Cascadia Wild blog
News from the Wolverine Tracking Project and more
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!
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!
Rain in the valley, snow on the mountain, and an undeniable bite to the wind!
Winter is just around the corner. Much of the forest is settling in for the long seasonal slumber. The trees and perennials are steadfastly storing their summer bounty below ground, seeds are stored away for spring growth, and animals are changing their behaviors in preparation for the snow.
Whether you are one to spend these cooler days like black bears and other forest hibernators, tucked away under blankets or by the fire with a book, or if you are one to brave the elements - we hope you are looking forward to the new season as much as we are!
Learn more: Community Clubs
Both our summer camera and scat surveys are coming to an end, but we are still busy collecting photos and genetic samples from the forest. As we transition to winter, we are excited to share some of our final findings from the summer season with you.
The first images we want to share with you are of one of our striking target species, the Sierra Nevada red fox!
Top and bottom: A Sierra Nevada red fox explores an alpine camera site with Mt Hood in the background
These are some of best Sierra Nevada red foxes photos we have ever received! You can clearly see the red coat of this fox in the morning light, as well as Mt Hood in the background. We have detected Sierra fox at this alpine site consistently throughout the summer, although the photos have so far only been at night when foxes are more active. This camera site has been taken down for the winter, so these images were a wonderful send-off from such a beautiful site. During the winter, we much more commonly detect Sierra foxes below treeline than in the summer, and we hope to get to see this fox again soon!
We also received many, many photos of coyotes this season, but none quite so investigative as this individual...
Top to bottom: a coyote rolls on scent bait placed at a camera site
This individual rolled around this rock face for just under a minute. Mammals (from coyotes to bears to ungulates and more) use scent as a way to communicate. Our smelly camera sites provide a great opportunity for communication from rubbing parts of their body or by marking with urine and scat. The most clear kind of scent communication is when the animal is attempting to deposit its own scent on something else, and the animal will roll or rub its scent glands onto a variety of surfaces. Animals will scent mark with all parts of their body, including their backs, necks, heads, and faces.
However, sometimes mammals will also try to get the scent from something else (usually another animal) deposited on itself. When an animal covers itself in the scent left by other animals, this isn't exactly communication. We actually don't know exactly why they do this! But we speculate that this occurs when an animal wants to mask their own scent, perhaps to hide their scent when they hunt prey. We suspect this is what this coyote was doing. Maybe this individual was about to go off and find itself some dinner!
The individual made sure to come check out the camera after they had a thorough roll around. Check out the whole video here.
Left and right: A coyote checks out one of our trail cameras
We also received many images of black bears this past month, including this individual that had a similar reaction to the bait as the coyote.
Top to bottom: a black bear rubs it's face against a rock face
This bear also seemed intrigued by the bait, but instead of rolling their entire body in it, they rubbed their head against the smell. In general, bears are much more conservative rollers than coyotes. Where a coyote might roll with enthusiasm, a bear might be content with a cheek rub.
Along with canines and black bears, our cameras also detected some felines, including a mountain lion.
Top and bottom: A mountain lion walks across a log
And some bobcats.
Top: Bobcat eyes reflect in a night-vision image. Bottom: A bobcat walks through a camera site
Both of these big cats do not hibernate and will continue to hunt throughout the winter. Both cats are generalists, meaning they can prey on a wide variety of animals, so their diet will shift to prey that is more attainable throughout the winter months. While many small mammals such as ground squirrels and marmots hibernate during winter, other mammals such as snowshoe hares and mice stay active - great food for our bobcats, and they are content to stay at higher elevations throughout the winter where this food is plentiful. Ungulates (deer and elk) will also stay active through the winter, though they head to lower elevations where there is more opportunity to forage. Mountain lions, who prefer ungulates over other foods, also follow them down the mountain.
Speaking of ungulates, many deer walked past our cameras. Bucks, does, and fawns all made an appearance.
Left to right, top to bottom: A doe walks through a camera site, a fawn walks through a camera site, a buck with new antlers sniffs around a camera site
Throughout autumn deer fawns were losing their spotted summer coats and gaining their adult winter coats. But don't let the coats fool you! The youngins will stick by their mothers side for one to two years before going out on their own.
Every year, bucks grow new antlers. During a bucks first year, they will just grow little antler nubs, or buttons - hence their name of "button bucks." As a yearling, they will begin to grow their first set of antlers. These antlers will typically be smaller than the antlers of older adults, as they are often just a couple of spikes with little to no branching. You can make out in the photos that at this point, this gent's velvet has shed and their antlers are done growing, completing what may be their first rite of passage into adulthood! Genetics and health also play a role in how large or small a buck's antlers are each year - some yearlings can grow large antlers, while some 5 year olds still just have the spikes.
Along with deer, our cameras also detected quite a few elk. Many of these elk were traveling with a much larger group.
Top to bottom, left to right: Elk cows walk through site, elk cows and fawns walk through site, an elk bull walks by the camera, an elk cow with fawn looks at trail camera, elk cows and fawn walk though camera site
For most of the year, elk stay in same sex groups, or groups composed of cows and calves. Throughout the year these herds can get very large, sometimes with more than 200 members. However, from August to early winter dominant bulls will follow groups of cows. These harems are formed during mating season, and will have 5 to 20 cows and one or two bulls. A dominant bull is a bull that is in their prime, somewhere between about 5-10 years of age. Bulls breeding success will peak at age 8. These bulls will protect their harems from other bulls. Older and younger bulls will stay on the periphery of these large harems or find their own harems closer to winter.
Our cameras also detected some mammals, and a first!!
Top to bottom: A mink explores a log
For the first time in Cascadia Wild history, a camera detected an American mink! Minks are semi-aquatic and feed on a diet consisting of rodents, fish, frogs, and birds. They are most often nocturnal and will almost always look for food at night. Minks do not hibernate, so this new friend will be looking for food all winter (when they're not bundled up in their burrow!).
Our cameras also detected some of our usual small mammals including skunks, golden-mantled squirrels, western gray squirrels, and a Douglas squirrels.
Top to bottom, left to right: a skunk, a golden-mantled squirrel, a western gray squirrel, and a Douglas squirrel.
The Douglas squirrel (bottom right photo) has a much shorter tail than is expected. Though tails serve a few functions, one of the most important functions of a squirrel tail is balance. Squirrels use their tails for balance as they scamper through the brush or jump from tree to tree. This partly explains why tree squirrels tend to have longer tails than ground squirrels, and flying squirrels tend to have even longer tails than tree squirrels.
