Cascadia Wildlife Blog
News from the Wolverine Tracking Project and more
In January, we introduced our first ever Tracking Challenge. Every few weeks this winter, we'll be sharing a new challenge and a series of posts to inspire you to explore your neighborhood, parks, or the mountain for signs of wildlife in the tracks and sign they leave behind.
For our first challenge, we asked you for photos of tracks from any animal, no matter who made them. We received some excellent submissions! Here are the winners of the most distinct and the most clear tracks:
Most Clear Tracks
Left to right/Top to bottom: @buttsuponatime captured these perfect cat tracks! Carlene Blaich (Camera Crew and Tracking Team) found these exceptional snowshoe hare tracks on Mt. Hood. Kurt Zias wins honorable mention for some of the most clear marten tracks we have seen!
Most Unusual Tracks
Left to right/Top to bottom: Kurt Zias captured these screech owl tracks - notice the mouse trail to the right! Heidi Perry and John Lehne (Tracking Leaders and Camera Crew) encountered a black bear on a mid-winter stroll on Mt. Hood. Honorable Mention: Ray Anderson and Kathleen Baker (Camera Crew) didn't need tracks to identify this backyard visitor!
Explore the Natural world
Spring classes start next month!
Wildlife Camera and Tracking surveys
And now the wildlife news you've been waiting for!
First off, we would like to share our target species sightings this month.
Top: A Sierra Nevada red fox sniffs around one spot on the ground.
Bottom: a Sierra Nevada red fox walks through the frame, stopping to sniff the ground.
These two detections of Sierra Nevada red fox happened at night, about a week apart. They may be the same individual, or they may not. The same individual can look very different in different light settings, at different distances from the camera, and when detected in different modes of motion. Whether are not they are the same individual, both detections show the fox in question was very interested in something on the ground.
Another camera also detected another Sierra Nevada red fox… Or did it?!
A fox runs through the background of a camera site.
This individual is certainly a fox, but these photos were taken outside the expected range of Sierra Nevada red fox, as this site is stationed at a bit lower elevation than they have been documented in Mt. Hood National Forest. This site is also a bit higher elevation than we would typically expect to find a lowland subspecies of red fox. So who could this be?
The story of red fox subspecies and populations gets complicated. There are three different subspecies of red foxes in Oregon, the Sierra Nevada subspecies in the Cascades, the Rocky Mountain subspecies in the mountains of Eastern Oregon, and a lowland subspecies that is thought to be non-native in the sagebrush and bunchgrass country. In biology, the usual definition of a species is a group of animals that can breed with each other and produce fertile offspring (meaning their offspring can also have offspring). A group of animals is deemed a subspecies when they form a distinct group that is genetically distinguishable from the rest of the species. They are usually separated from the rest of the animals in the species by some sort of geographic or behavioral barrier. For example, the American black bear is a well known species of bear, but did you know they have 16 subspecies? These subspecies include the Florida black bear, the Louisiana black bear, and the West Mexican black bear, among others.
With our red foxes, what first seemed like three distinct subspecies, clearly separated from each other geographically and by differences in preferred habitat, is starting to become more cloudy. Rocky Mountain red fox have been detected close to Bend, Sierra Nevada red fox have been detected near the Willamette National Forest at lower elevations than they were expected to be found, the population on Mt Hood has been found to carry at least a few non-native genes, and now there is a mystery fox found in the no-man's land between where we expected to see Sierra Nevada and lowland subspecies.
At this point, we are wondering: Is this individual in the picture above an outlier, either from the Mt. Hood population or from lower elevations? In California, Sierra Nevada red foxes have been documented traveling at lower elevations during dispersal, and dispersal would not be out of question for any fox this time of year. Or, does this detection hint that the range of either Mt. Hood's Sierra fox might be lower than expected, or lowland foxes higher than expected?
Further documentation and obtaining genetic samples would be important in our understanding of home ranges, dispersal practices, and connectivity of Mt. Hood's Sierra Nevada red fox and other foxes in our region. We are excited to see what future documentations may tell us. For now, we wish this fox well on their way, wherever they may be going and whoever they may be.
Our cameras also detected another canine - the coyote!
Left to right/Top to bottom: A coyote looks into the camera. A coyote smells one of our bait boxes. A coyote pops a squat near a fallen tree trunk. A coyote trots through a camera site.
