool but still enjoying the warm weather as an opportunity to get outside and explore. If you want a little inspiration to get out there, we have some ideas!
Also, this month we published the 2020-21 Cascadia Wild Annual Report! Each report includes a message from Teri Lysak, Board Chair, annual expenses and income, and a summary of our programs and accomplishments, including the Wolverine Tracking Project, classes, clubs, and community engagement.
ICYMI: Check out our official Wolverine Tracking Project Annual Research Report, which summarizes all the wildlife findings from 2020-21's camera, tracking, fox, and wolf surveys!
Looking for a new series to watch? How about one about wildlife?
With new technological advances, nature documentaries have reached a whole new level. Check out Night on Earth and Earth at Night in Color for some never-before seen nighttime wildlife viewing!
Many animals are most active at night, when it's hardest for humans - and most cameras - to see. These two documentary series enlighten us to new behaviors, giving us more insight into animals' mysterious lives.
Now onto the highlights from our very own wildlife cameras! We've seen creatures big, small, & everything in between - from black bears to golden mantled ground squirrels and more. Cameras have also documented the arrival of new babies in the forest! So come along as we show you the best of the best from this past month.
Our first species is the black bear; these omnivores sure do have big personalities! Keep scrolling to see what black bears do when it warms up in the forest (you definitely don't want to miss the last one!).
Top to bottom, left to right: A black bear rubs up on the bait box, showing a white chest; a possible subadult walks in front of some flowering bear grass; a black bear is caught with a tongue out; a black bear is seen climbing a tree; likely a male, this black bear shows signs of scars on his head from dueling; a male and female mate.
Now onto our carnivores - first up for felines is the bobcat. Bobcat sightings always pique our interest, and this time we found two on camera, a rare occurrence! This duo is likely mother and offspring. Juveniles will leave their mother's care and disperse to find territory of their own in late winter or early spring coming into their second year. Bobcats will disperse before they reach 2 years old, males traveling further than females to find new territory.
Top to bottom: two bobcats stroll through, one after the other; a solitary bobcat walks by.
Our second and last feline is the mountain lion. We've caught a few mountain lions on camera this summer. These solitary hunters have been seen during the daytime and at night.
Top to bottom, left to right: a mountain lion strolls through the camera site during the day; a mountain lion passes through the site at night; a mountain lion rubs its cheek along the bait box.
Coyotes were the only members of the canine family detected on our cameras this month. Still, they provided us with plenty to look at!
Top to bottom, left to right: A coyote rolls around in the snow next to the bait box; a pair of coyotes visits, one urinates on the tree before taking off in the next photo.
Turkeys, adult and juvenile, were seen on a volunteer-owned camera. The little ones like to follow mom around, and are a spotty brown color.
Three adult turkeys and their offspring check out the camera site, then move offscreen in single file on a log.
Nearly every camera we have set up documented deer. These abundant creatures also happen to give birth in the spring, so we have lots of cute fawns to share with you!
Top to bottom: A doe and fawn, still with spots, walk along the forest floor; two fawns with their spots glowing in the dark, sniff the camera site.
Look at the progression between these two deer from late May to mid June - male deer, or bucks, start growing their antlers during early spring and finish in the fall, when they mate. The females carry the offspring through the winter, and give birth in the spring. Then the whole season starts again!
Left to right (or top to bottom) : A young buck starts to grow his antlers; a buck shows off his velvety antlers; a doe and fawn pass by; two fawns stop to check out the camera site; a deer blows a raspberry.
These animals may be small - but they certainly don't act that way. See these mischievous squirrels and woodrats in action!
Western gray squirrels are below; these squirrels are larger than Douglas squirrels and have a white belly and gray coat. What really gives them away is their massive, bushy tail though!
Left to right (or top to bottom): a western gray squirrel eats on top of a downed log; two western gray squirrels chase one another on horizontal log.
Here's a Douglas squirrel in action - notice the smaller build and tail than that of the western gray squirrel. This particular individual ran over the bait box and shifted it slightly.
A Douglas squirrel scampers on a log, going up and over the bait box, moving it slightly.
Our second to last rodent is the bushy-tailed woodrat, whose eyes shine brightly in the dark. The woodrat has a round tail, and can easily be confused with the northern flying squirrel which has a flatter tail. Both of these animals are nocturnal, and are seen almost exclusively at night. This woodrat decided to have a little fun with our bait box!
