Musings from a Winter Wildlife Walk

Forging a path through several inches of fresh and powdery snow, our small group is eagerly scoping out signs of wildlife. On February 23, Friends of the Cascade Siskiyou National Monument partnered with Vesper Meadow Education Program for their pioneer expedition, the Winter Wildlife Walk.

We were led through Buck Prairie II, a Sno-Park just outside the northern boundary of the Monument, on snowshoes and skis to reach an expansive viewpoint of Vesper Meadow, blanketed in snow. Vesper Meadow Education Program is a non-profit wetland restoration project headed by Jeanine Moy, our knowledgeable leader on the wildlife walk.

Beginning in a dense coniferous forest, Jeanine points out all the different types of lichen living on trunks and branches. Elk love to graze on lichen-crusted twigs like these and last winter 26 elk were spotted in this area, so maybe we would see one today, or hear a faint bugle.

A little farther along we stopped to analyze some tracks – a squirrel of some kind, most likely a Douglas or western gray. The tracks showed that the hind and front feet landed together, which is how squirrels have adapted to navigating through the snow in a movement called “bounding.” If these squirrels aren’t hiding out under the snow, they may be up in the trees munching on mistletoe.

As we walked along, the forest gave way to the open prairie. Large snowflakes graced us gently as the sun would occasionally peak through the clouds, warming our faces.

Besides signs of wildlife, Jeanine was also passionate about teaching us the traditional medicinal uses for some of our region’s native flora. Oregon’s state flower, the Oregon grape, has historically been used for its antibacterial properties found in its roots. Willow and Douglas spirea have been used to cure headaches.

Continuing on along a tributary, we discovered more signs of wildlife: a large snag filled with the rectangular holes from a pileated woodpecker, stoneflies, wasp galls on willows, and some old beaver gnaw marks on a group of aspens. There are many signs of wildlife that we can find in winter that we may not be able to see other times of the year. We look forward to doing more winter expeditions like this each year.

Photos and text by Kiley Graham, Friends of CSNM Board Member.