These lovable canines remain active throughout winter, and we detect them all over the forest at all different elevations. However, with much of the plant matter being dead or dormant, coyotes have to rely on their skills as a predator and scavenger to find their next meal. With an impressive range, they can roam up to 40 square miles searching for food (though probably not in a single day!). Their thick winter coat helps them stay warm as they look for their next meal.
Our next detection is a big predator, much like a canine, but in a much smaller package. Can you tell what species they are? They have a long body, short legs, and a fuzzy face, but don’t let that fool you…
A blurry weasel darts away from our bait tree.
We detected a weasel! What these small mammals lack in fat stores, they make up for with ruthless survival tactics. Weasels do not have a permanent den, but instead will use their small, long body to sneak into rodent’s dens, prey upon the rodent, and then use the rodent’s den for a nap. They curl up into a ball ball to conserve heat, and once they're rested, they set out again to find new prey. Due to their fast metabolism, weasels need to eat at least five times a day.
Now onto our feline friends. First up, the mountain lion! This is our first mountain lion detection this season, or least the back half of one.
The torso, back legs, and tail of a mountain lion seem to be walking out of frame.
Mountain lions do not hibernate or migrate great distances in winter, meaning they stay in the same general area year-round. With that being said, mountain lions are altitudinal migrants and follow ungulates to lower elevations during winter to retain a dependable food source. Much like us, throughout the snowy months, mountain lions will visually track deer using their footprints in the snow.
Much like their feline cousin, bobcats also stay active all winter.
Left to right/Top to bottom: The eyes of a bobcat glow in the night. A bobcat dashes by. A bobcat calmly walks through a camera site.
For most of the year bobcats are crepuscular, but in winter they transition to being more active throughout the day to have a better chance of finding some diurnal prey.
Another important forest carnivore, black bear were detected! However, unlike the canines and felines of the forest, black bear are not typically active all winter.
Left/top: A black bear is barely discernible as an outline in the wintry weather. Right/bottom: Bear tracks in the snow.
Not only were black bears detected on camera in January, but a camera crew also found their tracks while checking a different camera. It is very exciting to see these bear tracks in such beautiful detail! In fact, these bear track photos WON the Tracking Challenge for Most Unusual Tracks found on Mt. Hood! (See More Tracking Challenge Winners)
Left/top: The front right paw print of a black bear. Right/bottom: The left hind print of a black bear.
The first photo above shows the right front paw. You can make out all five toes, and below the toes are the palm pad. Black bears also have a heel pad below the palm on each foot, which may not always register, as is the case in this photo. The second photo above shows the left hind paw print. Many a bear track may have been confused with sasquatch (and vice versa!), and you can begin to see why. However, unlike human feet, the inside toe is the smallest and lower than the others, and the "big toe" is on the outside. The hind foot has larger palm and heel pads than the front, and, in this case, the heel pad registered. You can make out the claws and the folds of skin on this bear's foot, too!
Now you may be wondering: why is a black bear awake in winter? Bears are not “true” hibernators like many animals that burrow and hole up for winter. In the winter, bears, raccoons, and skunks hibernate by going into torpor, an involuntary state of reduced activity and lowered metabolic rate for energy conservation, but not into a total and extended dormancy like chipmunks, bees, toads, and so on. The overall time a black bear can spend in its den in torpor hibernation varies geographically from 0-7 months, and in Oregon it has been reported as usually lasting between 5-6 months. However, whereas true hibernators like ground squirrels need to wake up every week or so for sustenance and to pass waste, bears can stay in their torpor state without needing to wake for up to 100 days - or they can remain in torpor for much shorter periods. During warmer spells, black bears in torpor are more likely to stir and may emerge to forage, as perhaps was the case with this individual.
All these important carnivores around, and no wonder! We have also been detecting a lot of ungulates, deer and elk, who make up important parts of the diets of coyotes, mountain lions, and black bears.
An male elk with a thick reddish mane eyes the trail camera.
The camera sites captured several large elk herds on the move, and it's a sight to see! But have you ever wondered how to tell if you're looking at an elk or a deer? This elk above exhibits the thick mane and hump on the shoulders that is common in elk and absent in deer. Compared to deer, adult elk are also significantly larger, the hair of their mane and legs is dark, they have a large white rump patch, and their tail is short and completely white.
Top: A large herd of elk gather in a clearing.
Bottom: An animated gif showing elk passing by in front of a camera.
