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!
This winter season, a total of 1,447 volunteer hours went into camera survey trips!
Together, we maintained a total of 21 cameras at 25 camera sites over the winter season.
Over the survey year (which ran from Summer 2019 through Winter 2019-20), our camera sites were divided into two general areas: those near Mt. Hood, and those near the eastern edge of the National Forest boundary, with the intention of targeting different kinds of animals.
This map shows the cameras from the past year in the Mt. Hood area Summer 2019 and Winter 2019-20. The red dots are summer camera locations, the green dots are winter camera locations, and the black dots are year-round cameras.
This map shows the cameras in the eastern forest boundary area Summer 2019 and Winter 2019-20. The red dots are summer camera locations, the green dots are winter camera locations, and the black dots are year-round cameras.
The tables below show the animals detected at each site over the winter season:
A total of 18 different animal species were detected by our cameras, along with a few mystery species pictured below...
Our cameras even captured 3 different target species!
The beautiful Sierra Nevada red fox was pictured at 4 separate camera sites this winter!
Another target species, the gray wolf, was seen at 2 camera sites...
And our final target species was pictured at one camera site: the Pacific marten!
While these target species are incredibly exciting to capture on camera, so are the many other animals that passed through our camera sites!
Our most frequent visitor was present at over 64% of all camera sites this winter... You guessed it: the coyote!
Another frequent visitor was the black-tailed deer, present at 52% of our overall camera sites, and over 92% of the eastern forest boundary sites!
Deer weren't the only ungulates spotted in our forests this winter. Elk were present at 5 different camera sites, all in the eastern forest boundary:
Appearing at 10 camera sites, the bobcat was another regular:
The largest felid in our forests, the mountain lion, was present at only 1 camera site this winter:
The black bear was seen at 2 camera sites this winter, including once with some cubs!
Many forest rodent inhabitants made their way into our camera sites, such as squirrels and mice.
Can you spot tell which is a Douglas squirrel and which is our native, nocturnal Northern flying squirrel below?
Snowshoe hares were present at 8 camera sites...
And luckily, we only faced minor sabotage by the striped skunks, who made their way into 5 different camera sites...
A huge THANK YOU to all of the volunteers that made this winter season so great - we look forward to another great summer survey season!
This winter season, a total of 1,213.5 volunteer hours were put into tracking surveys!
In total, 47.5 miles were surveyed for tracks at 11 different transect locations!
The map below shows the locations of our tracking trips this season.
Thanks to all your hard work and attentive tracking, 279 total tracks were recorded, consisting of 8 different species and some mystery tracks!
This table shows our tracking totals for the winter season:
By and large, our winter tracks were dominated by snowshoe hare and squirrel prints.
Pictured below are squirrel tracks (left) alongside snowshoe hare tracks (right).
This season, a total of 117 squirrel tracks were recorded, the most of any species this season!
Second in frequency to squirrel were snowshoe hare, with a total of 113 tracks!
Another frequent sight on these tracking surveys was the deer mouse, with a total of 21 tracks recorded.
Weasel tracks were recorded a total of 13 times:
Our tracking teams even picked up a target species: the Pacific marten!
A total of 6 coyote tracks were seen...
...and a total of 9 bobcat tracks
Our volunteers also found some beautiful raven tracks in the snow!
Some mystery tracks were not clear enough to properly identify...
Along with animal tracks, our wildlife tracking teams also found other signs of wildlife in our forests, including these small sticks that indicate a small animal chewing the cambium for food...
...and a tree with signs of bark removal at the base (perhaps from a bear eating the cambium), consumption of the exposed inner tree by insects, and finally, marks left by a woodpecker eating the insects inside the tree.
So much history visible in one tree!
Near the base of this sign post are marks left by a bear:
Our tracking teams also found a small mystery den:
With so many animal signs recorded - both tracks and otherwise - it has undoubtedly been a very successful winter tracking season!
Want to learn more about wildlife on Mt Hood?