A bushy-tailed woodrat moves the bait box.
A northern flying squirrel is shown below for reference. The flat tail is a good giveaway for these tricky night squirrels. It may come as a surprise to many people to see these squirrels in the forest!
Left to right (or top to bottom): A northern flying squirrel sits on a log with its body towards the camera; a northern flying squirrel shows off its tail.
Wolf & fox Scat surveys
Although our cameras didn't pick up any detections of our target canines - the gray wolf and Sierra Nevada red fox - our diligent volunteers did find some (potential) neat scat of each while surveying forest trails for genetic samples and sign!
The volunteer who found the scat shown below broke it apart, revealing digested hair, bones, and grass (circled in red)!
Top: An intact, old scat. Bottom: The same scat broken apart, with vegetation circled in red.
But who could this belong to? Felines will eat vegetation to clear out their stomachs, but not to this extent. Therefore, we've ruled this scat is likely from a canid, since the dog family is a bit more omnivorous. The average diameter is just shy of 1.25" inches, our cutoff size limit for wolf scat collection. All coyotes will leave scat smaller than this, but some domestic dogs might leave scat this size. Domestic dogs are also capable of eating a large amount of vegetation, but likely would not have hair and bones inside their scat, making this a good candidate for possible gray wolf scat. Unfortunately, this scat is likely too old to gather DNA from.
So far this summer, volunteers have collected several possible Sierra Nevada red fox scats! Two of these are shown below. As canine scat, they are tapered at the ends and twisted, but are much smaller than wolf scat and coyote scat, about the size of a pinky. The presence of hair potentially eliminates domestic dogs as a possible culprit as well. Although we can't know for sure until the samples are analyzed, these are also good candidates for possible fox scats!
The two photos above show the twisted scat with tapered ends that may belong to a red fox.
While camera crews and the fox and wolf teams are out in the woods, they often find some pretty interesting signs of wildlife!
One camera crew confirmed that, like foxes and wolves, bears do indeed relieve themselves in the woods.
A large pile of bear scat (normal sized for a bear) with a hiking boot for reference.
Bear scat can have different shapes and consistencies, depending on the seasonal availability of different foods and their changing diet. However, there is always quite a lot of it!
A member on our wolf team also found this well-preserved bear skeleton:
Detail of a bear skull (top) and the rest of the remaining bear skeleton (bottom).
Sometimes, the signs that wildlife leave behind of their presence can present a good story, like this bit of cambium chew on a small tree. Below this sapling, is a rodent hole - given the teeth marks and location, the very same rodent to burrow in this hole is also likely chewing on this tree. Pretty handy to have your kitchen pantry so close by!
Top: A small tree showing signs of cambium chew. The teeth marks indicate that the animal responsible is a small rodent. Bottom two: A burrow at the base of the small tree with tiny rodent tracks shown entering and leaving.
Sometimes, we are lucky enough to see actual wildlife, and not just sign of their presence, while in the forest!
Top to bottom and left to right: A tree swallow sits on a fence line; a fence lizard basks on a stump; two ground squirrels peek out of their burrow; a turkey vulture feasts on some carrion in the road; a second turkey vulture in flight.
That's all we've got for this month! Thanks for supporting the Wolverine Tracking Project, and we hope to see you back here next month for more of the exciting wildlife news from Mt. Hood!
The Wolverine Tracking Project Winter Wildlife Surveys have drawn to a close, and summer is just on the horizon. As we take a look back at findings and best photos from the season, we have a lot to celebrate! And, if you are so inclined, check out our official Wolverine Tracking Project annual research report here, for all the findings of the past year!
If you're a returning volunteer and would like to join the Wolf Team, contact us and let us know!
And now the review!
Wolverine Tracking Project Winter Findings
A snowy scenic image of Newton Creek submitted by a volunteer. A small creek divides two snowy banks, with a line of snow tipped trees and Mt. Hood in the background.
Volunteers retrieved beautiful trail camera images, took stellar pictures of tracks, kept their eyes peeled for scat, urine, and other sign, and supporters helped us meet our fundraising goal! All of these contributions allow us to continue building a robust narrative of the animals of Mt. Hood National Forest and allow us to keep documenting wildlife in a meaningful way. Whether you were part of a Camera Crew, a Tracker, or had wanted to join but weren't able to due to pandemic, or if instead you supported us from home: Thank you, thank you!