In Oregon, we have two subspecies of elk: Roosevelt and Rocky Mountain elk. We also have two species of deer, white-tail deer and mule deer, plus a subspecies of mule deer called black-tailed deer. White-tail deer have brown hair on the dorsal (top) surface of their tail, and mule deer have a white tail with a brown tip. The deer shown below are black-tail deer. You can tell where they get their name: the topside of their tails are covered with dark hair. All these deer also have white hair on the ventral (underside) of their tails - all the better to signal to the herd with!
Left to right/Top to bottom: Two deer race through the snowy camera site clearing. Two deer stand nose to nose. Two deer walk through the snow. A young buck shows off his winter molt. Another buck approaches the camera.
Snowshoe hare continue to be regular and welcome visitors to several camera sites.
Left to right/Top to bottom: A snowshoe hare crouches in some underbrush. A snowshoe hare hops through a snowy camera site. A snowshoe hare bounds along a game trail.
There were also many squirrel sightings, like these western gray squirrels:
Left to right/Top to bottom: A western gray squirrel pauses on a log; bounds through the snow; pauses in a grassy clearing; sits upright amid snow patches; and streaks through a camera site.
Did we go a month without a Douglas squirrel sighting...? Rest assured we did not!
A Douglas squirrel pauses on a log, obscured by fog.
Trackers also encountered a lot of squirrel and snowshoe hare tracks on transects! These common winter wildlife species both can have bounding trail patterns, and learning to tell the two apart can be tricky at first.
Left/top: A snowshoe hare left all four paw prints in the snow. Right/bottom: A snowshoe hare trail in snow.
Now, this is one classic snowshoe hare print above! Notice the "T" shape made the two larger hind paw prints side by side, and the two smaller circular front paws prints one after the other. The mismatched size of the prints made by larger hind paws and smaller forepaws is a good characteristic to look for in hare tracks (but squirrels tracks have this characteristic too!).
See the series of "T"s as the hare hopped along? This rabbit's stride (the distance between two prints made by the same foot) was 23" in this picture. Now, compare this to squirrel tracks:
Left/top: a cluster of a set of squirrel tracks in the snow. Right/bottom: A squirrel trail in the snow intersects with a trail of humans.
In the close up of squirrel tracks above, we see larger hind paws positioned in front of smaller fore paws, as with the snowshoe hare, but it appeared as a cluster of four prints rather than a "T". Hare's front feet tend to leave a staggered "T" pattern, while the front feet of squirrels tend to land side by side. You can see this consistently play out in their trial pattern on the right/bottom above.
Below is the first raccoon that cameras have detected this season. Raccoons remain active year-round. Like bears, they do not fully hibernate, but are less active during the winter. Here's a cropped photo with the exposure increased - that striped tail is a giveaway!
A raccoon, barely visible, walks through some fallen logs.
Our final visitor this past month was the striped skunk!
A striped skunk strides off into the undergrowth.
Like black bears and raccoons, these mammals are less active throughout the winter as they undergo hibernation torpor. Looks like these snowless conditions were still good rambling for this skunk.
Until next time, smell ya later! And be well.
We want to start things off this New Year by thanking all of our readers, our volunteers, and our supporters for all their contributions that made 2020 such a success!
And, we have great news for 2021!
Read more about about our classes.
This month, we made the difficult decision to cancel our Group Tracking Surveys for the remainder of the season. As the pandemic numbers in our region continue to climb, and with the introduction of the new strain of coronavirus, and given the social nature of the group tracking surveys, we feel that it is in the best interest of the health of our volunteers, tracking leaders, and greater community. We are still encouraging self-organized surveys, and we are looking forward to a time when we can all reunite on the mountain and follow snowy trails together again soon.
Meanwhile, as snows fall on the Mt. Hood National Forest, life continues on its winter course! Some of our most exciting wildlife finds are in the winter. Read on to find out about some of the wildlife documented on our Camera Surveys, Self-Organized Tracking Surveys, and other findings from our community while spending time in nature!
Read more about the Wolverine Tracking Project
Over the past month, we have seen a flurry of inquisitive Pacific marten activity! Pacific marten are one of our four target species along with wolverine, gray wolf, and Sierra Nevada red fox. Marten are an indicator species of upper elevation forests - if the marten population is healthy, we can infer that the ecosystem as a whole is healthy.
Top: An animated GIF of a Pacific marten, shown first appraising the bait tree, then approaching and sniffing the bait box, and finally bounding away through the snow. Bottom: A series of the three individual photos of the GIF above.
Pacific martens and their cousin, the weasel, have a typical gait and track pattern literally referred to as "bounding." The mechanics of the bound for the marten is that the whole body is used in the jumping motion, and both front feet are moved forward followed by both back feet which land just where the front footprints were - and the motion repeats!