Summer survey season
All in-person classes and events have been cancelled for the time being (read our COVID-19 Statement). However, we are hopeful, planning on, and looking forward to our summer survey wildlife survey season.
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!
Happy Winter, Happy Holidays, and Happy (almost) New Year!!
Since our last post, we have transitioned from Fall to Winter, and we have been busy!
Earlier this month, we held our first ever fundraiser, Mystery Tracks, and it was a great success in many ways. Not only did we surpass our fundraising goal, but we had so much fun doing so! We also learned that, regardless of current skillset, there is a tracker in every one of us. Excellent work to all who came out to sleuth some tracks and make this a night for the books! And thank you to Jean’s Farm for hosting, Ecliptic Brewing for the keg, and Steve Engel for the masterful plaster track casts.
We would also like to thank everyone who has donated or become a member this month!
If you're considering making a tax-deductible donation on behalf of yourself or a loved one,
there's still time to donate and help us start off strong in 2020.
As a community-based, volunteer-run organization, each dollar makes a difference, and we could not do this work without you!
We are Cascadia Wild!
Now that we are officially in Winter, the Wolverine Tracking Project winter surveys are in full swing! We are getting a lot of footage back from our camera surveys, and a handful of tracking surveys have also been completed. There’s a lot more ground and many months still to cover, but we are off to a great start and have a great group of volunteers helping out this season. Thank you to everyone who is lending their hands, eyes, and time to help document the wildlife of our national forest.
In case you missed it, we have some big news...
WOLVES IN MT HOOD NATIONAL FOREST!
Gray wolves detected by Wolverine Tracking Project Camera Survey, 2019
Sources at ODFW indicate that these individuals, detected on separate occasions at different sites, could be the breeding pair of the White River wolf pack, who have taken up residency on the Warm Springs Reservation and the eastern edge of Mt Hood National Forest. A target species of the Wolverine Tracking Project, we are interested in how the presence of gray wolves will shape the ecosystem of the lands they chose to call home. In hopes of also helping to define their range, we will continue to keep a lookout for these newcomers with several cameras positioned along the forest boundary. As the pack grows and disperses, or as other wolves move in, we expect to see more of them.
Since the wolf detections above, snows have arrived on our mountain, just in time to greet the season. This means we are seeing a lot more of other kinds of animals at our camera sites, including another of our target species: the Sierra Nevada red fox.
This winter, we have 9 cameras located in the immediate Timberline/Government Camp area and an additional two in the outlying area, all specifically focused on targeting this subspecies, one of the most rare mammals in North America and endemic only to the montane slopes of the Sierras and Cascades south of the Columbia River. As winter sets in, they seem more drawn to our sites than in summer, and frequency of detection increases. This is perhaps due to higher concentrations of red fox at the “lower” elevations of our typical sites (their summer range may include the talus slopes where installing camera traps is more difficult). Or, perhaps they are more drawn to the meat bait in these leaner months. Here we can see video compilation of what looks like two different foxes timidly checking some sites:
In both of these videos, the foxes seem drawn to the meat and fox urine we have baited the tree with, yet they are exercising caution. In the second video, what appears to be the same fox came back at least three times over a course of 9 days. Compared to bears or wolverine, who are both notorious when it comes to getting their paws on food, canids tend to be more hesitant, and our Vulpes vulpes necator here is no exception.
Read more about the Sierra Nevada red fox.
Coyotes inspecting bait sites
Coyotes, almost a guaranteed visitor at many of our locations, can also be cautious when it comes to inspecting bait.
Coyote going for a roll near a bait tree
However, coyotes tend to quickly overcome their hesitation and are just as likely to go for a good roll in, or near, the bait (see above)! Whether marking their territory or perfuming their coats, this is one behavior we can almost always count on from these canids.
Family Felidae are also curious about the smells at a site.
Bobcats inspecting the smells at a site
These bobcats are much less hesitant than their canid counterparts, however, and if they show an interest in the bait will generally directly approach it, sometimes even marking it with their scent before leaving (rubbing, urinating, or even rolling in it in less common instances).
