Cascadia Wildlife Blog
News from the Wolverine Tracking Project and more
Its been an incredible winter season and we can't believe summer is just around the corner! We're trading in our snowshoes for hiking boots and getting ready to hit the trails!
Our amazing volunteers worked hard this winter, trekking and breaking trail through heavy snow and braving wild winter storms to collect camera footage, tracking data and genetic samples. We couldn't do this work without their help!
Over the course of this epic winter season, trackers completed 12 tracking surveys, surveying over 12 miles on Mt. Hood! The tracking survey season was especially long this year due to several late season snow storms and tons of snow. Unlike most years, the winter tracking survey season went all the way into April!
Our camera crews monitored a total of 23 cameras this winter on Mt. Hood and in the surrounding forest. Camera crews ventured out and brought back footage from 17 sites in addition to 6 volunteer-owned cameras.
Here at the Wolverine Tracking Project, we're on the lookout for four target species: wolverine, Sierra Nevada red fox, gray wolf and Pacific marten. We were so excited to see several target species detections at our camera sites and tracking surveys this winter!
The Sierra Nevada red fox was detected by trail cameras at 2 different sites this winter. This fox can be found in high montane habitats throughout the Sierra Nevadas of California, the northern California Cascade range and the Oregon Cascades. We've typically seen fox detections near the tree line between 4,000-6,000 feet.
Surprisingly, a fox was detected at 3,290 ft at a site well below the tree line, not far from a major highway! The more we study them, the more accurately we will understand the areas they use.
Photos from top to bottom: Sierra Nevada red fox pauses by a tree then walks past the camera; A red fox sniffing the snow; A close-up shot of a fox's fuzzy ears and head as they walk by.
Next up from our target species list, the Pacific marten. We had several Pacific marten detections this winter at one of our upper elevation camera sites. We are always excited to see these mustelids at these sites as they are an indicator of a healthy forest ecosystem.
Below, we see this marten head straight towards the camera with their tracks visible in the snow behind.
Marten walking through the snow, towards the camera.
Our tracking volunteers also found evidence of marten on one tracking survey this year. This photo shows the long bounding stride of marten through the snow.
Tracking volunteers observing marten tracks in the snow.
Next up we'll take a look at our carnivore detections from this winter. Oregon is home to 24 species in the Carnivora order and our camera surveys detected several of them including mountain lion, bobcat, coyotes, black bear, skunk and weasel.
Oregon's largest felid, Mountain lion, was detected at two camera sites, as well as one volunteer-owned camera, all on the eastern side of the forest. These cats prey on deer and elk which were also prevalent in these areas.
The long tail of the mountain lion is a telltale feature seen in these two photos.
Photos top to bottom: The back of a mountain lion as they walk through the forest; The rear and tail of a mountain lion sneaking past through the night.
An incredible video of this mountain lion was caught by a volunteer-owned camera. This is a great clip of this feline's direct register walk, which is a gait pattern that trackers look for.
A mountain lion saunters past the camera.
The bobcat is another elusive feline predator that was detected at 10 camera sites this winter! These felids are much smaller than mountain lions and are named for their recognizable bobbed tails. We saw bobcats exploring the camera sites, rolling around in the snow and rubbing their faces on branches to leave their scent. This scent marking behavior is something we look for on our camera surveys.
Photos top to bottom: Bobcat lurking in the night; A bobcat rubbing their face against a branch; A bobcat sniffing the bait box and then rolling in the snow.
Here we can see a perfect bobcat paw print in the snow. Bobcat tracks were detected on two tracking surveys this winter.
Bobcat print in the snow.
One of our most abundant species the camera surveys detected this winter was the coyote. Coyotes were detected at 13 camera sites, almost every single one! These canines are very curious and they spent a lot of time exploring the camera sites. They displayed scent marking behavior, urinating or rolling around on the ground and rubbing up against trees.
Photos top to bottom: A snow covered coyote peers at the camera; A coyote rolling and rubbing their body against the ground; Coyote posing for a photo; Coyote sniffing and exploring a trail through the snow.
In addition to our camera detections, coyote tracks were found on four of the group tracking surveys. Here are two photos of coyote tracks the volunteers found.
Top and bottom photos: Coyote prints in the snow.
Black bear was detected at two of the camera sites, as well as two volunteer owned camera sites. We saw mama bears with their cubs playing and rolling around in the snow early this winter and then again, investigating the bait box at the start of spring.
Photos from top to bottom: A black bear cub playfully rolls in the snow; The backs of a large bear and her cub; Three bears ambling past the camera by the tree with a bait box.
Trackers also detected bear sign on this wooden trail marker. Bears will scratch and claw trees as another form of scent marking. Bear was detected on one of the tracking surveys this winter.
A wooden trail sign that has been clawed and chewed on by a black bear.