Martens are active year-round and do not hibernate. Individuals readily adapt their patterns of hunting and resting, these camera sightings of marten have occurred both in broad daylight and in the dead of night.
Top: A marten travels through the camera site in the snow. In this nocturnal marten visit, the animal appears much larger than in previous images due to proximity to the camera; this effect is known in photography as forced perspective. Middle: A nocturnal marten leaves a trail of footprints in the snow past the bait box. Bottom: A marten hurries towards the bait box in a blur of motion.
This was a very lucky month indeed to have so many marten detections!
Coyotes are frequent visitors regardless of the season, as they also remain active year-round. They have been particularly interested in our bait this past month.
Top to bottom, left to right: Two coyotes visit a site and one of them investigates our bait, marking the spot to leave its own scent there, too; one coyote puts their paws up on the bait tree to get closer to the bait; a coyote rolls on the ground near a bait tree; and two coyotes visit a camera site and one of them sniffs our bait - or possibly where the coyote in the first photo marked!
There is no straightforward answer to why coyotes might like smelly bait, but we often detect them sniffing or rolling in bait that we find smells quite... well... off-putting. They could simply like the smell and want to put on a little "perfume", or it could be a more poignant survival technique. Researchers posit that, along with other reasons, they interact with smelly things in hopes that it makes them smell like larger animals which would thwart predation, or on the flip side, mask their own scent from the animals they hunt. Either way, many coyotes leave our camera sites smelling stinky!
Even with the arrival of our first winter snows, black bears continued to surprise us with their visits on the east side of Mt. Hood. These photos were taken in late December, a little late in the season for black bear to still be active and not hibernating! Interestingly, black bears were also observed to be active in the same area in January of last year.
Left to right, top to bottom: a black bear rumbles off without sparing a glance for the camera or bait; a black bear walks along the game trail; a black bear's attention is arrested by something off-camera; a black bear stands still, as if contemplating the snow beneath their feet.
As always, deer have also been abundant, especially at our lower elevation and east side sites, where deer tend to travel to during the winter. During the deer mating season (or "rut"), when these pictures were taken, we observed many handsomely antlered bucks trailing after does. Those antlers surely came in handy during clashes with romantic rivals.
Top: An animated gif of a doe gingerly stepping through a clearing and over some fallen branches, followed closely by a buck. Bottom, left to right: a bucks antlers on close display; and a buck at a slow trot down a game trail.
In the winter, when male deer from the year prior are adult size and the antlers of mature deer have shed, it becomes much more difficult to distinguish male and female deer by sight. Winter coats appear at their fullest at this time as well.
Top: a member of a snow-dusted deer herd checks out the bait.
Bottom: A deer peeps out from behind a curtain of evergreen boughs.
Snowshoe hares continue to be in their element as winter waxes on, keeping nocturnal activity interesting for the trail camera on otherwise quiet snowy nights
A snowshoe hare pauses as snow flurries around them.
Another constant and lively presence was the western gray squirrel. They are the largest tree squirrel in Oregon and will remain active throughout the winter months.
A western gray squirrel crosses a fallen log (left) and another pauses for a moment, ready to dash off (right).
Squirrels aren't always so cooperative for our motion-activated cameras, as this Douglas squirrel demonstrates:
Small, fast, and hardly visible in the shadows of a snowy landscape, a Douglas squirrel pauses under a log.
Twinkling snowfall and determined, self-organized trackers made for some great finds!
Our first tracks belong to a mustelid, the weasel! As discussed above about their cousin marten, weasels also have a bounding gait which is typical for animals with short limbs and long, tube-like bodies.
Left: Tracks which show the bounding gait of a weasel. Right: Close up of a weasel track.
Another track that was seen out on Mt Hood was left behind by a bobcat. Feline tracks will usually register four toes in the front feet and four toes in the hind feet and have a “direct register walk” gait, which means that the hind footprints usually land on top of the front footprints of the same side, and the footprints are evenly spaced. However, here, it looks like the bobcat had stopped walking and rested. The lower parts of the bobcat's legs left those long imprints in the snow.
Bobcat tracks layered on top of each other in the snow
Some of the most common tracks found belong to snowshoe hare and squirrel.
These two animals have similar gaits, which makes sense seeing how they both hop through the snow, similar to the bounding gait of weasels and martens. The abundance of these tracks is a good sign for bobcats and other carnivores who stay active throughout the winter. Can you tell which tracks belong to which species?