Even deer will check out a bait site:
Two does inspect bait on a tree
Though, as herbivores, deer are not interested in bait as a food source, it is in their interest to know who else may be in an area, and so the site behooves inspection.
Other times, they are just passing through...
Clockwise from top left: a doe casually browses her way through the field of view; two does meander through the snow; a young buck contemplates some snowberries; and a yearling seemingly poses for his portrait.
We've been seeing a lot of family Cervidae this month, which includes both deer and elk. Elk seem to have very little interest in bait, though they do sometimes like to inspect cameras. Elk are seemingly always on the move, seeking out the best sites for grazing and shelter every couple of days.
Female elk (cows) on the move
Like deer, elk are crepuscular. Generally, though not always, elk are found grazing at night in large herds (or harems). A ruminant, elk can graze about 20 pounds of vegetation a day! At daybreak or soon after, elk disperse into smaller groups and bed down in shelter (typically forested areas).
Male elk (bulls) on the move
Male elk, or bulls, will often travel solo this time of year. Late summer to early winter is elk breeding season, or rut, and the mature individuals pictured here are likely in pursuit of a harem.
Other animals who display little caution at sites?
A black bear (left) inspects a snag belt (which collects hair for genetic analysis), and a female bear (sow, right) thoroughly inspects a site with her two cubs of the year (coy).
As mentioned above, bears are well-known for being brazen when it comes to food. More so, they tend to be thoroughly curious. As an apex predator, extreme caution is not a characteristic necessary to their survival, though they seem to take great interest in their surroundings.
Some smaller animals are just as brazen as a bear...
Left to right: mice, Clark's nutcracker, and Canada jays are opportunistic at baited sites.
...while other animals can be troublemakers. In the photos above, a striped skunk of family Mephitidae inspects and disassembles a hair snag belt.
Weasels are often seen at our sites in winter, and they will approach bait fearlessly.
Long tailed weasels passing through our sites
The long-tailed weasels above, however, are not displaying interest in the bait. This could be because there is plentiful food for them, like mice, voles, and even larger animals like rabbits and chipmunks. Closely related to skunks and in the same family as wolverine (Mustelidae), it is not surprising that these animals have a diverse carnivore diet and display little caution.
Some other animals tend to always be oblivious to the bait, like these snowshoe hares, though they often tend to perk up a little for the camera:
Two snowshoe hares seem to pause for a photo mid-bound. One hare is in its winter coat (left) and the other, detected before snowfalls, is still in its summer coat (right).
These members of family Leporidae sport large, snow-defying hind legs and have another helpful adaptation: camouflage. The hare on the right appears to still be wearing its darker summer coat, while the hare on the left has changed its seasonal coloration to match the freshly falling snows. Perfectly timed for the season!
Another fearless, though somewhat rare animal detected by our cameras? A herd of camera crew volunteers!
Camera crew are often seen during site maintenance checks in groups of two to four. The above photo shows a particularly large group at a field training earlier this season. Keep an eye out if you are in the woods this time of year: they are a joyful bunch and we hear it can be contagious.
Whereas cameras can offer rich detail of the wildlife they detect, they can only tell the story of what is directly in front of the lens and can miss the peripheral story of all that goes on around them. Tracking surveys step in to compliment the wildlife camera data, telling us a story of the life upon a landscape. Surveys are conducted by snowshoe on Mt Hood almost every winter weekend with groups of up to 12, which include two Cascadia Wild endorsed and trained Tracking Trip Leaders. The surveys follow 1.5 mile transects (and more if time allows) and document the tracks found along the way, including: track size, gait, track quality, and species identification. A lot can be learned about the land and wildlife by reading these signs. Read more.
One of the most easily distinguishable animal tracks in our forest is the snowshoe hare:
Snowshoe hare tracks in snow displaying the characteristic cluster of a hopping gait
A helpful hint in identifying this species is to look at the trail pattern: there are four footsteps all together in one area, and another four together following it, indicating hopping. For these hares, the prints in the front of the clusters are actually the back feet, and the prints in the back of the clusters are the front feet. Hares will land with their front feet, followed by their back feet, and they will swing their large back feet forward further than their front, ready to spring into the next bound.
