Cascadia Wildlife Blog
News from the Wolverine Tracking Project and more
Cascadia Wild News
Hello everyone! Before we get to the findings from the Wolverine Tracking Project's Wildlife Camera, Fox, and Wolf Surveys, we have some news to share!
Join the Fox Team!
August's shortening, golden days are here, but there's still plenty of time to help out with the Sierra Nevada Red Fox Scat Survey!
The Sierra fox lives in the upper elevations of the Sierra Nevadas and the Cascades of California and Oregon. You may have heard the recent news that the foxes in the Sierras will be protected under the Endangered Species Act. Why are these foxes federally protected and not the rest of the Sierra Nevada red foxes in CA and OR? Although a Conservation Strategy Species in Oregon and protected in California, we simply do not know enough about them, including those on Mt. Hood, in order for wildlife managers to determine if their populations are endangered. The genetic information collected on this survey helps us understand these elusive, native foxes and directly informs these kinds of decisions.
Be part of this groundbreaking research this summer!
Volunteers have been working hard to document the wildlife in the forest this past month. Although no target species (wolverine, gray wolf, Sierra Nevada red fox, or Pacific marten) of the Wolverine Tracking Project were documented on camera, volunteers did find some potential fox and wolf scat. And, we've got plenty of other exciting sightings to share. We've seen quite a few pairings and even groups of animals, so stick around for those!
Remember that awful heatwave that gripped the PNW a few weeks ago? These coyotes braved the scorching temperatures, and if you look closely, you can see them with their mouths open, panting, to help cool down.
Top: A closeup of a coyote with its mouth open. Bottom: A side view of a coyote with its mouth open.
Sometimes we even get great photos like this one below. If this coyote had social media, this would definitely be a profile picture! In the second photo, we can see another coyote, majestically walking along a mountaintop ridge - what a good life!
Top: A coyote from the side view, staring straight into the camera, the front left paw is lifted.
Bottom: A coyote walks along a ridge, examining the hair snagging station as it passes by.
Single coyote detections are by far the most common sighting we see, but they can travel in pairs or threes, sometimes in even larger groups than that. From a quick glance below, it appears there's only two coyotes, but if you look closely, you'll see another one comes into the mix totaling three coyotes. This other coyote conveniently has a white-tipped tail, which isn't exactly unusual, but it's definitely distinct. We've seen another white-tipped coyote in this area before, and it's possible this is the same one. However, there's also potential for it to be another member of the pack.
A coyote comes up to the bait stump, sniffs it, then marks (urinates) on the ground next to it, and runs off. Another, with a white-tipped tail, smells the bait stump, but eventually walks off. A third coyote walks up to the bait stump and marks the ground.
Coyotes are curious creatures and we will often catch them sniffing, rolling, and marking at our camera sites. Marking (urinating, defecating, rubbing, or rolling) happens for a variety of reasons, urine being used most commonly to outline territory, mostly by males. Females also will mark, but more to define their den's territory. The first coyote that marks the ground gets really low, almost putting her bottom to the ground, indicating this is a female. The second coyote is in a semi-squatted position and lowers his belly, indicating this is a male. Juvenile male coyote will squat to relieve themselves, making use of the leg lift once they reach a certain age. However, male coyotes can also be lazy and use the squat method when they feel like it.
Below, a great example of coyote scat. It's got nice long, tapered ends and is twisted in the appearance, especially the left piece, characteristic of canine scat. With a diameter of around an inch, it's likely to be a coyote's.
A coyote scat, consisting of two pieces, a small one on the bottom and a bigger one above it. Both are extremely long and tapered at the ends.
Moving onto felines, first up we've got the magnificent mountain lion. This animal goes by many names - cougar, puma, panther, el leon, catamount, and many more! - but they all refer to this animal here, Puma concolor. The term panther, or more specifically black panther, is also used used for melanistic leopards (Panthera pardus) and jaguars (Panthera onca). Mountain lions have the most extensive range out of any other mammal in the Western Hemisphere, from the Canadian Yukon to The Straits of Magellan. Body size greatly varies depending on region, with on average, smaller individuals near the equator and larger ones closer to the poles. With so many different communities spanning across that range, it's no wonder everyone had a different name for the animal!