Top two images: Douglas squirrel tracks and trail. Bottom two images: Snowshoe hare tracks and trail.
The top two images are of squirrel tracks and the bottom two images are of snowshoe hare tracks.
Off the mountain, in Portland’s Oxbow Park, some members of our community found some intriguing animal sign. This first image is of a bird's nest, well-weathered by the Portland rain.
A bird's nest in a moss covered tree
Next we have a two different kinds of woodpecker holes on a cedar tree. This pileated woodpecker hole is many years old and has scarred over. The little holes are due to a sapsucker that has drilled holes to bring sap out. We've never seen a sapsucker drilling on top of an old pileated hole before!
An old woodpecker hole in a cedar tree
Last, but not least, two volunteers found some striking sign. On their way out to a camera check they came across the bones of a small deer. These ungulates are important prey animals for many carnivores, such as canines, felines, and bears that roam the forest. These bones are also an important source of calcium and other minerals and nutrients for many wildlife of the forest, including other herbivores and omnivores.
Ungulate carcasses laying on open ground, leaves have collected around the bones
A Very Special Sighting
Keri Sprenger, a long time Wolverine Tracking Project volunteer and current Winter Camera Survey volunteer, shared with us these gorgeous photos from her encounter with a Cascade red fox at Paradise Park on Mt. Rainier. Cascade red foxes are a subspecies of montane (high altitude) red fox which occupy the Cascade Range north of the Columbia River. Our target subspecies, the Sierra Nevada red fox, are only found in the Cascades and Sierras south of the Columbia River.
Top: A Cascade red fox glances back at the camera. Bottom: The same Cascade red fox with cross phase coloration stands in full profile at the edge of a snowy road. Photo credit: Keri Sprenger, Wolverine Tracking Project volunteer.
This individual is a cross phase fox, one of three color phases which occur in wild red fox populations, along with the quintessential red phase and silver phase (black). Color phase is a lifelong, genetically determined coat coloration, also called a polymorph, and does not vary with age or season. Cross phase foxes are characterized by a band of dark fur running down their back and shoulders in a cross shape. This individual is further distinguished by a white sock on their left hind paw.
The Cascade red fox is also characterized by a white half-sock on her left hind foot. This distinctive white foot has been noted by many visitors of Mt. Rainier's Paradise Park over the years. This animal looks close due to use of a telephoto lens. Photo credit: Keri Sprenger, Wolverine Tracking Project volunteer.
Cascades Carnivore Project, one of our partner organizations, has a project focusing on Cascade red fox conservation. Cascades Carnivore Project has highlighted a female Cascade red fox named Whitefoot, whom they first encountered in 2011. Could this be her?! If so, this would make this fox at least 9 years old - which is quite old for a wild, montane fox!
If you are ever on Mt. Rainer keep an eye out for this fox, and photograph from a respectful distance.
Thank you to Keri and all our amazing volunteers, your sharp eye for beautiful wildlife reminds us why this area of research is so exciting and important!
As winter sets in, the days grow longer, providing more opportunity to enjoy the abundance of the natural world and offering hope for the days to come.
From all of us at Cascadia Wild, may you have many blessings in the new year.
As we look back at 2020, a year of many challenges and changes, the unwavering presence of our community stands out most of all. Thank you for showing up, offering your support, and committing your time and energy to volunteer, expand your naturalist skills, join our clubs, or simply read along and take part in our news and stories. Thank you for being there.
As we look ahead to 2021, we are excited to be continuing the community science Wolverine Tracking Project wildlife surveys on Mt. Hood. We are also looking forward to offering new classes that explore the local, natural world, and to continuing our community clubs. We hope to expand these programs and our community, better reaching underserved groups so that we all can partake in a deeper relationship with the flora, fauna, and landscape of the Pacific Northwest.
We look forward to you being there as well!
If you are able and would like to help support our goals in 2021, please consider making a year-end contribution. All donations will be generously matched through January 2nd!
Whether you can give $1 or $100, you help shape the future of Cascadia Wild.
Our heartfelt gratitude to everyone who is able to contribute their time, money, skills, and knowledge.
We are Cascadia Wild!