It is not unusual for a squirrel to lose part of their tail. Squirrels have many natural predators, such as snakes, hawks, raccoons (and more) who will bite down on a squirrel's tail, and squirrels can also lose part of their tail to snags in trees or fences. When met with a predator or snag, a thin covering of tail skin and muscle can be torn away without life-threatening impacts.
Volunteers have been hard at work on scat surveys this month! So far this season, volunteers have collected at least 9 potential wolf scat samples and 15 potential fox scat samples!
Here is some potential wolf scat from a recent Wolf Scat Survey.
When identifying wolf scat, three important factors are shape, size, and contents. We look for hair and/or bone in the scat, which is indicative of a carnivorous diet. Canines are opportunistic and can have seeds, grasses, berries, and even insects in their scat! However, wolves are especially carnivorous canines, and we especially expect to see hair from ungulates, their preferred diet. A twisted shape with tapered ends is also characteristic of canines, and for wolves we look for an average diameter of at least 1.25 inches - large enough to exclude all coyotes and most large dogs.
In this sample, there seems to be some matted hair in the scat, which is positive sign. Even the largest dogs tend to have vague contents, reflecting a uniform diet of kibble and other dog foods. The general shape of this sample fits, too. The largest piece has a twisted shape and the ends are tapered. The average diameter might be just shy of 1.25 inches, meaning perhaps this was a very large meal for a coyote, or perhaps a wolf had a small meal.
One of our volunteers also found some potential Sierra Nevada red fox scat.
This scat displays the canine characteristics of shape and contents, and it also is indicative of fox scat due to its smaller size: under 1/2" or the size of your pinky.
Both scats, along with the several others that volunteers have collected over the season, are potentially valuable sources of information about these important canine carnivores that call Mt. Hood National Forest home. While the snows on the mountain may have concluded our alpine fox scat surveys, there may still be a few more good weeks of wolf scat surveys left. As we head into winter, though, we will be collecting less scat and transitioning to seeking out tracks. Lots to look forward to!
Until next time, stay safe, stay warm, and enjoy the season.
As we head into the thick of Autumn, cooler days and earlier, golden sunsets, we are finding hope in the change of seasons. Like our friends in the forest, we are also busy preparing for the coming winter. We are excited to announce our Winter Wildlife Survey Season, and we hope that you will join us!
As always, volunteers will strap on snowshoes and head to Mt Hood National Forest to help document wildlife on the mountain and search for rare carnivores, like Sierra Nevada red fox, Pacific marten, and gray wolf, and continuing to monitor for wolverine. To help protect our community and offer the opportunity for folks to participate in the Wolverine Tracking Project, we have restructured our Tracking and Camera Surveys. Click the links below to learn more, and apply by October 31st!
Read more about the Wolverine Tracking Project
And, don't forget about our Community Clubs!
Left (top): A stump showing beaver, deer, and human sign, and Right (bottom): mink tracks. Both photos from August Tracking Club.
We hope to see you soon!
With the delayed reopening of Multnomah County, our camera surveys this summer have been limited to only a handful volunteers and staff. Many of our cameras have not been checked since mid- or late-August, as well, due to the wildfires and closures in Mt. Hood National Forest. We can't wait until the forest reopens and we can see who's been visiting our cameras in the past month(s)!
In the meantime, we have some photos to share with you from the footage collected in August.
To start us off, we have one of our target species, the Sierra Nevada red fox!
A Sierra Nevada red fox explores a camera site
This is the third detection of a Sierra Nevada red fox at this camera site this year!
Cascadia Wild has been been collecting data about the Sierra Nevada red fox since their "rediscovery" in Oregon on a Cascadia Wild trail camera in 2012. Most of what we know about Sierra Nevada red foxes come from a population living in Lassen, California, as this is the longest standing red fox study. It is thought that the known California populations together comprise less than 50 individuals. Oregon population numbers are largely unknown and speculative. However, with every passing season, Cascadia Wild and other state, federal, academic, conservation, and nonprofit organizations continue to study red foxes throughout Oregon and add to our growing knowledge of them in the region.
In Oregon, the Sierra Nevada red fox was classified as a Data Gap Species and has since been designated as a Conservation Strategy Species by Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. The US Forest Service has designated the Sierra Nevada red fox a sensitive species in Oregon.
Another canine visitor to our cameras was the coyote.
Top to bottom: a coyote pauses at a camera site, and a coyote with its mouth wide open (in a yawn or pant) trots down a game trail.
Both Sierra Nevada red foxes and coyotes are opportunistic eaters, and they both prey on small mammals such as rodents and squirrels, and also eat berries, insects, and carrion. Some studies suggest that they have a competitive relationship with each other due to their similar diets, however sometimes coyotes will prey upon red foxes, while red foxes can benefit from the carrion left behind by coyotes. More research needs to be done on the Sierra Nevada red fox in our region to allow for a more comprehensive comparison of these two canines diets and their relationships.
Another opportunistic carnivore that visited our cameras was a black bear.
An adult black bear sniffs the ground
Just like canines, black bears eat small mammals, roots, berries, and insects. They also eat grasses, fish, large mammals, carrion, and can develop a taste for human garbage - a good reason to always pack out what you pack in and secure your food and trash.
While black bear activity is not new to our cameras, we have been detecting much more rolling than usual! First, our camera detected bear cubs rolling in bait.
Youtube videos of black bear cubs rolling on the ground near scent bait
And then, this past month our camera detected an adult rolling in bait.
An adult black bear rolling near scent bait
We often see canines, and even the occasional feline, rolling in our very potent commercial scent bait - usually to mask their scent from other predators or prey, or to perhaps add their scent to the potpourri as a way of communication. While black bears are known to communicate with scent by rubbing and scratching on trees and posts, it is not very common for them to roll. In past seasons, we've used a particular stinky blend of bait, called gusto, as a broadcast scent lure. This would hang in a canister from a tree, and the canisters were often found torn off the tree and smashed to bits. It seems the bears could not keep their paws (and jaws) off! This year, we are using gusto as one of our baits instead. The bait is applied underneath a log or protected area, and it seems possible that is has the same strong appeal.
Our cameras also detected a couple of big cats this past month, like these bobcats.
Top to bottom: A bobcat walks through a camera site, a bobcat pauses by a log at a camera site
And the other big cat detection was of a mountain lion.
A mountain lion walks through a camera site.
Though both big cats roam the forest, there are many key differences between them.
Another regular on our trail cameras is deer. We have received quite a few tender photos of does and their fawns.