The backside of a mountain lion in mid-stride, seen at night.
Next up in the feline family is the bobcat. Roughly twice the size of your average domestic cat, weighing no more than 40 lbs. In comparison, cougars can weigh anywhere from 65-220 lbs. Bobcats are one of four lynx species found in the world. Not to be confused with the three other lynx species, Canadian, Iberian, and Eurasian lynx, the bobcat inhabits warmer climates, lower latitudes, and are just a tad smaller than the others. Bobcats' red-tinged and spotted coats help them blend in with their surroundings in order to gain the upper hand on their main food source - hares. The snowshoe hare is most commonly seen hare in the Mt. Hood National Forest.
Top to bottom: A bobcat walks through the camera site from left to right; a bobcat takes a pause to sniff the bait stump, its coat is a red-tint, and the tips of the ears, tail, and feet are black; a curious bobcat sniffs around the forest floor, then stands up in an alerted position, and quickly runs off.
The snowshoe hare, the favorite meal of the bobcat and an important part of the diet of other forest carnivores, is usually seen at night. Their name stems from the large hind feet they possess, which has a snowshoe effect in the snow. This prevents them from sinking, and allows them to hop around with ease during those winter months. Their running abilities would put Usain Bolt to shame at a top speed of 50 miles an hour!
A snowshoe hare, seen at night, sits and stares into camera.
Similarly to other forest carnivores, bobcats will also mark their home range. Marking can also signify courtship, which is one of the only time these felids are not solitary, save for the 9 months where females raise their young. Going back to our discussion about coyotes, we can tell this particular bobcat is a female based on how she is marking.
A lone bobcat walks through the camera site, pausing for a moment to pop a squat before heading off-screen.
Two potential bobcat scats are shown below. In the first photo, evidence of scratching can be seen, a practice that can be seen among felids. Scratching sites are used by felines to communicate, and can even be in use for decades! This scat isn't as blunt as the mountain lion scat seen above, but no two scats are alike, even coming from the same individual. At around 0.75" in diameter, that puts this scat solidly in bobcat range.
The second photo shows more segmented and blunt ended pieces of scat. There's also hardly any twisting, and the size is well under an inch, leading us to believe this came from a bobcat as well. It's amazing the variation between scats from the same species!
Top: A feline's scratch and scats. The scats are comprised of three pieces, two similar sized pieces, roughly 3 inches long, and one small piece, roughly an inch long. Bottom: several pieces of scat, very blunt ended and segmented, light brown in color.
A true omnivore, the black bear. Black bear detections are always a delight to see since they have so much personality! In last month's blog we saw a pair mating and this month lacked no surprises either!
Left to right, top to bottom: A black bear put its nose to a log, intently sniffing; a closeup photo of a large black bear; the left rear paw of a black bear can be seen as it walks away; a black bear on its hind legs, gripping the log the bait box rests upon; some careful rearrangement of the bait logs from a black bear.
Black bears have a 2-year reproductive cycle, where females will breed around May-July, but with delayed implantation the females only become pregnant in the winter, starting in November. They will carry the cubs to term through the winter, giving birth in mid-late January. Cubs will remain with their mother, called a sow, throughout that whole year and into the next spring. They will disperse in the spring coming into their second year. Once the cubs are gone, the female is ready to mate and start the process all over again.
Three black bears, a sow and two cubs, explore the camera site.
It's pretty easy to spot bear scat in the summer! Being true omnivores, bears love to get their paws on wild berries growing in the forest. As a result, their scat looks like it, too! The enormous volume usually gives a bear scat away, but other characteristics can include cylindrical pieces and blunt ends if they've been eating a more carnivorous or fibrous diet.
Left to right, top to bottom: A bear scat, dark purple, bordering on black, with many berry seeds intermixed within. A foot is there for size reference; another bear scat, this one also having lots of berry contents.