Camera Crews committed over 1000 hours to checking cameras and recording and uploading data! Trackers committed 137 hours and surveyed over 15 miles of transects, for a total of 181 tracks surveyed!
Happy Spring! While snow and cold will linger around the mountain for a bit, there is an undeniable warmth on the breeze. In the valleys, buds are bursting on trees, spring ephemerals are opening to greet the season, and we welcome all the new growth that this season brings!
At Cascadia Wild, we are celebrating the season with offerings of Spring Botany Classes and a new Tracking Challenge!
Our last tracking challenge was All About Squirrels, and here are the Tracking Challenge Winners!
Left to right (or top to bottom): Clearest Squirrel Tracks by Graham Hulbert (Tracking Leader); Most Unusual Squirrel Tracks by Alexis and Andrew (Camera Crew); Best Squirrel Sign by Sophie Dimont (WTP Intern).
Meanwhile, winter's not over yet for the Wolverine Tracking Project! Read on for our latest findings from our winter wildlife camera and tracking surveys.
wildlife Camera and Tracking surveys
We've had a couple detections - and a couple possible detections - of target species this month!
We are excited to share this camera footage of one target species, the Sierra Nevada red fox:
A Sierra Nevada red fox enters a snowy clearing to inspect a camera site.
We had two separate detections from this camera in the same night, a few hours apart. It is impossible to say whether this is the same individual without genetic evidence, but in both instances the fox in frame was cute and curious! If the sightings are of two separate individuals (of opposite sexes) we hope they are a pair. These images were taken during red fox mating season (January and February), and kits conceived during these winter months will be born between March and May.
A Tracking Leader also recently found some tracks that could possibly belong to a Sierra Nevada red fox:
Left to right (or top to bottom): A canine trail up a snowy hill on Mt. Hood; a canine track in deep snow is carefully measured.
The trail pattern and size of these tracks are right on for fox tracks. However, these characteristics could also indicate that these tracks were made by a coyote or domestic dog. Unfortunately, due to less than ideal snow quality, it is difficult to look for more differentiating characteristics. In an ideal tracking scenario we would look at the shape of the negative space between the toes and heel pad. In domestic dogs and coyotes, this negative space is shaped like an "X". In red foxes, this shape is an "H". This print is a double register - meaning the hind foot has stepped on top of the front print, obscuring the details of the front track. If we could clearly see the front track, we could also look at the shape of the heel pad. In coyotes and dogs, this shape is trapezoidal; on foxes, the heel pad is more "squished" looking and can show up looking more like a horizontal line.
For now, we'll have to log this track as "canine" - no matter how excited we might be about the possibility of detecting our most elusive montane fox!
This tracker also found some potential Sierra Nevada red fox scat on the same survey:
Small scat in the snow, with tape measure and a memo book for size reference.
This scat has a dramatic tapered end and is about as thick as your pinky finger, which are both good indicators for fox. However, like the tracks found nearby, the scat is also a little formless which could be due to age, diet, or even the snow. It's hard to know who this scat belongs to based on visual clues alone, but this sample was collected and genetic analysis can tell us for sure.
One of our long-time volunteers also sent us these canine tracks, which may belong to another target species, the gray wolf:
Left to right (or top to bottom): A trail of probable wolf prints leads off through the snow; a probable wolf print shown up close.
When considering canine tracks that may belong to a wolf, the most important consideration is size. Wolf tracks are larger than coyote tracks and much, much larger than foxes. They are also much larger than most domestic dogs, except for large breeds like Great Dane, Mastiff, and Rottweiler. And so, determining who these tracks belong to requires differentiating between large domestic dog tracks and wolf tracks.
Compared to domestic dog tracks, wolf tracks typically show a greater distance between the two outer toes (the interdigital space). The toes also point straight ahead instead of out, like they tend to do in dog tracks. Claws are long and pronounced, and thinner than in dog tracks. Wolf tracks also show a longer track with a proportionally smaller heel pad, and the track will show a downward angle in the direction the wolf is traveling, since they do not walk as flat footed as dogs do.
Like our possible fox tracks above, however, we don't have enough details to say for sure that these belong to a wolf and not a domestic dog. Details of the trail pattern and context would also be helpful to confirm an identification. Thus, we can only say that these are probable wolf tracks - but still an encouraging sighting nonetheless!
We also detected another target species - and this time we are sure of it! These photos below show the fierce mustelid, Pacific marten.