We've also been seeing quite a few squirrels:
Squirrel (likely Douglas squirrel) tracks in snow displaying their characteristic double-register
Here, each print is actually two prints - both the front and back foot stepping in the same spot. This is called a double register.
And we've even found some mice!
Mouse tracks in snow, also displaying the characteristic clusters that indicates hopping
The mouse has the same trail pattern as the hare: hopping, with all four feet coming down in the same area.
One of the more exciting tracking finds so far has been Pacific marten. The Pacific marten is also one of our target species: their presence is an indicator of healthy upper-elevation forest.
Detail of Pacific marten tracks in snow (left) and the meandering trail of a Pacific marten (right)
The trail of the marten can be seen above. Several times it appeared to slow to a walk, pause - perhaps looking around - and often kept to the cover of the small saplings. Marten, another mustelid, are also voracious carnivores and it's possible to imagine it skirting the trees on its meandering path, in search of a vole, deer mouse, or other small animal.
A Canada jay perches on a snowy bough
Occasionally, we even get to see wildlife! A common sight are Canada jays. While we do not keep data on these birds, we do like seeing their familiar faces. Like their Corvid cousins - scrub and Stellar jays, Clark's nutcrackers, crows, ravens, and so on - Canada jays are adaptable, have diverse diets, and are generally regarded as highly intelligent, personable, and sneaky. These characteristics lend them and others in family Corvidae the nickname "Camp Robber."
There are few better ways to spend a winter day than strapped into snowshoes documenting the wildlife in our backyard...
...and enjoying the scenery...
...with a great group of trackers:
Thank you all for being a part of Cascadia Wild, this year, in previous years, and in the years to come!
Until next time...
Happy Solstice! Happy Winter!
Our best wishes to you in the New Year!
Summer is cruising along! We hope you are getting out there, picking some berries, counting stars, and enjoying the season to the fullest. Volunteers on our camera and scat teams are getting out there and bringing back invaluable footage and genetic samples of our forest wildlife. Thank you to everyone who has contributed!
If you're looking for another excuse to get out to the woods, look no further! We'll be at Bark's Summer Base Camp to lead a Tracking Workshop on Sunday, September 1st - come for the day, a few nights, or the full two weeks of camping, workshops, and forest and beaver habitat surveys! Family friendly and FREE. We hope to see you there.
Keep the Sierra Nevada red fox scat survey in mind as you head out to the mountain trails this summer!
We're creating quite the stockpile of promising Sierra Nevada red fox scat, as well! Not every survey will collect scat, though, and that is as valuable as genetic information - lack of evidence of their presence is data that reinforces the rarity of this animal - and knowing what areas they are using is as helpful as knowing what areas they are not. Once we have enough samples, we send the samples for analyses to our partner at Cascades Carnivore Project (who is also researching the Cascade red fox, a cousin in the alpine areas north of the Columbia River). Depending on the quantity we collect, the whole process can take a year. The more we collect, the more timely we can get the data analyzed and communicated to researchers and management - and the better data set we will have.
Wolf survey: We also recently sent off five wolf scat samples to be analyzed by ODFW, and are looking forward to the news! A recent survey also found two new scat samples.
Depending on habitat connectivity, availability of prey, and other dynamics, a wolf pack can have a hunting territory of 50-1000 miles (larger territories commonly found in arctic and subarctic areas). While we know the White River pack is nearby, we are still learning about their territory, and a wolf from that pack or another could decide to venture out and claim new territory at any time. It's a good idea to keep an eye out for their signs, especially on the eastern side of the mountain - we never know where they may end up!