Since we've been discussing wildlife communication and sign, what better time to throw in a few bear stomps? Bears make stomp trails, and they will go over them multiple times to create a deep indentation in the soil. Sometimes they will use a "cowboy walk", which is a stiff-legged, wide-based stomping gait, twisting their feet in the ground. This helps to deposit scents from the bottom of their feet, which others can smell and use as a form of communication.
Left to right, or top to bottom: A shallow bear stomp trail. The tracks can be seen contrasting the pine needle litter; a large bear footprint, preserved in dried mud.
Our last carnivore is the striped skunk. It's not uncommon or unusual to have sightings of these animals, but it is not often we get to see them in the daytime since they are pretty exclusively nocturnal.
Top to bottom: the distinct pattern of a striped skunk, two white racer stripes among a black background, can bee seen as the skunk checks out the camera site; a striped skunk on a log, sniffing the bait box.
This gang of elk were spotted, traveling with two calves! Did you know that elk can count (to some degree)? When cows (female elk) are presented with bulls (male elk) having 9 or 10 point antlers, the cows will almost always choose the bulls with 10 point antlers. How fascinating is that?
Several elk take turns walking through the camera site, sniffing at the ground as they walk through. They have light brown bodies and dark brown necks. The calves still have white spots on their coats.
Our last ungulates are deer. Not as big as elk, they're the smallest member of the deer family (Cervidae) in Mt. Hood National Forest. These two young bucks enjoyed a quick sniff and snack before heading elsewhere in the forest. Below that, a doe deer munches on some vegetation while her fawn bounds along.
Top: Two young bucks sniff at the ground near the bait site, tiny antlers beginning to grow on their heads. Bottom: A doe eats away while staring aimlessly, her fawn a blur as it jumps by.
Western gray squirrels are high-energy, fast moving creatures. They love to chase one another, as seen in the photos below. They shed their fur in late spring and once again in early fall. Their tails only shed in the spring.
Left to right, top to bottom: Two western gray squirrels, one is climbing a tree trunk, the other is mid-air, to the right of the first squirrel; two western gray squirrels in mid-jump, facing away from the camera.
The golden-mantled ground squirrel, seen below snacking, is our last squirrel and last animal for this month's blog. Often confused with chipmunks, who also have striping on the body but with additional face stripes, the golden-mantled squirrel is mostly diurnal, meaning they're most active during the day and rest at night. However during the summer months they can be seen active at any time of day. They'll start hibernating in late August to November!
A golden-mantled ground squirrel in the foreground, on its two hind legs, with its hands up to its face, eating. The distinct black and white stripe can be seen running down the squirrel's body.
Although we haven't had any camera sightings of our target species from The Wolverine Tracking Project (wolverine, gray wolf, Sierra Nevada red fox, or Pacific marten) documented on camera, volunteers did find some potential wolf and fox scat!
Below, a possible gray wolf scat. There's traces of bone and hair, both of which are usually not in a domestic dog's scat and can be ruled out. The ends aren't extremely tapered, like in the coyote scat we discussed earlier, but they're also not super blunt, as seen in the feline scat. Size is also very important when looking at potential wolf scat, it must be larger than an 1.25" in average diameter to be considered for genetic analysis, and this one is just that size.
A potential wolf scat, in several pieces. Fragments of bone and tufts of hair can be seen intertwined in the scat, which is a dark brown-gray color.
Next is a potential Sierra Nevada red fox scat sample. As stated earlier, no two scats are alike, and sometimes scat from a feline could look like canine or vice versa. This possible fox scat is around half an inch in diameter, about the size of a human's pinky. Coyote scat are usually bigger, greater than half an inch, but less than one inch. This scat was found on top of tree bark, and it's important to note that many animals use roadways, clearings, or other big geographical markers to place their scat.
A small, speckled brown colored scat sits upon a piece of tree bark.
To end things on a heartwarming note, here's a small bird's nest tucked safely away in a manzanita bush. In it, two small baby chicks. How precious!
Two small gray baby birds can be seen curled up together in their nest, tucked in a manzanita bush.
That's all we have for this month's blog, check back next month for more exciting forest sightings!
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!