Trail Cam

In February, I discovered wolverine tracks in the snow. After mentioning the tracks to a resource management specialist at North Cascades National Park, we decided to set up one of the park’s motion sensor trail cams hoping to capture photos of wolverines or any other animals that might wander by. The cam didn’t capture images of any wolverines, but it did reveal the presence of other large critters. (In this post, all photos from the trail cam are courtesy of North Cascades National Park Service Complex).

On March 20, I mounted the cam on a tree with a clear view of an unplowed, snow covered bridge over Stehekin River, surmising that the relative ease of crossing the bridge would funnel wildlife across it.

Trail cam mounted on Douglas-fir tree

After setting up the cam, the first photos capture me skiing away.

GIF of person skiing across bridge

Nothing appears on the cam until March 30 when a mountain lion waltzes by!

Mountain lion walking on snow. 2017-03-20, 9:52:47 AM, 33˚F

GIF of mountain lion walking across snow

I was surprised the mountain lion was in this habitat during late March. Many deer, the primary prey for Washington state’s cougars, inhabit the lower Stehekin River valley, but I had seen no tracks of those animals anywhere within five miles of the bridge. The four feet of snow in this location was still prohibitively deep for deer. Perhaps this was a male seeking females or simply one of the resident lions moving through its territory. I’m not sure, although I found a pair of lion tracks a couple of miles north along the Pacific Crest Trail three days afterward.

After swapping out the cam’s memory card on March 23…

hand and part of person's face in front of camera, snow in background

…I left the cam alone until April 3. When I returned I noticed some large, semi-fresh tracks post-holed across the bridge. Backtracking the animal’s movement, I found it walked right under the cam before crossing the bridge. Interestingly, the cam took many photos of an empty bridge the evening before I arrived. Something had nudged the cam, triggering it for 13 seconds according to the photos’ time stamps. One photo in the sequence is completely black as if something briefly covered the lens.

GIF of trail cam sequence. Cam is nudged by animal out of frame.

The culprit was revealed a few seconds later.

black bear walking on snow with nose to the ground. 2017-04-02, 7:24:44 PM, 36˚F


GIF of black bear walking across snow

Bears are extremely curious. This one found the cam and investigated it seconds before walking across the bridge. Since black bears in the northeastern corner of the North Cascades begin to emerge from hibernation in early April, it may have been fresh out of the den. On the other side of the bridge it’s tracks continued straight up the hillside disappearing into the forest.

I know these animals live here with me. I see their tracks and scat somewhat often, but I encounter the living individuals less frequently. For me, the cam provided an enjoyable, albeit brief, glimpse into their lives.

10 thoughts on “Trail Cam

  1. Great article Mike. Do you think the bear investigated the cam because it could smell human or it was just something new in its environment?


    • Maybe both or it found some other interesting odor. When I mounted the cam, I had some concentrated marten stink bait that the park’s resources person recommended I smear in the snow. Although I was careful to set the cam up, arm it, and then apply the stink bait (which smells strongly of skunk) about 10 meters away, I can’t discount the possibility that the bear smelled some of the bait’s residual odor on the cam. The bear seemed to dig in the snow where I had placed the musk scent. This was two weeks after setting up the cam though. They really have an incredible sense of smell.


      • Ranger Mike, thanks for the very interesting trail cam videos and comments. I’m not familiar with the Stehekin River, do salmon migrate to the river to spawn and if so do the black bears feast off the salmon like the brown bears do on the Brooks River in Katmai?


      • Hey Tom. I see that you saw my reply to your question in the bearcam chat, but I’ll repost it here in case anyone else is interested.

        Kokanee salmon, the landlocked version of sockeye salmon, were introduced into Lake Chelan and lots of them spawn in Stehekin River. There are also landlocked chinook salmon in Lake Chelan who spawn in Stehekin River and some of its tributaries. Black bears fish for kokanee in the river, but in very low densities so not its not quite analogous to Brooks River. When the salmon are spawning though, it is easy to find black bear tracks along the river. The bears themselves are a little more elusive. I failed to see any fishing for salmon here last year.


  2. The cougar and the bear – which would be more fearful of the other? Or would they just generally tend to avoid one another? If there is the thought that the bear smelled the stink bait that you set out, why do you think that the lion didn’t react to that bait at all?


    • Since bears are omninvores and rely on their sense of smell much more than cats, the musk scent was probably something it thought it should investigate. Mountain lions hunt by stalking prey and they are very reliant on their eyesight to do so. I don’t know if the cat could even smell the musk. If it could, it realized there wasn’t another animal there.

      Encounters between these species are bound to happen since they occupy the same habitat, but I haven’t read about or witnessed any encounters between the two. I’m just speculating, but I would guess adult mountain lions and adult bears generally leave each other alone. I don’t know if a black bear would try to appropriate a deer carcass from a mountain lion or not. I would also guess that small black bears may be preyed upon by larger mountain lions.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Wish I could have seen this first hand but so happy to see it through the eyes of the cam. Thank you Mike for sharing! Hopefully soon all our bears will return to Brooks! Safe and healthy!


  4. Neat to see the bear and mountain lion! Thank you for sharing these pics Mike! Would love, love, love to see a wolverine crossing that bridge!!! They are fascinating creatures!


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