We've now seen footage from all our sites, and have a lot of photos for you, including some firsts of the season - and a first ever for this survey! As usual, we saw a lot of elk, deer, coyote, black bear, a couple mountain lions, and a couple bobcats. We of course saw a lot of Douglas squirrel, a lot of very busy chipmunks, at least one ground squirrel, and a few handfuls of unidentifiable rodents, but the star rodent this time was the largest member of the family Sciuridae, the yellow-bellied marmot!
This is the first time we have caught one of these giant ground squirrels at our cameras! They tend to live on and build deep burrows in talus slopes or alpine meadows, and, though it's not unheard of, it's a wonder that we would find one in this area, which is high-subalpine. Perhaps this one has recently been displaced or has chosen this sub-alpine forest for its abundant edible mosses, grasses, and wildflowers - favorite snacks of marmots.
These dapper rock chucks are named for their coloring, however, they turn tail and burrow at the slightest onset of cold. One of the longest hibernators in our region, marmots can begin hibernation as early as the end of July/mid August, but usually take the dog days of summer to continue building their winter stores.
The biggest present danger to this marmot is coyotes, but wolverines would also be a formidable foe if they reclaim their historic range.
Speaking of Mustelidae (the weasel family, of which wolverines are a part), we also caught sight of the first weasel of the summer!
This lithe and well-camouflaged animal has a unique, identifiable characteristic that sets it apart from other mammals of its size: a long, black-tipped tail which appropriately lends to its name of 'long-tailed weasel.' We always enjoy finding this voracious rodent-hunter on our cameras.
We also saw our first sooty grouse of the season at the same site (lower left corner).
Like other ground birds, a grouse is always a good sign for our forest carnivores like this bobcat, seemingly hot on its trail.
This other bobcat was very interested in the bait belt itself - but not the bait. Perhaps it was more interested in our human-scent from the camera setup than the canine-scent bait under the log; indeed, one of these two may present more danger than the other.
A fellow feline who rightly fears no animal, hominids included, this mountain lion took a moment of repose at our bait log...
...while another mountain lion was caught on the prowl.
We saw many black bear, like this one with its black and cinnamon coloration.
This bear visited a few times, and it really enjoyed using the camera tree as a scratching post, leaving us with quite a few pictures of the back of its head.
Two cubs of the year were caught at another site, though rarely on-camera at the same time. The mother, though (top background), was never far behind.
You can almost see the grin on this content coyote. This behavior could be fulfilling a purpose as simple as a good back-scratch. Or, considering the presence of deer in the area some nights prior, could be a way for the coyote to cover itself in the scent of its prey.
Meanwhile, another one of our cameras captured this very lucky coyote!
While the coyotes have seemed to move on from this site, for now at least, we did see a lot more hare:
More good news for our forest carnivores, a lot of members of the family Cervidae! Specifically, deer and elk.
The photos of this buck displays its summer velvet wonderfully. The antlers of a mature, well-fed and healthy buck can grow up to 1/4 of an inch a day. For bull elk, antlers can grow almost an inch a day. When velvet is present, the antlers are soft and susceptible to damage, and this is part of the reason why bulls and bucks will tend to stick to a smaller territory, with other males. The velvet sheds when the bone begins to set, about mid- to late-September, just in time for them to roam.
We didn't see too many bull elk this time, but we did see quite a few herds of cows and calves.
We also saw two elk that were tagged and collared...
And were treated to some beautiful photographs of a very curious elk! Hello!
We have one more first of the season to share with you, the raccoon:
If you live in a city, chances are you've seen one of these recently. Though more common to see in urban areas, they are still woodland creatures. Like coyotes and other fauna that easily transition to urban areas, they are highly adaptable to their environment. Their presence as scavengers and hunters is always a good sign, and it's always encouraging to see diversity in the forest.
Thanks for reading. We'll be back with more updates soon!
Our cameras have picked up something a bit uncommon and special to see this summer: juvenile coyotes!
Though very similar to each other, note that the juvenile coyote (left) is much more lean and a bit more gangly than the adult that follows closely behind (right). The juvenile also has the typically much finer coat of first-year coyotes.