Summer Season Review
In footage from this summer that was only retrieved recently, we detected these two gray wolves:
Two gray wolves walk by the trail camera
Due to the angle of the camera and the placement of the animals, these individuals were hard to identify, but here are a few of our justifications. Both these individuals have large feet and an overall gray, grizzled coat, and the second wolf has a significant amount of black in their coat. While there is overlap between wolves and coyotes in both paw size and coat coloration, coyotes more often display tawny coloration and smaller feet than gray wolves. Furthermore, the second wolf individual has a broader face and smaller ears in proportion to their face than we would expect from a coyote. Even with those justifications, this is still a really hard identification. Determining the differences between coyotes and wolves is difficult and is a skill that benefits from time and practice - if you would like to test your own skills, check out this quiz from ODFW!
This is Cascadia Wild's fourth detection of gray wolves! Woohoo! Our first detection was in the summer of 2018, where we detected the White River breeding pair. This was one of the preliminary documentations of this pair in Mt. Hood National Forest. In the summer of 2019, we detected two wolves at two different locations. Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife believes that these were also the White River breeding pair. This most recent detection was on the east side of the forest within areas of known wolf activity of the White River pack, so we can make an educated assumption that these individuals also belong to the White River pack. Furthermore, ODFW has also advised that their coloration is consistent with the other members of the White River pack. This is very exciting news and it confirms that our White River pack is still utilizing the same territory.
This year we had seven detections of our target species Sierra Nevada red fox at two sites! We detected Sierra fox in both alpine and subalpine habitats.
A Sierra Nevada red fox stands by a rock with Mt Hood in the background
A Sierra Nevada red fox inspects a tree felled by a windstorm
Historically, the majority of our fox detections occur during winter. One previous hypothesis as to why we saw so many more during the winter was that they might be experiencing food scarcity and therefore more drawn to our winter meat baits. However, these numerous summer sightings molded a new working hypothesis - for two summers in a row we have detected Sierra fox at high elevations, which suggests that these foxes may be seasonal migrants, spending the summer months at higher elevation, where there are less trees for us to install our cameras, and descending to somewhat lower elevations during the winter months. We cannot wait to see what new information arises in future seasons!
Along with our target species, we have also had a couple new detections this season!
We have never detected these species on our trail cameras before.
We detected an American mink...
A mink scampers across a fallen tree
...and a couple of bats!
Bats fly in front of one of our trail cameras
Though we have detected grouse in past seasons, we have never captured a moment like this.
See the exposed patch on the side of the neck? Those are the air sacs of a male sooty grouse, presented in their mating display! This individual was seen not long after a female grouse was also detected. Maybe we'll see some juvenile grouselings in this area next summer!
A mating display of a sooty grouse
It is exciting to have so many new faces, but we always appreciate visits from our regular crew of Mt. Hood mammals. Documenting a wide variety of wildlife allows us to add to our ever-growing knowledge of the forest.
Some species were recurrent throughout the forest, and we received images of them from around Mt. Hood and the eastern boundary.
Our most frequent visitor by far was deer! Individuals or small herds were detected at 95% of all our camera sites, which means they were present at all but one site. Our camera footage allowed us to watch fawns grow up and antlers mature.
Left to right, top to bottom: A doe looks into the camera, a buck shows off their antlers, a fawn sneaks between a gap in a log, a doe and fawn share a sweet moment
Their ungulate cousin, elk, were also detected on our cameras. They said hello to 8 of our cameras throughout the forest.
Left to right, top to bottom: A cow looks at the camera, a bull walks through a camera site, a cow pauses with her calf and looks back at our trail camera
Another frequent visitor was coyote, who was spotted at 70% of of our sites. Consistent with past years, coyotes were prevalent all over the map. These opportunistic feeders can be found in alpine, subalpine, and montane habitats throughout Mt. Hood National Forest.
A coyote walks by
One of our favorite individuals this season spent a few minutes rolling around at one of our sites.
Video: A coyote rolls in our scent bait at the base of a short rock wall
Another regular was a fan favorite... the black bear!
A black bear pauses with their paw on a log
Let's not forget the rolling cubs! You should really watch those videos, they will brighten your day!
Videos: Black bear cubs roll at the location of our stinky scent bait at the base of a stump or log
Bobcats visited 7 of our sites. These solitary cats were found in both subalpine and montane habitats.
A bobcat pauses in the middle of a camera site
We also detected a variety of squirrels all over the map, including the Douglas squirrel...
A Douglas squirrel sits on the branch of a fallen tree
...Northern flying squirrel...
A Northern flying squirrel runs across a log
...and the golden mantled ground squirrel.