Top: A doe walks through a camera site followed by her fawn
Bottom: A doe and her fawn look at each other
According to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife most does and bucks do not live more than five years and very rarely live more than ten years. A doe can start reproducing at the age of one and can give birth to one or several fawns a year, meaning a doe will reproduce regularly throughout her life. A doe and her fawn nurture a close relationship until the fawn is weaned. In this approximately three month period the doe will carefully protect her young from predators and fawns will spend most of their time hiding in the woods or brush. Their mother will visit them throughout the day for feeding. Most fawns are born in spring, so by now most fawns are completely weaned and beginning to be less reliant on their mother. Their coats at this time will have lost their spots, in exchange for the coat of an adult.
Another ungulate friend visited our cameras this month - elk!
An elk cow's head in profile close to the camera, with a bit of vegetation hanging from her mouth
Deer and elk are both ungulates with many similarities including their digestion process and reproductive cycle. Both are ruminants, meaning they have a four chambered stomach with bacteria which allows them to digest nearly all plant matter (lucky them!). They also both mate in the fall and fawns are born in the spring. However, elk are much larger than deer and communicate louder and more distinctively than deer. And while they can both eat a wide variety of plant matter, elk are grazers and deer are browsers. Elk will feed on a variety of grasses whereas deer prefer woody plants, but will also eat shoots, leaves, and grasses.
As mating season approaches, elk's antlers will reach full maturity and they will shed their antler velvet.
Left to right: A bull elk walks through the site, a bull elk walks through the site and there are a pair of eyes in the background.
The bull in the image above seems to be shedding his velvet (indicated by the loose skin-like material hanging on his face). And there are a pair of eyes behind him... just in time for spooky season!
We also had a fair number of small critter visitors, such as a striped skunk...
A skunk dashes off a log
...as well as a rabbit...
A rabbit sits on a log
...a yellow-bellied marmot...
A marmot stands by a rock with Mt Hood in the background
...and a couple golden mantled ground squirrels.
Two golden mantled ground squirrels stand in a camera site
Though they are small, mammals like skunks, rabbits, and marmot are important to their ecosystem. They act as pollinators, seed dispersers, support forest regeneration and maintain forest health, aerate soil and allow for increased plant diversity, provide food for carnivores, and enrich our recreational experience.
And the final trail camera photo is a Cascadia Wild first, and just in time for Halloween!
Our camera detected bats!
Bats fly in front of the camera
Out of the 1,300 species of bats in the world, Oregon is home to 15, eight of which are ODFW Conservation Strategy Species. Bats can range greatly in size and weight, and not all species echolocate, but all species are important pollinators, seed dispersers, and, with the exception of vampire bats (which are not in Oregon), are insectivores.
Let's start off with some big scat!
Black bear scat next to a 52mm camera lens cap for reference (the lens cap is approximately 2 inches in diameter)
As we discussed previously, black bears are opportunistic eaters, meaning that they can adapt to what food is available. Based the purple color of this scat, it looks like this bear came across some huckle or blueberries! Berries make up a large portion of a black bear's diet, especially in late summer when the forest is bursting with them.
One of our volunteers conducted a Complete Species Wolf Scat Survey in which all mammal and bird sign encountered are documented, in addition to that of our target species: wolves, Sierra foxes, marten, and wolverine. They found a variety of interesting sign!
A log torn open by a black bear.
This is a dead tree trunk that was torn open by a black bear. In late summer, bears are trying to put on as much weight as they can before hibernation, so all food sources are sought after. Deadfall can be a wonderful source of insects for these omnivores! Though they have the characteristics of a ruthless predator, like strong curved claws and long canine teeth, black bears seldom use them for anything more than climbing trees and consuming insects and fruits. Black bears use both their claws and their canines to break open insect-ridden logs in late summer, to supplement their diet of berries and nuts.
A mountain lion scrape.
This is a mountain lion scrape. With their back legs, a mountain lion will scrape ground-cover backwards to create a small pile with a shallow hole about 8 inches long in front of it. Then, they will urinate on the mound or mark the mound with scat, but no scat was found at this site. This action is a kind of scent marking, and will often be found on the edge of a mountain lion's territory or where their territory overlaps with other cat's territory.
Bones of a deer
Additionally, these bones were found outside of an official survey, by a volunteer on their way to a camera check. These bones belong to a deer, and were found on the eastern side of the forest. This is confirmed habitat for many carnivores that love ungulates, like bobcat, mountain lion, and coyote. This is also suitable habitat for wolves, and ungulates are their preferred meal. While wolves have not yet been confirmed in the particular area where this was found, signs like this are encouraging that they could be.
The forest is full of sign that tells the story of the animals that live there, for those who take the time to look! Whether on the mountain or in your own backyard, we hope you are enjoying the abundant life all around you. Until next time!
Amidst all the uncertainty of the season, one thing remains constant: our natural world. On the hillsides of Mt Hood, rivers and lakes are ripe for swimming, huckleberries are reaching their peak, spring's newborns are exploring their range, and some juveniles have even fully fledged! We hope that you have had the opportunity to spend time outdoors and enjoy the bountiful beauty of the Pacific Northwest summer.
2019-2020 Annual Report
Our 2019-2020 Annual Report is out! Check it out for a summary of all that we were able to accomplish during the year, from our annual budget to our classes, clubs and events, to community engagement.
Also, in case you missed it, our Wolverine Tracking Project 2019-2020 Report was also released a few months ago. This report covers all the findings of the Wolverine Tracking Project. Check it out or read our end of winter blog to see detailed photos and findings.
A big thank you to everyone who made 2019-2020 a success!
Tracking Club met at the end of July for the first time since February, and it was great to get our noses to the dirt again! Tracking Club is an informal gathering for beginners and experts alike; all are welcome. Join us the last Sunday of each month at Oxbow Park.
Tracks found at the July Tracking Club. Left: Mink tracks follow the bank of the Sandy River. Right: The tracks of great blue heron (large) and spotted sandpiper (small).
Nature Book Club is held online the fourth Tuesday of every month. Participants come together to discuss the ways nature writing shapes our experiences and relationship with the natural world. Our next meeting is August 25 to discuss Rare Bird: Pursuing the Mystery of the Marbled Murrelet by Maria Mudd-Ruth.
Learn more about our Clubs and Events
While we are eagerly awaiting a time when it is safe to send all our camera crew volunteers to the field, a handful of volunteers have been helping maintain our 16 wildlife cameras stationed around Mt Hood National Forest. Like seasons' past, we have installed cameras to focus on our target species: Sierra Nevada red fox, gray wolf, Pacific marten, and the ever elusive wolverine.