Left to right and top to bottom: Several detections show a Pacific marten approaching the bait tree in the center of a snowy camera site. It is unclear if these are the same or different individuals each time.
The photos above are from three separate detections of marten at this same site, where they have also been detected throughout the season. Like the Sierra Nevada red fox, we can't know for certain if this is the same individual without genetic data. Martens spend the winter roaming and hunting alone, and the territories of males will overlap with those of females, but males defend their territories against other males. So if these are separate individuals, they may be polygynous partners.
This magnificent mountain lion was also documented:
A mountain lion stands in a snowy clearing.
A rare detection in the mountains in winter, this is the third sighting of a mountain lion at this location this winter. The camera crew even found fresh mountain lion tracks at the site at each camera check! Oregon has a healthy population of about 6,000 mountain lions. Hunting regulations were instituted in 1961, after the population had been decimated to approximately 200 individuals, and thankfully they have since rebounded.
Another feline was also detected, the bobcat! The two white spots which visible on the back of their ears are thought to be false eyes which deter predators. Such distinctive markings (as well as the white underside of their tail) may also help trailing cubs follow their mother.
Top: A bobcat picks its way through the snowy camera site clearing. Bottom: A bobcat photographed mid-stride.
Bobcats have classic feline tracks, with toes that sit in a curve above the heel pad, allowing the space between the toes and heel pad to form a C shape. With a length of 2 1/2 inches, these tracks are too small to belong to a cougar but are just the size you would expect for a bobcat.
Left to right: A dainty trail of prints in several inches of snow left by a bobcat; a partially snow-obscured bobcat print photographed up close.
Coyotes were regular visitors by night and day, as they have been throughout the winter season.
Left to right/Top to bottom: A coyote sniffs around the bait sight clearing and then pauses in front of the trail camera; White Tip (a coyote noted previously at this camera site for her white-tipped tail) watches on as her companion urinates on the bait stump; a coyote rolls in bait on the forest floor; a coyote visiting at night-time stands on hind limbs to thoroughly investigate the bait box; a coyote digs in front of the bait tree while a cohort looks on with interest.
The camera sites also documented many, many deer, exemplifying a diversity of age and size found between deer and even within the same herd.
Left to right/Top to bottom: Deer of many sizes parade past the trail camera; a deer tentatively steps into a snowy clearing; a deer elegantly pauses with their forelimb raised; two deer dusted with snow walk by; a deer with head lowered enters a sun-dappled clearing.
Elk also roam the forest. They sometimes appear on our trail cameras solo, but they can appear in quite large herds, too - especially this time of year.
Left to right/Top to bottom: A bull elk shows their profile to the camera; a bull looks away from the camera; a group of elk stand in a cluster looking in different directions.
Although snowshoe hares are common sights on our trail cameras, their quantity does not diminish their quality.
A hare bounds around a camera site, looking out of frame and at the camera.
Snowshoe hares are an incredibly important prey species for many omnivores and carnivores, like two of our target species, Sierra Nevada red fox and gray wolf. In fact, they are such an integral part of the food chain that their population size can directly affect the population of predators in the area. But to catch a snowshoe hare, a hopeful carnivore must have keen eyes and quick paws. In winter, the coats of snowshoe hares often turn from brown to white, to help them blend into the snowy world around them. Also, snowshoe hares can cover up to 10 feet of distance in a single bound, and they can bound away from carnivores at a top speed of 27 miles per hour!
Other important prey species include the the California ground squirrel, western gray squirrel, and the Douglas squirrel.
Top to bottom: A California ground squirrel runs onto a log and then off a log; two western gray squirrels chase each other towards a stump; a Douglas squirrel runs across the snow.
California ground squirrels are known to hibernate during winter, but can emerge from their winter sleep as early as January, though some are not seen until March. Looks like this one in the first photo is an earlier riser! Western gray squirrels and Douglas squirrels are active all winter. In the second photo, we can see two gray squirrels chasing each other - either in a territorial or mating display.
We also detected striped skunks wandering by a couple of our cameras.
Top to bottom: a skunk walks away from the camera, a skunk walks parallel to the camera
We also detected a couple turkeys!
Two turkeys have a leisurely walk through a camera site.
We hope you are able to get out and enjoy a leisurely, spring stroll through the woods, too.
Thank you for checking out our blog, and be sure to check back in next month for more wildlife news!