Cascadia Wildlife Blog
News from the Wolverine Tracking Project and more
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!
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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!
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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!