This summer season has delivered a wide range of wildlife, including one of our target species, the Sierra Nevada red fox!
A Sierra Nevada red fox explores the camera survey site
The Sierra Nevada red fox has been one of our target species since they were detected on our cameras in 2012. We frequently detect Sierra Nevada foxes in the wintertime at our cameras stationed just below the tree-line. We have detected them during the summer as well, just much less frequently. We are lucky to have a couple of detections this summer. These sightings were at high elevation, which is fitting since Sierra Nevada red foxes have only been found above 4,000 ft in Oregon so far, but these sightings occurred even higher than that. This is valuable information for us, because we initially hypothesized that we were more frequently detecting Sierra Nevada red foxes during the winter because they were experiencing food scarcity and therefore would be more drawn to our meat baits. However, now that we have detected individuals at high elevations for two summers in a row, this could suggest that these foxes are migratory and spend the summer months at higher elevation and the winter months at lower elevation.
Foxes are opportunistic and will eat berries, plants, insects, and even carrion. But the primary diet of Sierra Nevada red foxes is carnivorous and is mainly comprised of small rodents. Because of this, Sierra Nevada red foxes tend to be most active when rodents are: at dusk and during the night. Perhaps that explains why our cameras detected these individuals at night!
Our largest regular visitor this season has been the black bear.
One black bear walks through a camera site
Despite their name, not all black bears have a dark black coat. Their coats can range from light brown to jet black and some individuals can even have blonde or white coats! Black bears are more commonly cinnamon, blonde, or brown in the west than other parts of the country - researchers think this might be to help them blend in with the abundant meadows we have out here. However, about 70% of black bear individuals nationwide have black coats.
A mama bear and her yearling explore a camera site
Black bears are typically solitary animals, with the exception of occasional social groups or a mother bear and her cub. A cub litter can usually range anywhere from one to four, and cubs will typically stay with their mothers for two years, sometimes longer, until they are ready to be on their own. Here, our cameras spotted a mama and her yearling walking around the site.
Our feline friend the bobcat walked through our sites on several occasions.
Top to the bottom, left to right: a bobcat pauses, a bobcat walks over some fallen branches, a bobcat trots through a camera site
This cat is named due to its tail, which appears to be "bobbed". Bobcats are elusive and nocturnal, thus are rarely spotted by humans. Luckily our camera's have detected a few individuals this season!
Another one of our Mt Hood felines, the mountain lion, stopped by.
A mountain lion looks at the camera
While it may look like the mountain lion is smiling for the camera, it is actually performing a flehmen response. This behavior can be identified when a mammal curls back its upper lip and exposed its front teeth. This allows for pheromones or other scents to be transferred to the vomeronasal organ, which is located above the roof of the mouth. A mammal may perform the flehmen response when it's investigating new odors or tastes. This image is particularly cool because the flehmen response is most often observed in ungulates, so observing it in a big cat is a treat!
One of the most common visitors to our sites are coyotes.
Top to the bottom, left to right: one coyote smells bait and one coyote rolls on the ground, one coyote sniffs the ground, one coyote pauses with one front paw raised.
Coyotes are one of more investigative visitors to our sites, and are often detected sniffing all around the site. Our cameras also often see them marking the site, either by feces, urine, or rubbing. Above are images of coyotes rubbing their backs on the ground, as well as sniffing their surroundings. The last image features a coyote pausing with their paw raised, which is indicative that they were concentrating on something in their area. Perhaps they were looking for the source of what they were sniffing!
Another common visitor to our sites are black-tailed deer. Now that summer is in full swing, our cameras have been detecting does with their fawns.
Top to the bottom, left to right: a doe and two fawns stand together, a doe stands and two fawns explore, one fawn bounds through a camera site
Fawns are characterized by their brown coats with white spots, this pattern helps them camouflage into tall grass and brush. Fawns are born in the late spring and will weigh between 6 and 8 pounds. It is common for a doe to give birth to twins, though a single birth is not unusual. Does and fawns can create family groups which are led by the oldest mother, while bucks will not help raise the fawns and instead create bachelor groups for the summer.
Top to the bottom, left to right: top three images - a buck walks closer to the camera, a buck looks into a camera, a buck stops to observe the camera site
Bucks can be distinguished from does due to their large antlers. Antlers are actually an extension of the deer's skull and are usually only found on male deer. As growth occurs at the tip of the antler, cartilage is added which is later replaced by bone tissue. As the antler is growing, it is covered with a vascular skin called "velvet". The velvet is almost fuzzy in appearance. The velvet supplies oxygen and nutrients to the growing bone. According to a Cornell University Press publication, deer antlers grow faster than any other mammal bone! Once the antler has reached its ultimate size, the velvet is lost and the bone dies. This dead bone is the most mature phase of antler.
On average larger than black-tailed deer, our cameras also often detected elk.
An elk bull walks through a camera site
Elk are one of the largest species within the deer family and are one of the largest terrestrial animals in North America. Bulls are distinguished by their their antlers and loud vocalization consisting of screams known as bugling.
Beloved for their tall ears and endearing hop, rabbits are no strangers to our sites.
A rabbit hops through a camera site
Rabbits and hares are common and important prey for larger mammals, such as bobcats, foxes, coyotes, and even birds of prey. They have adapted to moving swiftly through forests to avoid being an easy meal, finding a wide range of plant matter for their own snacking. As a food source for larger carnivores and as avid herbivores themselves, rabbits play an important role in the ecosystem.
Left to right: a Douglas squirrel sits on a log, a Northern flying squirrel walks through the grass.
The Mt Hood forest is full of a variety of small rodents, and though they have somewhat similar characteristics, each species is physically and behaviorally distinct. This season we have received images of the Douglas squirrel, the northern flying squirrel, the golden-mantled ground squirrel, and the yellow-bellied marmot. Douglas squirrels are tree squirrels with bushy tails, brown coats and tan bellies, though they appear very dark in black and white photos. They are one of the smallest squirrels in Oregon and are active year-round during the daytime. The Northern flying squirrel are also tree squirrels with dark coats, but their bellies are white and their tails are not as bushy; their tails often appear flat in our photos. Weighing under five ounces, they are the smallest tree squirrel in Oregon. Like the Douglas squirrel they are active year-round, except they explore their surroundings during the night.
