Happy winter solstice, Cascadia Wild Community. Have you been wondering what our favorite mountain creatures are up on these darkest days of the year?
Well, to answer that question, let’s see what our favorite volunteers were up to on the mountain this week. A team led by expert trackers (and excellent photographers) Garth and Heather parked at Little John Sno-Park, at about 3,300 feet on the East side of Mt. Hood, high in the Hood River Valley. They hiked a snowy road bed through fresh snow, and enjoyed easier tracking conditions than our teams who went out last weekend in actively accumulating powder.
Just about immediately, they found a bobcat trail, which wove back and forth across the road for quite a ways as they kept going.
The cat’s trail tells us a lot about its routine. Bobcats spend a lot of time on the move looking for prey all year, and winter is no exception. Of course, they need to stay fed all year round, but this is the season when they’re burning the most calories to maintain their body heat. They travel as much as a few miles a day on the hunt, often along road beds or other open throughways.
Bobcats are most active at dawn and dusk, and those are great times to hunt for their favored winter prey, the snowshoe hare. Our team found hare tracks, as well, but the trail didn’t seem to have crossed paths with the cat’s at the same time.
This spot is about four miles from the Pocket Creek camera that caught a bobcat on camera just a few weeks ago – perhaps the same animal, perhaps a different one.
Another winter prey species that the bobcat might be excited to come upon is the ruffed grouse. These ground birds live in the forest year round, adjusting with the seasons. In the summer, they feast on insects and leaves, but on these cold, snowy days, they’re subsisting on buds and other plant material, and relying on their fluffy winter plumage, combined with insulation created by the air in the snow where they rest, to keep them warm.
Though perhaps not as excited as the bobcat would have been, our trackers were definitely surprised and pleased to come upon a group of grouse when they rounded a corner. The grouse did what a smart prey species does when surprised: quickly fled the area, leaving behind their scat and wing prints for our volunteers to examine.
Our weekend trackers also found tracks of a weasel in the snow – great work documenting one of our target species, team! Stay tuned for next week, when we’ll feature a few of the characteristics that helped them make the identification and learn more about these tiny and ferocious creatures.
Of course, some animals just can’t handle the snow. We caught a glimpse of one big one in the latest batch of photos from one of our Twin Lakes wildlife cameras. This guy:
Yup, a big bull elk. He probably weighs between 800 and 900 pounds, and each of his hard hooves is about half the size of a size 6 human foot. The proportionately small, hard hooves and long legs that help elk and deer maneuver through the forest in the summers, stepping over logs and between saplings, are a huge liability in the snow. Imagine what would happen if you took off your snowshoes and stepped into a deep drift – you’d immediately post-hole and get stuck. Is it any wonder that these hoofed animals head down into the less snowy lowlands for the winter?
And is it any wonder our friend the snowshoe hare is staying? A mid-sized hare weighs around three pounds, and the lengths of its four furry feet combined add up to roughly the length of its 18” body. Here’s a snowshoe hare in action last February, unfazed by deep snow.
Between winter weather and winter flu season, we’re a little behind in sorting through the photos that are coming in from the field with our camera volunteers. We’ll post more as they come in, though, so stay tuned.
What are you wondering about the winter lives of your favorite wildlife? Post a comment and let us know!