Cascadia Wildlife Blog
News from the Wolverine Tracking Project and more
The Wolverine Tracking Project Winter Wildlife Surveys have drawn to a close, and summer is just on the horizon. As we take a look back at findings and best photos from the season, we have a lot to celebrate! And, if you are so inclined, check out our official Wolverine Tracking Project annual research report here, for all the findings of the past year!
If you're a returning volunteer and would like to join the Wolf Team, contact us and let us know!
And now the review!
Wolverine Tracking Project Winter Findings
A snowy scenic image of Newton Creek submitted by a volunteer. A small creek divides two snowy banks, with a line of snow tipped trees and Mt. Hood in the background.
Volunteers retrieved beautiful trail camera images, took stellar pictures of tracks, kept their eyes peeled for scat, urine, and other sign, and supporters helped us meet our fundraising goal! All of these contributions allow us to continue building a robust narrative of the animals of Mt. Hood National Forest and allow us to keep documenting wildlife in a meaningful way. Whether you were part of a Camera Crew, a Tracker, or had wanted to join but weren't able to due to pandemic, or if instead you supported us from home: Thank you, thank you!
Camera Crews committed over 1000 hours to checking cameras and recording and uploading data! Trackers committed 137 hours and surveyed over 15 miles of transects, for a total of 181 tracks surveyed!
This winter we maintained 24 sites throughout the forest. Our cameras were located in two general areas, some were clustered around Mt. Hood, while others were placed on the eastern side of the forest. The Mt. Hood cluster also included 12 companion tracking transects, 8 of which were surveyed over the season.
These two survey areas focused on two of our target species. The gray wolf has been confirmed to live in a small section of forest along the eastern boundary, and the goal of this survey area is to detect any wolf travel or dispersal. The Sierra Nevada red fox has been confirmed to live in alpine and subalpine habitat close to Mt. Hood, and our Mt. Hood cameras and tracking transects are aimed at detecting these foxes. We are also interested in two other species in the Mt. Hood area: the Pacific marten, and the hopeful return of wolverine. That being said, we are always thrilled to see other Mt. Hood wildlife explore our trail camera sites and to cross their paths on tracking surveys as their presence helps tell the larger story of the ecosystem.
Furthermore, the tracking and camera surveys and any incidental sign documented, work together to help tell a comprehensive story of life in the forest. Though there are animals throughout the forest, they often navigate the snowy landscape unseen. By looking at the tracks left behind, we are able to learn not only about the presence of the animal, but how they use and interact with the environment.
Our four target species are wolf, wolverine, Sierra Nevada red fox, and Pacific marten.
We have been especially thrilled by how many Sierra Nevada red foxes we have detected this season! We detected Sierra Nevada red fox at four sites in our Mt. Hood cluster. We also detected a red fox of unknown subspecies at an east side camera.
A red fox runs through a small clearing.
This unknown detection was in a location outside of the known habitat of both Sierra Nevada red foxes and lowland red foxes. Because of this detection, we are expanding our Mt. Hood Camera and Fox Survey areas this summer to encompass lower elevations, to hopefully determine if this individual is an outlier or if there is more to the range of Sierra foxes, or lowland foxes, than we originally thought. This exemplifies how little we know about these foxes and how important the camera, tracking, and genetic data are to creating a well-rounded understanding of their habitat use.
These next featured sightings of foxes in the Mt. Hood area are definitely Sierra Nevada red foxes, due to the alpine environment in which they were detected.
Top: A Sierra Nevada red fox sniffs the snow. Bottom: A Sierra Nevada red fox walks around a bait box, leaving fresh tracks behind in the snow.
In addition to seeing these foxes on trail cameras, a Tracker also documented potential Sierra Nevada red fox tracks and scat while surveying an alpine Mt. Hood transect. These tracks aren't quite clear enough to say for certain which type of canine this was, but both seem like good potential for this target species.
Top: A canine track found in some deep snow. Bottom: Potential Sierra Nevada fox scat lays in the snow, with a small memo book and tape measure for size reference.