Left to right: A Golden-mantled ground squirrel looks into the camera, a Golden-mantled ground squirrel walks by the camera
As opposed to tree squirrels, who dwell in trees, ground squirrels spend most of if not all of their time on the ground. In contrast to the Douglas squirrel and Northern flying squirrel, the golden-mantled ground squirrel is, as the name suggests, a ground squirrel. Golden-mantled ground squirrels are active during the daytime in warmer months, they hibernate throughout the winter season. Their body size and markings lead them to be commonly mistaken for chipmunks, however they are distinctive due to their lack of face stripes and singular lateral white stripe bordered by two black striped on each side of their body.
Left to right: a Yellow-bellied marmot looks at the camera, a Yellow-bellied marmot pauses on a rock
Though significantly larger than the previous species, the yellow-bellied marmot is also a ground squirrel. Like the golden-mantled ground squirrel they are also winter hibernators and are actually one of Oregon's longest hibernators, resting from as early as July through April or May. They are our states only marmot and one of the largest squirrels in Oregon. They can be identified by their brown or golden coloring, squat legs, and somewhat bushy tail.
A striped skunk stands on a log
Striped skunks are omnivorous, meaning they eat both meat and plant matter. Their diet influenced by the seasons: in the warmer months their diet is primarily insectivorous when grasshoppers, beetles, crickets, and other arthropods are abundant. During colder months the switch to a more carnivorous diet and they will eat smaller mammals, hatchlings, and eggs.
One of the most exciting detections was of a Greater sandhill crane.
There are actually two individuals in this photo, can you spot the second one?
Two sandhill cranes walk through a camera site
This species is Oregon's tallest bird and is characterized by its red crown and white cheek patches, which contrast with its light gray or brown body. There are only a few pairs of sandhill cranes nesting in the east Cascades, and this bird is one of ODFW's Conservation Strategy Species, so this was a very exciting — and lucky — sighting
Members of our gray wolf and Sierra Nevada red fox surveys have been busy hitting the trails and forest service roads to search of our two canid target species. So far, we have 10 probable Sierra fox scat samples and 8 promising gray wolf scat samples! This genetic data is invaluable in helping us learn about the population, native ancestry, and habitat use of these canids. Combined with the long-term data collected on our wildlife camera and winter tracking surveys, the scat surveys help to tell an overall story of the forest ecosystem that these rare carnivores call home.
Identifying scat can be terribly tricky!
There are some traits common to all canine scat such as
However, our target canines have more specific characteristics
Comparing these two samples, they are similar because are both twisted in shape and contain both hair and plant matter. However, the potential gray wolf scat is larger overall than the potential Sierra Nevada red fox scat.
If you are planning on hiking the alpine trails of Mt Hood and would like to help out with our Sierra Nevada red fox scat survey, let us know! The more eyes we have on the mountain trails, the more we learn about this rare animal, which in turns helps determine their protections.
Contact us for info on how to join, or read more about the Sierra Nevada Red Fox Scat Survey.
For those of you who are unfamiliar, this is what GPS data looks like from our scat surveys. This is a “track” or GPS route from a recent survey. Note the CaW (Cascadia Wild) shout-out!
Thank you to all our volunteers who keep our wildlife surveys going strong and to our community for your valuable support. Until next time, we hope to see you out in the woods and enjoying some PNW sunshine!
The days are getting warmer and longer, the birds are returning from winter migration, and animals everywhere are bringing a new generation of wildlife into our forests...needless to say, winter has ceased and made way for spring, marking the end of our winter survey season. While this season may have been unexpectedly cut short, the Cascadia Wild team of volunteers and members still managed to bring in countless wonderful photos and record many wildlife tracks while it lasted.
Please enjoy this season recap of the Wolverine Tracking Project's Camera and Tracking Survey highlights!
As we near the end of the winter season and head into spring, the snow begins to slowly melt away and our forests begin to wake up. With warmer weather comes breeding season, new growth of plants, and more abundant food sources for the wildlife. As insects take to the wing and feed our avian community returning from migration, we begin to notice a shift in the dynamics of the forest. We look forward to the spring ahead and enjoy looking back on February and the wildlife sightings it provided us.
As always, thank you to all of our wonderful volunteers who are braving the winter weather on snowshoe and digging through the snow to reach our cameras so that we can bring you these photos. We have had a great season so far, and winter's not over yet! We still have a month of wildlife tracking and two months of camera surveys in Mt Hood National Forest to complete the winter wildlife survey season.
For those of you excited to get outside, make the most of the snow while it lasts, welcome the transitioning seasons, or simply explore the natural world, we hope to see you at one of our upcoming classes or clubs!
Upcoming classes and Clubs
Late winter/early spring is the perfect time to get to know our local songbirds, and our Bird Language Series is a great opportunity to do so! Beyond bird identification, this 8-class series in field and classroom explores what the postures, song, chatter, and even silence of birds can tell us about what's happening on the landscape - the location of predators, presence of other humans, and even our own awareness and mindset. Starting March 22. Read more.
Check out our other upcoming classes, like
Advanced Sign Tracking (March 7)
Intro to Wildlife Tracking at Hoyt Arboretum (March 21)
See all upcoming Classes.
Looking for more to do in the community?
Tracking Club meets the last Sunday of every month.
Nature Book Club meets March 24 to discuss Rain: A Natural and Cultural History by Cynthia Barnett.
More info on Community Clubs
There has been an abundance of wildlife sightings on Mt. Hood this past month, including our beautiful and elusive target species: the Sierra Nevada red fox!
A Sierra Nevada red fox observes the area and looks into a nearby camera
The Sierra Nevada red fox was first confirmed on Mt. Hood in 2012 by Cascadia Wild's trail cameras under the Wolverine Tracking Project. Despite their small numbers, attempts to list these animals as threatened or endangered have failed in recent years due to the lack of information on their populations and whether or not they are interbreeding with other red fox subspecies.
Cascadia Wild uses data collected on this subspecies to aid researchers and conservationists in their attempt to protect the Sierra Nevada red fox. Due to their elusive nature, there are many questions left to be answered, such as their population sizes, distribution, genetics, and ecology. Data is gathered by Cascadia Wild through our camera surveys, winter tracking surveys, and summer scat surveys.
A Sierra Nevada red fox examines the camera site and bait tree
These foxes are always an exciting find, and they have graced our higher-elevation cameras a handful of times this season. Their curiosity of the bait trees are hard to misinterpret, and the body language they exhibit is not unlike that of our canine companions.
Some fun facts...
Other canid visitors include the coyote.