We’ve also seen other juvenile coyotes at at least one other site in the forest, taken around the same time:
Again, notice the smooth, light coat of a first-year coyote and the lighter frame. Given that juveniles are not ready to hunt on their own at this point, we imagine that it is looking behind for its partner.
What does this mean for the ecosystem?
While perhaps not quite as exciting as the recent videos of the six new wolf pups of the White River wolf pack or the three new pups of the Lassen wolf pack (definitely worth watching if you haven’t), the presence of coyotes and their seemingly abundant offspring indicates that the underlying ecosystem is healthy. What’s more, it could support the growing wolf packs nearby. However, this may come with some food competition and displacement for the coyotes - a coyote will avoid a wolf for the same reasons a fox will avoid a coyote. Luckily, coyotes are timid yet resourceful scavengers and excellent hunters, and their adaptability enables them to survive in environments that wolves cannot, including suburban and urban areas, and enables them to hunt anytime of day or night, allowing crepuscular wolves to use the same territory during dawn or dusk.
Whether we'll see wolves in this area, only time will tell, but in the meantime, these healthy, reproductive carnivores tell a story of a healthy environment that is capable of supporting diverse life.
Summer is in full swing!
While that may mean staying up late under the stars, taking dips in glacial waters, and counting the hours spent outside in mosquito bites, at Cascadia Wild it also means hauling off to the woods to check on camera sites and combing trails for signs of Sierra Nevada red fox and gray wolf.
These wildlife surveys bring back valuable data, and in the past month alone we have collected over 8,000 viable photos, five wolf scat samples, one red fox scat sample, and, with our twenty or so new volunteers for the red fox scat survey, we are looking forward to more red fox samples, too!
You may have heard the big news last week about six new wolf pups in the White River Pack! This video, captured by biologists of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, is worth a watch with the sound ON. We hope the best for the newest members of this pack, and we are keeping an eye out for them! It's only a matter of time and luck before some of them disembark to find new territory of their own. We are very interested in how their presence will shape the ecosystem of wherever they choose to call home, and, should they come our way, the information collected from our wildlife surveys will help us understand that.
It bears repeating: All this work is made possible by the support of our community – whether you are a survey volunteer, member, have taken courses with us, or have offered financial or material support, your presence is invaluable. Together, we are deepening our understanding of the forest. Thank you!
And now, the camera highlights!
All our cameras are up, and we’ve gotten footage back from all but one. Since our first photos of the season, we’ve seen more elk, deer, coyote, black bear, and of course, squirrels. We also have our first summer sightings of turkeys, skunk, cougar, and bobcats!
Most of our footage so far is of deer, which is more good news for our mountain predators. This buck near Timberline was out way past his bedtime, however, and deer at night can indicate that their environment is relatively safe from predators, so it will be interesting to see what else this site finds over the summer.
If you're planning on being out at night, keep an eye out for this nocturnal critter! Striped skunks like this one may get a bad rap, thanks to their odorous nature, but they are highly adaptable omnivores and can be important for insect control. They have been known to eat wasps and even venomous snakes! It's not surprising that while they are now classified in their own family as Mephitidae (skunk and stinking badgers), they were long classified in the family Mustelidae, along with wolverines, weasels, martins, and their other similar, feisty counterparts.
That's all for now, and we're looking forward to seeing what the next few weeks bring in!
Until next time: take care, and thanks for being a part of our community!
This week teams visited Bear Springs Near, Bear Springs Far, Alpine, Glade, Government Camp West, Meadows, Clear Lake, and Yellowjacket West.
Trackers visited Barlow Pass and reported back the "day of the weasel!"
Tracking Trip Updates
Above, mouse tracks with tail drag and a short-tailed weasel tunnel with breaks to the surface. Below, a weasel tunnel just below the surface.
Incredible views on a beautiful day!
Lastly, a moment in time captured in the snow in this bird's swooping track.
