I am excited to be starting a new collaboration this winter right in my own backyard here in the North Cascades. Cascades Wolverine Project is a grassroots effort to boost winter wolverine monitoring in the North Cascades, capture engaging images of this elusive mountain carnivore, and leverage the skills of winter backcountry recreationists as wildlife observers and alpine stewards. Learn more about the project on our website cascadeswolverineproject.org, or follow along on instagram at @cascades_gulogulo We currently have 6 camera trap installations set up on the eastside of the North Cascades for the winter and have completed our first camera check of the season. No wolverines yet but we did get some fun photos of other North Cascades critters! Along with running camera monitoring stations we will be working on developing more opportunities for backcountry skiers to get more involved in wolverine conservation in the North Cascades!
Text and photos by David Moskowitz Caribou are not the only animal tough to track down in the Caribou Rainforest ecosystem. As part of our efforts to tell the story of all of the creatures that call these mountains home, I have been setting camera traps this winter in collaboration with Swan Valley Connections in northwestern Montana and the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative in the panhandle of Idaho this winter to capture images of some of the rare and elusive carnivores that depend on this wild landscape. Here are a few images from this winter field work and some out-takes of images from the camera traps.
Learn more about the Mountain Caribou Initiative here. Stay tuned for the trailer for our forthcoming film which should be out this spring. For updates on the film and other material forthcoming from the project, sign up for quarterly emails on the About page of my website.
This spring I spent a week out in the field with several colleagues from Cybertracker Conservation honing our tracking and trailing skills following the trails of black bears on the western slope of the North Cascades. I put together a brief video describing the art of trailing and documenting some of what we discovered on our adventures in the temperate rainforest.
In February I had the opportunity to spend a couple of weeks in the field with the Santa Cruz Puma Project, an ongoing research program based out of University of California Santa Cruz. Along with learning about the general biology and ecology of mountain lions, researchers and graduate students are looking specifically at how these large cats interact with human populations, neighborhoods, and roads.
This winter I have been running remote cameras of mine, and assisting the Ray Robertson and the United States Forest Service with the deployment of several others in various locations around the Methow Valley here in north central Washington. Remote cameras are considered a non-invasive research method, as they provide a means to monitor wildlife without having to handle or even directly observe them. Remote cameras greatly increases the amount of time we can monitor a location and also reduces our impact on the species we are studying by limiting the amount of time we are actually in the field in their habitat. Remote cameras, if set thoughtfully can also provide beautiful images that both document various species of wildlife while also illustrating their relationship to their environment and each other. Here is some of what we have been finding this winter here on the eastern slope of the North Cascades.
Productive remote camera traps aren't just created by sticking a camera up just anywhere in the woods. It requires careful observation of tracks and signs, knowledge of the target species biology and ecology, how to use natural and imported attractants, as well as specific tricks on how to get the most out of the equipment you are using in the field. Click here to learn more about remote cameras and other non-invasive wildlife research methods. David Moskowitz provides custom trainings on many of these methods and consulting services for projects looking to employ them effectively and efficiently in the field.
Banff, Jasper, and Kootenay National Parks
This July I made my first trip to the heart of the Canadian Rockies, having previously only been as far north as Waterton National Park along the Canadian-United States boarder. Joined by fellow adventurer Marcus Reynerson, we departed Seattle on a sunny Thursday, bound for some of the tallest and grandest mountains in North America.
Wildlife of the Canadian Rockies in Banff and Jasper National Parks
Marcus and I spent a number of days exploring alpine tundra, high mountain meadows, wetlands and riparian corridors searching for tracks and signs of wildlife. Highlights included signs of black and grizzly bears, Canadian lynx, and lots of moose and elk sign. Feeding sign of several species of woodpeckers was another highlight in the dense spruce-fir forests which dominated much of the lower elevations of the mountains.
A hoary marmot scampers along an alpine ridge. Banff National Park.
A mature bighorn sheep ram lifts his head to pick up scents on the wind. Jasper National Park, Alberta.
Clarke’s nutcrackers are ubiquitous in the subalpine forests of the Canadian Rockies. Related to crows and jays, these intelligent birds often linger where people are abundant, hoping to score a free meal.
Likely the Rockies cutest mammal inhabitant, an American pika feeds on subalpine plants on the edge of an old glacial moraine. Pika are the mountain specialists of the rabbit family. Banff National Park, Canada.
Road Ecology and Wildlife Crossing Structures in Banff National Park
Given my involvement in an ongoing research project on wildlife and road ecology in the Washington Cascades (Cascade Citizen Wildlife Monitoring Project), I was very excited to check out the crossing structures and fencing along Canadian Highway 1 which runs through the Bow River Valley in the heart of Banff National Park. The design of these structures was ground breaking work for the field and much of the design of our project in the Cascades was deeply influenced by this project.
A number of crossing structures both over and under the TransCanadian Highway in Banff National Park allow wildlife to cross the highway and decrease the risk of wildlife getting hit by vehicles along the highway. Highways such as this can be a major obsticle to movement of many species across the landscape.
Fencing to keep wildlife off of the road along with crossing structures such as this wildlife overpass are part of contemporary efforts to reduce the impacts of roads on wildlife movement in critical habitat. Canadian Highway 1 in the Bow Valley, Banff National Park, Alberta.
Astounding mountain scenery
Find a few more images from my trip to the Canadian Rockies in my photography galleries.
Still water reflects the evening light and mountains above Maligne Lake. Jasper National Park, Alberta.