A coyote strolls through a camera site in the fresh snow
Coyotes are generally monogamous and tend to maintain pair bonds for life. Their litters are raised by both parents and parenting duties are also frequently taken on by older siblings in the family group. They travel both alone and in packs usually consisting of an alpha male and female, their relatives, and some members of other families.
Coyote packs tend to live in territories that they will defend against neighboring packs. They mark these these territories with scent markings such as urine, feces, and rubbing against objects like trees.
Left to right (mobile: top to bottom): a coyote marks its territory with feces; the territory is observed by scent; a coyote marks its territory with urine; two coyotes mark their presence by rubbing up against a tree trunk.
There is some evidence that suggests individual coyotes mark their territory more frequently when they are traveling with a pack! This group of 5 is seen claiming their stakes on the land.
A pack of coyotes roll on the ground and smell the surrounding area
A coyote examines the camera site
Some fun facts...
Other carnivorous mammals caught on our cameras this past month include the stealthy bobcat.
A bobcat sits underneath a tree
Bobcats have a wide range of diet, including small mammals such as hares, squirrels, birds, and even the occasional larger game like deer. Bobcats use their stealth to hunt, remaining hidden to their prey until they attack with a leaping pounce of up to 10 feet.
A bobcat sneaks through the camera site at night
These felines are the most common wildcat in the United States, yet they seldom cross paths with humans due to their solitary, nocturnal, and elusive nature.
A common meal of the above carnivores are the snowshoe hares.
Multiple snowshoe hares make their way through our camera sites
Snowshoe hares have evolved to molt to a white coat for the winter to match the snowy backdrop, and molt back to brown once the snow melts away; this way, they do not stand out like little lightbulbs in the dark forest, and they are able to camouflage with their environment year-round. However, as demonstrated above, sometimes these color changes do not happen as they should. As the global climate changes, the presence or absence of snow at different times of the year becomes less predictable, and hares are sometimes unable to quickly change their coat to match - a phenomenon biologists call "camouflage mismatch".
Abundant in our forests, the snowshoe hares are nimble and fast; a necessary advantage as a favorite snack of bobcats, coyotes, foxes, and even some birds of prey. These hares have large, fuzzy feet that help them to effectively navigate their snowy habitats, similar to the snowshoes of our volunteers.
Other herbivorous inhabitants of our forests include the black-tailed deer.
Left to right (mobile: top to bottom): a deer jumps over some fallen logs; an up-close shot of a deer walking underneath the camera; a deer walking up close to a camera.
Black-tailed deer inhabit the forested mountains and foothills near the Pacific coast. They are resident animals, meaning they do not migrate south, but do tend to move to lower elevations during the winter months. Their home-range consists of about 3 square miles of land, yet they tend to travel in solitude - aside from the small family groups of mothers and their young, or the bachelor groups of bucks formed during the summer months.
You can find more information about deer in our last blog.
A female black-tailed deer exhibits a flehmen response
A flehmen response is a reaction to intriguing smells - commonly urine - where the upper lip of the animal is curled back to expose the vomeronasal organ to the scent in order to get a good whif. In fact, the word "flehmen" comes from the German verb for "to curl". However, this response is not just "sniffing" - it may be compared to sniffing in high resolution.
This black-tailed deer doe is seen exhibiting a flehmen response, likely in response to the urine of another deer. You may have observed a cat or another ungulate like a horse displaying this same behavior before. While not uncommon, a flehmen response is more frequent in black-tailed deer males than females. In fact, there seems to be an annual cycle for flehmen responses in black-tailed deer; observations are much more frequent in the winter during breeding season as deer are on the lookout for a mate.
Also seen is a less common winter visitor: a striped skunk.
A striped skunk runs through a clearing, leaving behind small tracks in the snow
Striped skunks tend to hole up for the winter; however, similar to bears, they do not undergo true hibernation. Instead, both skunks and bears exhibit something called torpor: a state of decreased metabolic and physiological activity, allowing an animal to survive through periods of food shortages. More information on torpor can be found in our last blog.
Though skunks tend to be known for their foul smelling spray, they are actually docile animals that will happily leave humans alone and go on with their day. Their spray defense is typically only used as a last resort; if they feel threatened, they will first try to run away from the threat. If that doesn't do the trick, they may arch their back and raise their tail as a warning. Only if they still feel threatened will they release their spray, which can reach a whopping 12 feet.
Before we review some of the findings from our tracking surveys, we want to extend our congratulations to our trackers, tracking trip leaders, and greater tracking community that came out for our CyberTracker Track and Sign Evaluation! For two days, participants were taken to various locations in Mt Hood National Forest and asked questions about the track and sign found on the landscape, such as: who made this track or sign? how was this animal moving? what was the gender of this animal?
At the end of the weekend, everyone who participated received internationally recognized wildlife tracking certification! Six out of ten participants even received Level 3 Certification! Thank you to David Moskowitz for leading the evaluation on behalf of CyberTracker, and everyone who came out to share their knowledge, perspectives, and tracking skills with us - we are truly impressed by our community!
We found a lot of great tracks and sign, and here are some of the highlights from the course:
Left to right/Top to bottom: the class discusses track morphologies; following one of many snowshoe hare trail; the tracks of a male bobcat show clearly on a light dusting of snow and dark substrate; tracks of two deer crossing a road; a set of clear weasel tracks found near a bobcat trail; David discussing a mound created by a mountain lion; a trail sign post that has been used more than once by black bear for rubbing; and a vine maple branch that has been browsed upon by deer.
It's been a great month for our tracking surveys, too! This February we hosted our annual overnight tracking trip in the Tilly Jane area.
Left to right/Top to bottom: sizing up a snow shelter footprint; looking out from a snow shelter entrance; and the long shadows of sunset on a burn area fall onto a snowy field with Mt Hood in the background.
The group followed animal trails by day before setting up snow shelters and camping under the clear skies of a full moon. The conditions for a great time could not have been better!
Tracking surveys have also been finding a lot of great track and sign. One of the most common signs on the winter landscape is snowshoe hare.
A snowshoe hare crossroads with ample scat
A print of a snowshoe hare sitting: the small front feet are in front (on the left), hugged by the large hind feet, and an imprint of the round tail sits behind (on the right) - under the tail print is a rabbit pellet, or scat!
A snow "cave" is made by snow on a sapling: the tracks here show the frequent comings and goings of snowshoe hare to this site. The amount of packed snow at the entrance of the "cave," the stipped branches, and the pile of needles indicate that a hare used this area for feeding if not also rest and hiding.
Hare tracks were found entering this snow tunnel! Trackers searched the area and found another set of tracks exiting the snow some distance away!
