The forest is full of mysteries, isn't it? Volunteers found some tracking this week, and we caught one on camera. What is this blurry animal, and how can you tell?
Got your answer? Well, here are another couple of glances to see if you're right:
Yup, a snowshoe hare out looking for dinner -- if you can't tell by looking at the animal itself, those tracks it's leaving are a giveaway! Unfortunately, the wire brushes on our camera set-ups (to snag hair for DNA samples in case we get a rarer creature), were very likely a disappointment to a hare looking for a shrub's bark to munch on.
And another action shot: we also caught this gray jay in motion.
We're sorting through more pictures and collecting more every weekend, too, just trying to keep up!
Though we're sharing photos with wildlife in them here, it's also worth noting that many times, our motion-cameras were triggered by nothing but wind or snow falling from the trees -- the quiet we're capturing is as much a truth of winter in the northern conifer forests as the animal action.
Also this weekend, some of our trip leaders teamed up for a tracking trip to the Clear Lake area. (We don't normally track here because of all the snowmobile activity, but Super Bowl Sunday was the perfect time! Nice and quiet.)
The team descended through woods of Western and Mountain Hemlock, Doug Fir, Larch, and Lodgepole to Clear Creek, and they started following it upstream to the lake.
Snow conditions were very poor for snow tracking in the woods -- temperatures were on the rise and there were lots of drips and snow plops coming off the trees and marking the snow. Some of the melt water was even washing tannins off the trees and turning the snow slightly yellow beneath them.
In the open by Clear Creek, though, with nothing above to drip down, the tracking conditions were excellent, and the team found a single, clear trail from a surprising creature: a raccoon.
This animal was meandering around the creek, going in and out of it, and looking for a winter meal. Raccoons eat a number of creek-dwelling prey, including freshwater mussels and crayfish, so it was a good place to hunt. See the mud on one of its feet from the creek?
It was a bit of a surprise for our team, because we're used to seeing raccoons at lower elevations, not in the middle of Mt. Hood National Forest at 3,500 ft. It's always good to have our assumptions challenged as trackers, though, because animals disperse themselves where they find suitable habitat, not where the books say they should go!
Those were the only animal tracks of the day, but far from the only signs of life in the forest. As many teams have recently, our trip leaders examined many different woodpecker holes, and found one that had been filled with hair and lichen to make a nest! It seemed likely squirrel-sized, but they couldn't tell anything definitive.
It was a very cool find, and a reminder of another truth of life in the northern conifer forest: everything is connected, and decay makes way for life. That rotting snag made food for a lot of insects, which made food for a pileated woodpecker, which created shelter for a small mammal!
Speaking of insects, it's always good to remember that they're what woodpeckers are after when we see see their holes. And that they leave their own tracks! Here, on the left, the tracks of a pine engraver beetle. On the right, an unidentified species. (Does anyone know?)
For the final surprise of the day, the team snowshoeing up Clear Creek and expecting to come upon Clear Lake first ran into...a dam!
It made for a great sledding hill and a good turnaround point at the end of a good day of tracking.
See you next week for more wildlife and mountain mysteries!