Perhaps because of the forest habitat they occupy and tendency not to travel for long distances on the the ground, clear footprints of the northern flying squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus) have rarely been detected in the wild, or at least rarely documented. I personally have never definitively identified this species's tracks in any substrate other than loose snow. As such producing reliable illustrations for the tracks of flying squirrels is challenging. In writing my field guide I had less direct field data on this species than any other mammal species whose tracks are illustrated in the book. The illustrations, measurements and description of northern flying squirrel tracks in Wildlife of the Pacific Northwest are based on the following data sources:
- Snow tracks found in conjunction with definitive flying squirrel sign, typically the landing mark at the end of a glide.
- A plaster cast of a number of tracks of a single flying squirrel which was collected for me by Kevin Mack, at PAWS in Lynwood, WA from a captive female northern flying squirrel which was being rehabilitated for release there.
- Sketches, notes and photographs I took from study skins of northern flying squirrels from the Mammalogy Collection at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture at the University of Washington.
- Photographs and illustrations of the tracks and signs of this species from other wildlife tracking literature, (all included in the bibliography of my field guide).
In the spring of 2012, while delivering a Tracking Certification with Dr. Mark Elbroch, author of a number of books on wildlife tracks in North America, Mark offered me the feedback that his most recent research on this topic suggests that his original depiction of northern flying squirrel feet in Mammal Tracks: A Guide to North American Species, along with my own are inaccurate. In Mark Elbroch's most recent book, co-authored with Jonah Evans and Michael Kresky, Field Guide to Animal Tracks and Scats of California, the authors present a revised illustration of the tracks of this species based on their inspection of study skins and footprints collected from sooted track plates. Following this conversation, I revisiting my own original research materials, as well as the literature and made a follow up trip back to the Burke Museum, where I reexamined study skins as well as a fresh specimen which was waiting to be processed.
As Elbroch, Evans, and Kresky depict, northern flying squirrels do have a distinctive, though subtle, anatomical feature in their hind feet which is unique among squirrels in the Pacific Northwest and California. Toe number 5, the outside toe, is longer than is typical for squirrels or other rodents. Inspecting the actual feet of a frozen flying squirrel as well as numerous study skins, this toe, while not quite as long as the central three toes is nearly so, and visually apears in a similar plane to them, while toe 1 is distinctly shorter and falls on a seperate plane. This feature is present in the tracks collected from the sooted track plate which is published in Elbroch, Evans and Kresky. While the only clear tracks in a natural substrate I have been able to examine, those of the captive animal's which were collected in sand, do not show this characteristic as distinctively as it appears in sooted track plates and on the actual feet themselves, I suspect that it would likely often be apparent in tracks in natural substrates. This characteristic, not currently illustrated or described in Wildlife of the Pacific Northwest, could be used to distinguish the tracks of this species from the related Douglas (Tamiasciurus douglasii) and red squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) which share the Pacific Northwest and much of the rest of North America with northern flying squirrels.
Because there is such limited data on this topic, I have included photographs and sketches from my research for review by others. Similarly, if others have photographs, sketches or access to northern flying squirrel's I would love to see their material and explore this subject further. Thanks much to Jeff Bradley at the Burke Museum, and the Burke Museum in general, as well as Mark Elbroch for their assistance with this topic.
In late September, the Slovak Wildlife Society hosted a weekend Wildlife Tracking Workshop in Liptovský Mikuláš, a village in the Tatra Mountains of Slovakia. The Slovak Wildlife Society is involved with a range of conservation projects focusing primarily on the region's large carnivores including working to prevent negative interactions between wolves and bears with humans. Here are a few of the highlights from my trip to the region and the class with a collection of very fine European naturalists and wildlife trackers.
"Dave- I checked the White Pine camera on Sunday the 20th after two weeks, got about 640 shots of a Pine Marten, two grey jays, and a few wind triggers. I replaced the batteries, card, bait and scent. It only took that Marten two days to get all the bait."--Pete Jenkins
This weekend, following up on several sets of likely wolverine tracks biologist and backcountry skier Pete Jenkins discovered, a small group of intrepid citizen scientists set out to place a remote camera in the vicinity in hopes of capturing a photo of the illusive carnivore. Grey skies and a very thin coat of fresh snow beckoned.Clouds covered the high peaks of the Chiwakum mountains south of Highway 2 in the Washington Cascades when the group met early Saturday morning. For the project, a few unusual items were called for, not usually included in the field kit of backcountry skiers: a hammer, some chicken wire, a motion sensitive camera, and, much to my chagrin, a frozen chicken and the contents of the scent glands of a beaver (these two items ended up in the bottom of my backpack). More typical of such a ski trip, Samantha Goff insisted on the addition of a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer to each of our packs (see my blog post on climbing around the Eldorado Massive, http://davidmoskowitz.blogspot.com/2009/08/climbing-in-north-cascades.html, for background on Sam and PBR).We departed bright eyed and bushy tailed as heavy wet snow fell, providing some reprieve from the hard raincrust. A couple of hours later, a gain of 2000' elevation, skinning on an old logging road and then up through uncut mixed conifer forest, had left us quite wet and me feeling a bit upset about the freeloading chicken weighing me down.Pete identified the location he had determined would be the best spot to set up the camera based on prievious track sightings and how animals general moved across this particular set of drainages descending from a large alpine cirque above. Not a minute too soon. I was totally fed up with my chicken (and had a sneaking suspicion it might be leaking chicken juice into my pack.
Despite decades of conservation efforts, Clayoquot Sound, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, faces numerous severe threats to its ecological integrity including clear cut logging of roadless old growth forests, industrial Atlantic salmon fish farms, and proposed open-pit copper mining. Learn more about the region and how you can support conservation in the region at the following websites:Friends of Clayoquot Sound Clayoquot Biosphere Reserve First Nations Environmental Network