We have also been finding a lot of squirrel tracks, and the similar tracks of their carnivorous forest counterpart, weasel! Can you tell the difference between squirrel and weasel in the tracks below?
Left to right/Top to bottom: measuring the clear prints of a short-tailed weasel; the bounding gait of a weasel through snow; a tracker inspects the bounding gait of a squirrel through deep snow; and measuring the tracks of a squirrel.
In our last blog, we discussed how squirrel and hare tracks can be distinguished from one another, but weasel and squirrel can be even more difficult to tough to tell apart. Also commonly found with a bounding gait, weasel tracks can be of similar size, too. One way to tell these apart is by the toes. Squirrels have five toes on their hind feet and four in front; weasels have five toes all around. Squirrels will also have longer toes than claws (for grabbing onto food and tree limbs) and weasels will have longer claws than toes (for grabbing onto their forest prey). Compared to weasels, the first and fifth digit of a squirrel's hind toes are splayed more to the side, while the middle three are kept closer together and pointed more forward, in a 1-3-1 orientation. Weasel toes, on the other hand, will often be more evenly spaced.
Another common track has been the deer mouse. These tracks would be difficult to discern if not for their size! Some of the smallest tracks in the forest, you would be very lucky with excellent conditions if you were able to make out toes in their prints.
Left to right/Top to bottom: a deer mouse bounds through crusty snow; and a deer mouse bounds through a thinner layer of fluffier snow.
Each of these photos show the same animal performing the same hopping gait. However, the animal is making its way through two different qualities of snow. The first photo shows each foot clearly defined as the animal almost post-holes through snow that has been made more rigid through melting and refreezing, each foot clearly showing where it broke through the surface. In the second photo, we can see the tracks less clearly as the snow hasn't gone through the same weather and is more easily disturbed, yet still light and fluffy enough to pick up a foot drag.
We have also seen a lot of sign from our forest carnivores. One thing all our wildlife have in common is: what goes in, must come out!
Left to right/Top to bottom: canid scat (coyote or fox); felid scat (bobcat or small mountain lion); likely coyote scat containing ungulate fur.
Scat can tell us so much about an animal, from genetic information, to diet and individual health - all of which in turn helps us paint a picture not only of their population but of the ecosystem to which the animal belongs. The top two photos belong to two different families of animals, canid and felid. Comparing the two, you can see that canid scat is a bit more twisty than felid scat, which comes out more round and segmented, like Lincoln Logs. Both have bits of hair, which attest to their more carnivorous diet.
The bottom photo is likely coyote scat, and contains what is likely ungulate fur. Examination of the fur showed that it crimped when pinched between the nails, indicating a hollow hair follicle. Ungulates and polar bears are the only mammals with hollow fur, an adaptation which helps them stay insulated in the cold.
Until next time, we hope you can get out there and enjoy some of the bounty that winter has to offer before it's gone!
Winter is in full-swing, January brought us deep snows and lots of photos from the Wolverine Tracking Project, and looking ahead, February is shaping up to be a busy month with March not far behind!
See below for news on our camera and tracking surveys. But first, check out some of the classes and events on the calendar.
Upcoming classes & events
As always, Tracking Club meets the last Sunday of every month.
Nature Book Club meets Feb 25 to discuss Reading the Forested Landscape by Tom Wessels.
More info on Clubs
A big thank you to our volunteers who have been braving the elements to maintain our camera sites! All the fresh snows on Mt Hood have given our camera crews a lot of opportunity for snowshoeing, digging cameras out of the snow, and bringing back some great photos! We've captured a few winter photos like this (below):
A snow-covered camera takes a programmed, daily photo
However, thanks to our volunteers braving the elements, we have also detected a lot of wildlife. When the heavy snows weren't burying our cameras, which were originally installed about five and a half feet up a tree, they were making some cameras appear to be at ground level. The result? These wonderful close-ups:
A Pacific marten inspects a camera, leaving behind footprints in the freshly fallen snow
It is always exciting to see a Pacific marten, especially so intimately. We love that we can also see such clear tracks as it departs, too. Note the elongated foot pad of its back feet, circled by five toes. This print is characteristic of mustelids, the family which Pacific marten, wolverine, fisher, mink, weasel, and so on belong.
A little about marten...
Snow-level cameras also detected some other animals, which make up our marten's carnivorous diet:
A deer mouse leaves a trail (left/top) and a snowshoe hare comes for a visit (right/bottom).
The fresh tracks of the deer mouse show it's hopping gait - though much smaller, it is very similar to the trail a snowshoe hare would leave: small front feet landing first and the larger, more powerful hind feet landing second just ahead of the front feet.
We also detected an up-close and candid portrait of another target species: the Sierra Nevada red fox!
A Sierra Nevada red fox makes its way through deep snow
Again, you can see the tracks of this montane fox in the snow. With a meandering trail like this and nose to the ground, it's not hard to assume this fox is hunting. Rodents often burrow into the snow, using the insulating layer as protection from predators and the cold.
Foxes at three different sites inspect the bait trees (top row and bottom left). A video shows multiple visits of what appears to the be the same fox to one site over a period of three weeks (bottom right).
These many visits from these rare, native foxes help us understand their habitat use. We have also collected a few viable hair samples from some of these sites. Like scat samples, hair samples may help give us important genetic information to help us understand their population history, genetic diversity, and habitat connectivity. Hair samples are collected on wire brushes, which are attached to the black belt on the tree just under the bait.
Our region is home to three kinds of montane fox, the Sierra Nevada red fox (Vulpes vulpes necator) in the Oregon Cascades and Sierras, the Cascade red fox (V.v. cascadensis) found in the Cascades north of the Columbia River, and the Rocky Mountain red fox (V.v. macroura) who are native to northeast Oregon. And, just this week, it was announced that there is a population of Rocky Mountain red fox living near Bend, and likely has been in this area for some time! Just like the Sierra Nevada red fox in our backyard, the montane fox can be elusive and difficult to study, even when they are right under our nose.
Other recent visitors include the ever-present coyote.
Left to right (mobile: top to bottom): a coyote fixates on a tree; two coyotes look on while a third rolls in fresh snow; a coyote with a white-tipped tail pauses, then leaps over a log to smell a stump; and finally, a coyote stands chest-deep in the snow, likely listening for rodents. Though the final coyote's retreat was not captured, its tracks show it departed the way it came, taking the time to circle (and likely mark) the stump behind it (final photo).