In partnership with ODFW, any genetic samples suspected to belong to Sierra Nevada red fox will be genetically tested to determine if the sample belongs to a fox, what subspecies of fox it is, and other information such as native ancestry and population connectivity. This is important for understanding their natural history and how best to protect these beautiful animals.
A Cascade red fox stands in built up snow on the side of a mountain road.
In addition, Keri Sprenger, a long time Wolverine Tracking Project volunteer, shared some breathtaking photos from her encounter with a Cascade red fox in Washington, a long time resident known as Whitefoot, shown above. Cascade red foxes are cousins of Sierra Nevada red foxes and are also a native, montane fox. Sierra Nevada red foxes are found in the Cascades and Sierras south of the Columbia River, and the Cascade red fox is found in the Cascades north of the Columbia River.
Pacific martens were detected at two Mt. Hood cluster camera sites. Marten presence is an important indicator of ecosystem health in old growth upper-elevation forests. Thanks to the amazing efforts of Cascadia Wild volunteers and supporters, the trail cameras can document their curious antics which might otherwise be rarely seen by human visitors to their habitat. Marten tracks were also detected at a Mt. Hood site, further affirming their otherwise elusive presence.
Top: A Pacific marten pauses before sniffing and leaving the bait tree. Middle: A Pacific marten investigates the bait box and then leaves. Bottom: Marten tracks left in the snow.
One of the most frequent visitors on our trail cameras was coyotes! They were the most frequent visitor of all of our carnivores, detected at 18 camera sites throughout the survey area. They were also our most inquisitive carnivore, and they would often be detected smelling or marking the site or striking a comedic pose.
To to bottom/left to right: A coyote sniffs the snow; a coyote marks the snow; a coyote rubs the snow with their cheek and they almost look like they are smiling; a coyote stands with their front legs crossed.
Whitetip, a coyote we have been seeing since two summers ago and named for her white-tipped tail, made frequent appearances at an east side camera site this season. Volunteers also found potential coyote tracks on the way out to a camera check at an east side camera site.
Top: A coyote with a white tipped tail stands in a clearing. Bottom: Coyote tracks in the snow, between fallen seeds and sticks.
A carnivore less often glimpsed was the elusive mountain lion. These striking big cats are rare to come by on our cameras in the winter season, but they never fail to be photogenic. They were only detected at 3 sites, all east of Mt. Hood. Mountain lion tracks were also found, also on the east side of the mountain.
Top: A mountain lion stands looking off to the right. Middle: A mountain lion looks down at the base of a stump and fallen tree. Bottom: A mountain lion track in the dirt.
Bobcats were another wild feline detected, but unlike the mountain lion, appeared at sites both east of and around Mt. Hood.
Top: A bobcat stands in front of the bait tree and marks it. Bottom: A bobcat walks across a camera site.
Two Mt. Hood tracking transects revealed bobcat sign. And for a pleasant surprise, bobcat scat was also detected at a Mt. Hood site. The smooth rounded feline scats make a clear contrast to the twisted and tapered canine scats.
Top: A bobcat track in snow. Bottom: A bobcat scat next to tracks in the snow.
Black bears continued to surprise us with their visits to the east side camera sites well into late December. In January, a camera crew even recorded their tracks in the subalpine of Mt. Hood - 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 on the east side in January of last year.
Top: A night image of a black bear in the middle of a camera site. Bottom: Black bear tracks in the snow.
The small but very mighty weasel was a blurry sight on our trail cameras this season. We had several detections this season, two at a Mt. Hood camera site and a handful at the east side camera site. Both images feature a long, slim, fast-moving body. While they were tough to capture with cameras, their tracks were often plain to see! There were some incidental tracks found on camera checks and on the two Mt. Hood tracking transects. One of our favorite sets of weasel tracks from the season were these ones leading into a cozy little alcove in the snow.
