Observing group behavior in Cascade Red Foxes

While monitoring the Crystal Mountain area last winter, we were lucky enough to observe ​5-​6 Cascade red foxes occupying overlapping​ ​home ranges. We ​believe that this fox group is composed of a mother with 2 pups, ​2 yearling foxes, and perhaps the father. With lowland foxes, where more is known, ​it is not uncommon for young from a previous breeding season to continue sharing an area with their parent, where they act as support for pup rearing and security for the den and range. Much about the behavior of ​montane red foxes, though, is ​unknown​ because of the little research that has been conducted on these subspecies. For example, there have only been a handful of mountain red fox dens documented throughout the world, but since the start of this project we have found four of them! Considering ​that ​mountain foxes have evolved​​ separately from lowland foxes for the past 300,000 years leading them to possess unique habitats and diets, we do not yet know how their behaviors compare and differ. Each Cascade red fox behavior we observe contributes to the little knowledge base on mountain foxes and is hugely exciting for us!
This upcoming season we will return to the Crystal Mountain area to continue monitoring its local foxes and their dynamics. 

(c) Anthony Carado
(c) Anthony Carado
(c) Anthony Carado

Complementary to our observations of the family group occupying the Crystal Mountain area, within the Naches Ranger District we monitored a breeding pair that frequented three camera stations from early March to the camera takedowns in late August. In mid August, we detected an additional fox, believed to be a yearling, at two of those camera stations and within the assumed home range of the breeding pair. It's possible that this fox is participating in the same group behavior as the Crystal foxes. Soon we will return to the area to reset cameras, following up on its locals. Below is a video of the Naches pair and a detection of the young fox.


Crystal Mountain Fox Den

We have had a successful season monitoring the foxes around the Crystal Mountain area! Not only were we able to observe 4-5 local foxes, we have additionally been monitoring a den system in the area. One of our remote cameras, situated at a den entrance, yielded exciting detections of a black-phase mother and two pups, up until July 31st when they abandoned the den. Instead of maintaining dens throughout the year, montane red foxes use dens primarily as a means for rearing kits, abandoning them once the young are more self-sufficient and returning to them or developing new systems with the return of mating season. 

Shortly after becoming vacant, the den was briefly entered by an elusive mountain beaver. This lesser known rodent, weighing only a few pounds, is not closely related to the North American beaver, but is the sole living member of its biological family, Aplodontiidae. Primitive traits like inefficient kidney functions, early cranial-muscular features, and an inability to conserve body heat as effectively as other rodents, make the mountain beaver somewhat of a “living fossil.” The mountain beaver is believed to be in abundance in its Pacific Northwest range from British Columbia’s Cascades, to the Olympic and Coastal mountains of Washington and Oregon, and as far South as the Sierra Nevada mountains in Northern California, occurring as 7 different subspecies. Living most of its life underground in burrow systems similar to fox dens, this mountain beaver seemed to be investigating the new real estate. 


2nd wolverine detected is southern Washington

Following up on some great detections of Cascade red foxes east of Mt Rainier from our collaboration the USFS Naches Ranger District, we were thrilled to also detect a wolverine. First on May 16, then again on May 24 and 28, a single individual visited two of our camera stations.
This is only our second wolverine in the eight years since the project's inception. There was a wolverine roaming an area comprising Mt Adams and the Goat Rocks Wilderness, which we detected on 12 occasions between 2009 and 2012. This wolverine was first detected on the east side of Mt Adams in 2006 when it was photographed by a remote camera of the Yakama Nation. We presume it was a lone, dispersing male, and that it may have died now, or perhaps moved on, which is less likely as it stuck around the study area for several years. There was a compelling anecdote that it had found a mate but no concrete evidence was collected.

In the contiguous United States, the wolverine roams the high mountains of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho; and west into Washington's North Cascades. Their status in southern Washington is somewhat murky. The population in the North Cascades has been moving southward, expanding geographically though probably not in abundance. But despite this expansion, they are very rarely detected south of Interstate 90. A wolverine photographed south of I90 near Manastash Ridge by a citizen's remote camera may be the same wolverine as the one we just detected east of Mt Rainier. The Manastash photograph does not show the unique markings of a wolverine, which are along the chest and under the chin, and neither do our photos provide great detail. We will continue monitoring for wolverines this coming winter and hope to shed more light on their presence and genetic origins in southern Washington.


Mountain lion family

We photographed a family of four mountain lions spending time at one of our remote camera station. The 3 juveniles would have been born in early spring 2015 so its a testament to their caring mother that these triplets have survived their first year. Mountain lions females typically give birth to two to three kittens.

To learn more about the life of a mountain lion family, check out this great video: The Secret Life of Mountain Lions. Wolverine researchers in Glacier National Park were surprised to see a wolverine male return to his kits in the autumn and spend time probably teaching them his survival skills, something rarely documented in other carnivore species. But this incredible mountain lion film shows that this same type of family bond may not be so rare.


The Mazamas article: Cascade red foxes and the project in the news.

I wrote about my doctoral research and work on the Cascades Carnivore Project for The Mazamas magazine.
Contact us if you are interested in hiking and collecting rare carnivore scats this summer. We are looking for dedicated volunteers for our citizen science team.
    (c) Logan Volkmann
    (c) Anthony Carado
    (c) Anthony Carado
    (c) Bob Rae


Black-phase mountain red fox visits our station on the south side of Mt Adams

As some of you will remember, this station was originally set by Cascade Mountain Schools students in August. Long-time CCP friend and volunteer, Erin Burke and I headed up to take down the camera last week with my son, Luca (age almost 1). We both dusted the cobwebs off our snowmobiling skills while Luca slept on my back.
Cascade Mountain School team


Cascade red fox track in the snow at Mt Rainier

Often it is difficult to distinguish red fox from coyote tracks, especially when tracking conditions are poor. This track was laid down by a Cascade red fox at Mt Rainier as I visited her den.