There are two subspecies of skunk in Oregon, the Western spotted skunk and the striped skunk. We saw both subspecies on the camera surveys this winter and because they are nocturnal, both detections were at night. These skunks are well known for the strong musk they produce as a defense mechanism from a gland located under their tails.
From top to bottom: A striped skunk passing through the camera site and stopping at a fallen log; A spotted skunk seen at the base of a tree.
Oregon is home to two species of weasel, the short-tailed weasel, also know as ermine and the long-tailed weasel. These small mustelids were found at four of our camera sites and three of our tracking surveys!
When hunting in snow, weasels will often burrow for small prey as seen in this clip. Keep an eye on the bottom of the frame and you'll see this slinky predator burrow into the snow as well as their various tracks.
Weasel burrowing in snow.
A weasel observing the snowy surroundings.
Two subspecies of elk roam Oregon and we caught sight of the western species, Roosevelt elk, at one of our volunteer owned cameras this winter. This is a great shot of this elk foraging in the snow.
Elk foraging in snow.
Along with coyote, deer was the most abundant species detected on our cameras. Black-tailed deer were seen at 12 of the sites, mostly in lower-elevation areas. Deer don't travel well in deep snow and will migrate to lower elevations as winter progresses. Deer was detected at one tracking survey at a lower elevation transect.
From top to bottom: A buck foraging in the snow; A close-up of the eyes, ears and antlers of a deer posing for the camera; A curious deer gets up close and checks out the trail camera; Deer foraging and picking up a small twig from the snow.
So many snowshoe hares! The snowshoe hare was quite common throughout the winter at our trail cameras and we enjoyed watching them bound through the sites. They were also one of the more abundant species detected on our tracking surveys. Snowshoe hares were detected at ten camera sites, including four volunteer-owned cameras and their tracks and sign were seen at seven of our tracking surveys!
Photos top to bottom: A snowshoe hare pausing in the snow; Close-up of a hare; Snowshoe hare bounding through snow leaving behind prominent tracks.
This photo from one of our tracking surveys below, features the easily distinguishable tracks of the snowshoe hare. As the hare hops through the snow, the larger hind feet will register in front of the fore feet.
Snowshoe hare tracks in the snow.
Squirrels are other busy small mammals seen regularly on our camera and tracking surveys. We loved seeing these critters scurrying about and nibbling on conifer cone scales. This winter our surveys detected Douglas and Western gray squirrel. These two species are fairly active all winter long.
Dwelling in conifer forest, the Douglas squirrel was seen at 12 camera sites and every single tracking survey! These squirrels are noticeably smaller than Western gray squirrels and are native to the Pacific Northwest. The two clips below catch Douglas squirrels foraging for conifer cones; the seeds are some of their favorite foods.
A fast moving Douglas squirrel snatches up a cone.
A squirrel faces the camera while eating and then bounds away.
A squirrel caught on camera from above leaving faint tracks in the snow.
This winter we saw an unusually high number of Western gray squirrels. While Douglas squirrels prefer conifer forests at various elevations, the larger Western gray squirrel is typically found in oak and ponderosa pine habitats at lower elevations. While they are known to venture into higher elevation conifer forests, they are considered rare in these habitats. The Western gray squirrel was seen at five camera locations and three tracking surveys, none in the ponderosa pine region.
A Western gray squirrel from behind as they venture through the forest.
Our tracking survey volunteers found tons of track and sign from these busy critters. In the photo below, you can see tiny squirrel toe and claw prints from a Douglas squirrel in the snow.
Squirrel toe prints in the snow.
As we mentioned above, squirrels love to snack on seeds. Trackers found lots of evidence of squirrels pausing to nibble on a conifer cone and leaving remnants in the snow.
Remnants of a conifer cone in the snow, fed on by a squirrel.
Although it doesn't happen often, we sometimes catch bird activity on our trail cameras and on our tracking surveys.
Gray jays, also known as Canada jays or 'Camp Robbers', are know for their mischievous antics! These birds will steal food from your campsite or directly out of your hand! This jay can be seen landing on the bait box before flying off.
A gray jay investigates the bait box on a tree before flying off.
We saw several wild turkeys on two of our camera surveys in the eastern part of the forest. Here in Oregon, we have thriving populations of wild turkey. Turkeys are not native, but were introduced to this area in the 1960s.
We see the tail end of this turkey as they run through the camera site.
The feathered tail end of a large turkey moving quickly through the forest.
A wild turkey walking through a camera site.
Tracking survey volunteers found other evidence of birds as well on one of the tracking surveys this winter. These two photos feature the tracks of the ground-dwelling bird, ruffed grouse.
Top and bottom photos: Ruffed grouse tracks through the snow.
Thats a wrap for our winter wildlife review!
Thank you to everyone that took part this survey season, we are so grateful for your help!
Make sure to check back next month to see who's in the forest on our summer surveys!