Top to bottom/left to right: A weasel darts through a camera site; a weasel darts through another camera site; weasel tracks lead into a small snowy alcove.
Our cameras just got one glimpse of a raccoon running out of frame at a Mt. Hood camera site this winter. We hope to see more of you this summer, buddy!
A sneaky raccoon travels through the shadows in the background of a camera site.
Skunks strutted their stuff at 5 of our camera sites, showing off their tails and stripes. Perhaps it is a good thing that our trail cameras can't record smell...
Left to right/top to bottom: a skunk walks over some snow towards the trail camera, a skunk walks through a camera site with their tail raised
And our final two carnivore sightings this season were birds, both at a Mt. Hood camera site! We detected an owl, which is a rare sight on our trail cameras! A raven also took a special interest in the bait box.
Top: An owl spreads its wings while standing on the left hand side of a camera site. Bottom: A raven lands on a bait box.
Deer were ubiquitous on the east side. Although they were not seen on any Mt. Hood cameras, they showed up on all of the easterly cameras. We know that deer were active near Mt. Hood though, since deer tracks were also detected on one occasion. Nice find! Fawns faced their first winter, bucks shed their antlers, and herds pranced through many snowy meadows.
Top: A doe walks through deep snow. Middle: A varied group of deer of many shapes and sizes walk through a camera site. Bottom: Deer tracks in the snow.
We also noted an unfortunate sighting of a deer at an east side camera site which appears to be affected by Deer Hair Loss Syndrome. The first reported cases of this syndrome in Oregon were in 1998. It affects black-tailed deer and Columbia white-tailed deer. Affected individuals experience hair discoloration, hair loss, weight loss, and, sometimes, death. While the mechanism of this affliction is not yet fully understood, hypersensitivity to lice resulting in over-grooming plays a part.
A deer with Deer Hair Loss Syndrome stands in a camera site.
This season, elk were not playing around and showed up in large herds. While they were only present at four sites, they brought all their friends. It was a joy to see all their faces and fuzzy rumps.
Top to bottom/left to right: Elk cluster around a fallen log; two elk look at the log; many elk bend their necks to inspect the log; elk walk through a camera site; one elk closely inspects the trail camera.
Snowshoe hares continued to be in their element as winter waxed on, keeping nocturnal activity interesting for the trail camera on otherwise quiet snowy nights. They were sighted at 5 Mt. Hood and 2 east side camera sites.
What's more, while the camera crew was checking a Mt. Hood site, they even got to see a bright-eyed snowshoe hare for themselves! It is very unusual to encounter them in broad daylight, and the volunteer kept a respectful distance from the animal while capturing this image.
Top: A hare looks directly at the trail camera from a far. Bottom: A hare sits under a log.
There were 40 detections of snowshoe hare sign on tracking surveys, making them the second most tracked forest denizen behind squirrels. Their trademark "T" shaped prints are an encouraging starting place for beginning tracking enthusiasts to recognize among the snow drifts.
Snowshoe hare track in snow
We detected 5 species of squirrels all over the forest. Douglas squirrels, northern flying squirrels, and chipmunks were found in both the Mt. Hood cluster and on the east side of the forest. California ground squirrels, western gray squirrels, and golden mantled ground squirrels were also detected, but only on the east side of the forest.
Top to bottom: A Douglas squirrel runs across a camera site; a flying squirrel jumps; a chipmunk sits on a fallen branch; a California ground squirrel runs across the snow; a western gray squirrel pauses; squirrel tracks in the snow.
Gobble, gobble! Turkeys explored two sites on the east side of the forest. Check out this male turkey, or gobbler, below!
Left to right (top to bottom): A male turkey stands in a clearing; a rafter of females walk by.
Tracks belonging to a ground foraging bird were expertly spotted by a volunteer at a Mt. Hood camera site. Take time to glance down and you never know what might be found!
Bird tracks in the snow.
And that's our winter recap! Thank you again to every member of our community, whether you were involved in this seasons surveys or not. This is all possible because of you - we are Cascadia Wild!