A golden mantled ground squirrel pops their into the camera frame
Mountain lion was only detected on the east side of the forest this season, and only at two sites. This is slightly unusual because mountain lions were detected at 5 different camera sites last summer and 4 different camera sites two summers ago. While we can't draw any concrete conclusions from these observations, cougar distribution will be interesting to track in future summer surveys.
A mountain lion walks towards the trail camera
There were a handful of smaller critters who were only detected on the eastern side of the forest, including striped skunks.
A striped skunk looks at the ground below the log it is standing on
We only detected California ground squirrels on the east side of the forest. We do not usually find California ground squirrels or striped skunks close to Mt. Hood, so we expected to detect them in this area.
A California ground squirrel is well camouflaged into their surroundings
We also detected chipmunks. Chipmunks can be found in alpine, subalpine, and montane forest throughout the map, so it was unusual to only detect them on the eastern boundary.
A chipmunk stand on the very edge of frame
We also detected quite a few turkeys!
Three turkeys explore a camera site
Besides the Sierra Nevada red fox, there were two species only detected close to Mt. Hood: the yellow-bellied marmot and the raccoon.
We only detected the yellow-bellied marmot at high elevation. Marmots are only found in alpine environments, or sometimes just at the edge of subalpine. They are adapted to live in this environment, munching on alpine vegetation and burrowing in the talus slopes from the first sign of snow until March-May.
A marmot peeks at the camera
This is the only raccoon we detected this summer:
A raccoon ducks behind some brush and out of view of the trail camera
Along with camera data, we also accumulated a mountain of scat throughout the summer. Volunteers on our scat survey teams collect these genetic samples to help add to the narrative about our two target canines: gray wolf and Sierra Nevada red fox.
Members of the Wolf Scat Survey Team surveyed 243 miles and found 10 potential wolf scats on the eastern side of the forest.
Members of the Fox Scat Survey Team covered 54 miles and found 15 potential Sierra Nevada red fox scat samples, mostly around treeline of Mt. Hood!
Left: A testable wolf scat; Right: A testable Sierra fox scat.
The diameter, tapered end, and contents of the scat shown in the photo on the left suggest that this sample is potentially wolf scat. The white-ish hue is due to the scat's age. As wolf scat gets older, it turns from a darker brown to a more chalky white. Even though a scat sample may be older, it is still possible to extract a good amount of DNA for analysis.
We look forward to seeing if any of the scats are a genetic match to their potential species and, if so, to the information that they can tell us about how the native ancestry, distribution, and habitat use of these two important canids. Our scat surveys will resume next summer, when the snows have cleared from the forest.
But, while the snows are here, the camera survey continues and tracking season begins!
Winter wildlife surveys begin!
As the first snows blanket Mt. Hood National Forest, a whole new wintry world of wildlife opens up to the Wolverine Tracking Project. While we are just at the start of the winter wildlife camera and tracking season, please enjoy a compilation of species and tracks observed so far, thanks to the efforts of our amazing volunteers. Look forward to more in the coming months!
A small sapling is progressively blanketed by snow until only the crown is visible.
Snow level can rise several feet very quickly on the mountain, and volunteers anticipate this by gradually raising the height of the bait box so it remains accessible to passing wildlife.
Always a favorite, several charismatic coyotes interacted with camera sites both east and close to Mt. Hood.
Top: A coyote glances at the trail camera, as if unsure.
Middle: A trio of coyotes, yes a trio, sweep through this camera site.
Bottom: A coyote strikes a pose while contemplating that strange odor coming from the bait box.
Coyotes are social and expressive. Always adaptable, coyotes can operate solo, as a mated pair, or as part of a pack. Another great adaptation for winter is their thick coats. In the photo directly above, notice that the snowflakes which have settled on this animal's pelt have not melted, it's insulating properties are an amazing adaptation!
Cat lovers should love out next charismatic carnivore: bobcat.
Top: In this photo, only the reflective eyes of the bobcat are visible at first glance.
Middle: A bobcat almost completely blended into their surroundings.
Bottom: A bobcat sniffs the bait box.
The effect of these glowing eyes, which you may have noticed in photos of your cat or dog, is due to a reflective layer called the tapetum, which gives nocturnal animals night vision by reflecting light back into their retinas. All the better to hunt with!
Bobcat's coats are both beautiful and functional, providing both camouflage and insulating protection. These big cats thrive throughout the winter months due to their thick coats. Their fur can become less brown and more gray during winter which allows them to better camouflage into their surroundings.
Bobcat footprints in the snow.
