Many of our volunteers were happy to get up to Mt. Hood this past weekend, and saw a great range of tracks and sign. For this Winter Weekly, we’ll focus in on the tracking team that combed the area around the Frog Lake Sno-Park, and the creatures large and small that they found signs of.
The area around Frog Lake is at about 4,000 ft. elevation, and lies between the White River and Salmon River drainages, directly south of Mt. Hood’s peak. The thick hemlock and fir forest makes a great home for wildlife.
As should be expected for creatures near the base of the food pyramid, squirrel and snowshoe hare tracks were present in abundance. The team also added another small mammal to our winter tally sheets – one that’s very common, but not as commonly tracked in the snow.
Deer mice. Possibly Oregon’s most common and widespread little critter, they tunneled up through the snow from warm nests to have a look around. They don’t always leave signs when they do this, but thanks to the fresh snow, the team got to see their tiny tracks. And a tracker on a camera trip found the hole where a mouse popped in and out of the snow at the base of a root wad. (Of course, there are other small forest rodents that we can’t entirely rule out based on tracks with so few details – voles, for example – but deer mice are the most likely to be active above the surface this time of year.)
These deer mice are a perfect illustration of a tiny creature’s winter life. They stay close to their warm home, and even a trek of ten feet and back is a large one. They spend most of their winter underneath the snow.
Other small creatures take it a step further: Townsend’s chipmunks, for example, go into to a state of torpor for the winter. Torpor is sort of like hibernation, except they wake up about every week to eat from their cache of stored food. This video is aimed at a younger audience, but contains some great information on how chipmunks and other animals use low-energy states like torpor to reduce their calorie needs and stay alive.
Did you ever wonder why we sleep only one night at a time yet bears sleep for five months? How do bumblebees survive winter underground when their body temperature is just above freezing? Discover the answers by watching this Serious Science video. To learn more and to take this learning adventure into your classroom, visit our website at www.intotheoutdoors.com
What’s an animal on the other side of the winter survival spectrum? How about a coyote or a bobcat, who actively hunts all winter? One of these larger predators won’t hesitate to travel several miles in a winter day, crossing the range of many mice and likely hoping to make a morsel out of a few. Yup, the team found their tracks, too, plus a weasel trail -- they checked our smallest and two of our largest predator species off their list.
Thanks to these intrepid and winter-hardy volunteers, some good data were collected for the benefit of wildlife science and our local wildlife. What’s the next best thing our volunteers found in the snow this weekend, though? A good time.