We've also detected a few bobcat:
Left to right (mobile: top to bottom): a bobcat walks past a bait tree; bobcat walks down a game trail; bobcat inspects a bait tree; bobcat leaves tracks in fresh snow; bobcat smells the base of a bait tree; and a bobcat passes through a site with what looks like a freshly caught hare
The bobcat on the right (or bottom), is difficult to make out. However, this lucky visitor is sporting a freshly caught hare! Bobcats (Lynx rufus) are well-adapted for snowy mountains, and, like foxes, marten, and coyotes, snowshoe hare are a favorite snack. Bobcats often hunt at night, and like the marten, don't let their small size fool you! They can cover 10 feet of ground in one pounce.
We are more likely to see bobcats on the mountain in the winter than their felid cousin, mountain lion. Mountain lions (Puma concolor) are less adapted to snowy environments than bobcat and are more often detected at lower elevations than where most of our cameras are located.
Another visitor we don't expect to see in the winter? Black bear. However, our cameras did pick up a bear between snows, a bit later than we would expect to see one.
A black bear walks down a game trail between winter snows
Bears do not hibernate in the same way as most other animals, like some rodents and reptiles, who lower their body temperature along with their metabolism and sleep throughout the whole winter. Instead, they enter a state called torpor where their metabolism slows down, but their body temperature remains elevated and they are able to wake more easily. They can wake from this sleep-state during winter if the weather warms or they are disturbed, and they may even leave their dens, eating opportunistically if they come across food, but do not tend to venture out for long. Other animals that enter a similar torpor state are raccoons and skunks - plenty of reasons why it is always good to be aware of your surroundings in the forest! Whether this particular bear is taking a mid-torpor stroll or has yet to enter this state for the winter is hard to say.
One animal, we are not surprised (but always happy) to see is the black-tailed deer.
Left to right (mobile: top to bottom): A doe in the snow; a buck in the snow; three deer in the snow; a buck on a game trail
Did you know Oregon is home to four native subspecies of deer? Mt Hood National Forest is home to the Columbian black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus columbianus), a subspecies of mule deer. These deer are found from the coastal ranges to the Cascades, and their range runs from California to northern British Columbia (a sister subspecies, Sitka black-tailed deer, is found in Alaska). Rocky Mountain mule deer (O.h. hemionus), another mule deer subspecies, are also native to Oregon, and they are found on the east side of the Cascades summits, most commonly on the east side of our state - fittingly, their range also includes both the American and Canadian Rockies. Black-tailed deer are a little smaller and darker than mule deer, but both have large, mule-like ears. While mule deer seem to prefer open steppe, black-tailed deer tend to prefer brushy areas of coniferous and mixed-coniferous forests, sticking close to clear cuts and burns for browsing opportunities.
Oregon is also home to two subspecies of white-tailed deer: the Columbian white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus leucurus) and the Northwest (Idaho) white-tailed deer (O.v. ochrourus). The Columbian white-tailed deer is the most rare deer in Oregon. They only live along the lower Columbia River and Umpqua Basin, and the Columbia River population is a federally protected endangered species. The Northwest white-tailed deer is found in the northeastern corner of our state and has a healthy population. As a species, white-tailed deer grow increasingly more abundant as you move toward the east coast. They can be found from Canada to South America and prefer mixed-deciduous forest types.
In our area, you are most likely to see Columbian black-tailed deer - or if you are lucky, the rare Columbian white-tailed deer. Columbian white-tails have long tails they keep held closely to their bodies, and black-tails have shorter tails held loosely to their bodies. If you head a bit further east, you may see the Northwest white-tails; these are the smallest deer of all and have very wide tails. The antlers of each species are different, too. If the antlers are fully developed, white-tailed deer have one main beam on each antler, with points coming of the main beam; black-tailed deer (and mule deer) will typically have a fork coming off the main beam, with points coming off each branch. Check out ODFW's site to read more about our native deer or watch a video on Columbian black- and white-tailed deer identification.
Almost as copious as deer and as perennial as coyote, are our forest corvids.
Left to right (mobile: top to bottom): Clark's nutcracker; Canada jay; and a video compilation of the two species visiting the same tree over two weeks - almost every 1-2 frames is a new visit.
Plentiful snows, hearty trackers, and some luck have resulted in some great tracking surveys!
One tracking team encountered three separate bobcat trails:
Detail of bobcat tracks; another bobcat's trail
The track quality on these tracks is great, even with a dusting of snow falling after they were laid. These photos show nice clarity of both the individual tracks and the trail pattern, and you can easily see the characteristic felid shape in these tracks. Compared to canid tracks, the whole of the print is quite circular and the thick, oblong pad is surrounded by four evenly spaced "toe beans." When distinguishing between dog and cat tracks, it's better to pay attention to these characteristics, rather than the presence or lack of claws: while felid claws are retractable (and canids are not), a bobcat or mountain lion can extend its claws for traction - something you may see on, say, a snowy/muddy/icy mountainside.
Distinguishing bobcat from mountain lion is easy, at least for the adults of the two species: go by size! Under 2.25" diameter is likely bobcat; greater than 2.75" is likely mountain lion.
The two tracks we are seeing the most of are snowshoe hare...
Left to right (mobile: top to bottom): the meandering path of a snowshoe hare; older tracks show the commonly seen track pattern of undefined, large hind feet ahead of the small front feet; a tracking team examines a snowshoe hare trail along a log; detail of exceptionally clear hare tracks.
Similar to the snowshoe hare, the older squirrel tracks show the commonly seen track pattern of undefined, large hind feet ahead of the small front feet; detail of clear squirrel tracks.
The abundance of hare and squirrel is great news for the bobcat, whose tracks were found above, and the rest of our forest carnivores. The photos above show how similar these two animal's tracks are, both animals having bodies well-suited for bounding along, close to the ground. They can be difficult to discern from one another, but hare will be larger than a squirrel, and hare's tracks often have less definition due to the impressive amount of fur covering their pads and toes. Squirrel tracks are also more uniform and boxy - note how well the feet line up on the bottom set of squirrel photos, compared to the more staggered landing of the hare's front feet.
In our forest, we have two kinds of non-hibernating squirrels: the Northern flying squirrel and the Douglas squirrel. However, it is difficult to tell their tracks apart. One way to tell? If you can follow the trail to the start, there will be a "landing strip" where the flying squirrel hit the ground. If you have clear enough tracks, you may be able to tell that the 5th toe on the hind foot (the "pinky toe") is almost as long as any other toe - that's a flying squirrel, too. Read more squirrel track analysis by David Moskowitz.
Whether in town or on the mountain, we hope to see you soon!