The heavily furred, large paws of bobcats also help them navigate the snow, kind of like snowshoes!
Black bears were also an occasional visitor to several of our camera sites.
Top: A black bear snuffles the ground in front of a trail camera.
Bottom: a black bear walks through the same site.
Black bears are the only bear species in Oregon so it is very easy for our team to identify their pictures! It won't be long until black bears are in hibernation, so we will enjoy seeing them (from a safe distance) while we can!
Making jokes about weasels and their cousins, which scientists call mustelids, is a must for us at Wolverine Tracking Project (haha).
A weasel bounds through the snow.
Though the weasel above is moving so fast the picture is blurred, the long body and dark-tipped tail are both characteristics of long-tailed weasels.
Top: Weasel footprints in the snow. Bottom: Weasels are also known to meander, and this one weaseled their way into a little natural nook.
A tracker also detected the larger cousin of the weasel: the Pacific marten.
Left: the trail of a Pacific marten; and Right: the detail of a marten's tracks.
The Pacific marten is one of our two mustelid target species. The other is the wolverine, the largest mustelid cousin. While we are still waiting for wolverine to make a return appearance to Mt. Hood, we are always encouraged by the tracks of marten, who are an indicator of a healthy upper-elevation forest. All mustelids have similar footprints, characterized by five clawed toes and an inverted V-shaped heel pad.
No matter the time of year, it is certain that we will have some lovely photos of cervids (deer and elk, keep an eye out for flying cervids over the holidays!)
A spike elk considers the trail camera.
This male elk above is referred to as a "spike elk" meaning he has at least one antler without any branching. This is most common of younger males under six years old, although genetic, environmental, and health factors may also play a role in delayed, mature growth. In his prime, his antlers may grow as many as 6 or 7 branches, each with their own tips or "points." Male elk are called bulls, female elk are called cows, and their offspring are called calves.
Top: Male deer (bucks) seen close up. Bottom: A herd of female deer (does) traverse a lightly snowed field.
These snowy tracks belong to a deer.
Snowshoe hares are always entertaining visitors to camera sites and their tracks are seen more frequently by volunteers than almost any other species.
A peaceful picture of a snowshoe hare in the snow.
Left: a snowshoe hare trail. Right: detail of a snowshoe hare's front and hind tracks.
Although a little difficult to visualize at first, snowshoe hare tracks form a "T" shape. This is due to their bounding gait, where the front feet land and the hind feet follow next, landing just in front of the front feet.
A snowshoe hare pauses under a log. Photo credit: Keri Sprenger, Wolverine Tracking Project Volunteer
A camera crew unexpectedly got to see this bright-eyed snowshoe hare in person! It is very unusual to encounter them in broad daylight, and the volunteer kept a respectful distance from the animal while capturing this image. You never knew what you might see when you venture out into nature!
Striped skunks are our next species.
A skunk holds it's lovely striped tail aloft as it passes by.
Next we have sightings of several squirrel species.
Left: A western gray squirrel pauses (left); while a California ground squirrel also takes a moment of repose (right).
Western gray squirrels are the largest tree squirrel in Oregon. They are rivaled in size by the California ground squirrel (although the prize for largest ground squirrel in Oregon goes to the marmot!). Similar in appearance the western gray squirrel, the California ground squirrel is not gray but very subtly spotted.
Left: An acrobatic Douglas squirrel caught by the camera mid-leap.
Right: A chipmunk, almost impossible to spot at first as it is so well camouflaged against the forest floor.
On the other side of size, Douglas squirrel is one the smallest tree squirrels in Oregon (Northern flying squirrels win for the tiniest tree squirrel). Chipmunks, on the other hand, are even smaller and are the smallest ground squirrels in Oregon.
Squirrel tracks in snow
The squirrel tracks above belong to one of our non-hibernating squirrels of the upper-elevation forest: Douglas squirrel or Northern flying squirrel. They have a similar trail pattern as a snowshoe hare, thanks to their bounding gait, but they are much, much smaller!
Our only ground bird camera visitor was wild turkey.
A "rafter" of wild turkeys foraging.
On our tracking surveys, trackers found these great sooty grouse tracks! Sooty grouse and turkeys are both important ground birds for our forest carnivores.
Tracks from a sooty grouse.
Thank you so much to all our camera crew and tracking teams for venturing out, helping to document the wildlife of Mt. Hood National Forest, and sharing your experiences with us!
Until next time, we thank everyone in the Cascadia Wild Community for their support and wish you all the best in the New Year!