Wildlife Camera Findings
Bear Springs Near
Bear Springs Near enjoyed a mid-morning visit from this bobcat only once during the set. It's nice getting to see the bobcat in color, compared to our usual black & white nighttime captures.
A coyote dug a huge pit in front of the bait station. The outstanding sense of smell that all members of family canidae enjoy and utilize helped this coyote locate something buried deep in the snow. While it looks like it may have just found some old bait scraps, coyotes are fully capable of capturing live prey deep in the snow, although their methods differ from the charismatic style of foxes. Watch this video for a comparison!
Government Camp West
A bobcat saunters through the snow at Gov Camp West in the very early morning.
A fox at Government Camp is an exciting capture! This is the second lowest elevation we have seen foxes out, outdone only by a single fox at Teacup Lake last year.
Marten bound easily across the snow, and rather than digging or pouncing like the coyotes and foxes, they will tend to seek out hollows in the snow near trees or rocks and seek out prey in their tunnels from there. It is likely that this marten has a litter at home, and if not, it will soon! Young will typically be born between March and April.
We had camera checks at Clear Lake, McCubbins Gulch #1 and #2, and Yellowjacket East. A tracking trip visited Teacup Lake.
Tracking Trip Updates
Our tracking trip this week enjoyed an overcast day in the trees at Teacup Lake and observed some interesting weasel tracks, and some fun squirrel tracks, too!
weasel bounding (left) and squirrel going UP! (right)
In the following photo you can see the path the weasel took underneath the snow, quickly reemerging to the surface after just a short distance. Weasels are thin enough to squeeze into the tunnels left by mice and other small creatures, and will follow those tunnels in pursuit of prey. They definitely don't forget about the surface though! We love the idea mentioned by one of our trackers of a weasel poking its head above the surface of the snow like a little periscope!
Wildlife Camera Findings
The team at Clear Lake encountered some pretty amazing conditions that might have you drooling or cringing- depending on your preferences of snow sports! Either way, it looks BEAUTIFUL!
McCubbins #2 was visited by a coyote, a few deer, and a Douglas squirrel apparently competing for space with a (much larger) western gray squirrel that regularly appears on camera.
This yearling buck at McCubbins #2 will be losing his antlers any time now. An annual drop in testosterone (occurring after the rut in fall) leaves the connective area of the antlers weakened, eventually resulting in their loss in late winter or early spring. In summer, surges of testosterone trigger the regrowth of larger antlers. Have you come across any shed antler yet this season?
McCubbins #1 was exclusively visited in groups, whether it was a herd of deer or a flock of turkeys! This herd contained more than 6 individuals grazing together.
Have you ever heard of a "rafter of turkeys" before? Groups of turkeys are commonly called "flocks", "gobbles", or "gaggles", but "rafter" is a rather unusual one that seems reserved for domesticated birds. This site discusses the same "rafter" in detail for those of us who are curious!
Tracking Trip Updates
A group visited Froglake Snopark over the weekend and observed coyote, squirrel, hare tracks. Coyote feeding habits differ in the winter as opposed to the more plentiful times of spring and summer, and we can expect to see them not only along the trails of their favorite prey animals, but also scavenging more often and doing their best to conserve their energy.
Wildlife Camera Findings
This Meadows marten left us picture-perfect tracks. Here we can observe the angled two-print pattern and we even see the hints of what could be the five toes and claw marks.
At the same camera, we got an excellent view of a coyote's meadnering tracks.
This Bear Springs Near coyote is displaying a habit most of us wish our dogs at home could resist! Scent-rolling, wallowing, or scent-bathing are all names for the act of rolling in something most of us would turn our noses up at. However, for these predators and our pups at home, this habit offers a convenient way to disguise their own scent. Not only is there the potential for them to hide their own scent from their prey, but it would also hide their scent from any predators coming after THEM! This is especially true for the smaller predators who practice this ritual.
Lastly, Alpine got picked over by two ravens, but they were kind enough to wait until only a few days before the camera check to steal all the bait!
More tracking and camera trips coming up, be sure to sign up and we will see you soon!