Of Bear Poops and Rose Hips (or, Carnivores and Ungulates) in the Bodie Hills

Bear poop

I’ve seen some bear scats in my years of rambling the Sierra Nevada, but none as massive as the ones I encountered on Coyote Springs Road, in lower Bridgeport Canyon, in the Bodie Hills last fall. For sheer volume (8-10 inches wide and about 4 inches high), abundance (at least 6 of these in the space of a quarter mile) and colorfulness (bright red), these take the cake. Contents: no scraps of plastic, ripstop nylon, or snack bar wrappers, as you sometimes see in Yosemite. No, sir, these beauties were almost entirely rose hips.

Bear poop

Sensing their freshness and knowing that this road sees little vehicular traffic, I immediately looked around for paw prints. And there they were: dozens of bear-sized footprints, with clear impressions of soles and toes, wandering north in the shallow dust of the road.

Bear print

Bear track on Coyote Springs Road (with 6-inch ruler)

Since we’re sharing poo pix, I’ll add just one more. Not from the Bodie Hills, but close enough. This cougar (mountain lion) scat was found on Dobie Meadows Road (a.k.a. Deep Wells Road or 3N01), right at the summit between the Mono Basin and Adobe Valley drainages (same place as the Pleistocene spillway from Lake Russel into Adobe Valley and the Owens River). Big cats definitely roam the Bodie Hills too, but they are few and far between. Many years ago, after making a solo ascent of Potato Peak, I was informed by a BLM biologist that a mountain lion had been seen (perhaps denning?) near the summit.

Cougar poop

Mountain lion poo on Dobie Meadows Road

All of which might lead one to ask: What other native large mammals occur today in the Bodie Hills? Or, let’s just include all of the carnivores, some of whom are relatively small. And let’s exclude the non-natives: domestic cattle, hoofed locusts (domestic sheep), and feral domestic horses. Aside from my meager observations, the list below is based on Mammals of the Mono Lake-Tioga Pass Region (John Harris, Kutsavi Books 1982), observations on iNaturalist, and a query of the UC Berkeley Museum of Vertebrate Zoology (MVZ) database.

Order Carnivora (Carnivores)

  • Canidae (Dogs, Foxes): Coyote are common throughout the region. Grey fox are likely also present: a road kill was identified at Willow Springs and there’s a 1980 report from the southeastern Bodie Hills.
  • Felidae (Cats): Mountain lion have been seen on Potato Peak and could occur nearly anywhere in the Bodie Hills. They are to be expected wherever deer occur. Bobcat (lynx) may also be present.
  • Mephitidae (Skunks): Striped skunk is probably in the area, favoring meadow and riparian habitats. The more nocturnally active spotted skunk may be present too, favoring drier, rockier habitats.
  • Mustelidae (Weasels, Badgers): American mink have been seen at Bridgeport and along the East Walker River. River otters are also present along the East Walker River. Long-tailed weasels probably occur near water sources in the Bodie Hills. Short-tailed weasels have been observed at Bodie and in pinyon-juniper woodland in the southern Bodie Hills, but they are more typically found in lodgepole pine forests of the Sierra Nevada. American badgers are to be expected throughout the area. Dens appearing to be those of badgers and a partial skull, possibly of a badger, have been seen near Chemung Lake.
  • Procyonidae (Raccoons): Common racoon may be present along Virginia Creek and the East Walker River.
  • Ursidae (Bears): American black bear (and their scat) have been observed throughout the western Bodie Hills.
Badger Den

A presumptive badger burrow near Chemung Lake

Order Artiodactyla (Even-toed Ungulates)

  • Cervidae (Deer): Mule deer are common, at least in the vicinity of meadows, streams, and woodlands. The East Walker and Mono Lake mule deer herds migrate through the East Walker River corridor and the southern Bodie Hills between their winter and summer ranges.
  • Antilocapridae (Pronghorn): The Bodie Hills pronghorn herd (a.k.a the Bodie-Wassuk interstate herd), winters in Mineral and Lyon Counties, and summers primarily in the Bodie Hills in Mono County. The herd was originally established in 1946 when 32 animals obtained from Lassen County were reintroduced north of Mono Lake. As of about 2012, the Bodie Hills herd was estimated at up to 150 animals and the population was considered stable (source).
  • Bovidae (Cattle, Sheep, Goats): Desert bighorn sheep have been observed at the north edge of the Bodie Hills, near “The Elbow” in the East Walker River. The southeast portion of the Pine Grove Hills (north of the river) has been mapped as “Bighorn Sheep Occupied Habit“.
Mule Deer

Mule deer near Murphy Spring


Pronghorn in the central Bodie Hills

Desert Bighorn

Desert bighorn sheep just south of The Elbow

Those are the “large” mammals, plus the other not-so-large carnivores. A much greater number of “small” mammal species (moles, bats, rabbits, and rodents) occur in the area. Apart from a few studies focused on pika, small mammals are even less well surveyed and documented than the larger species, so it’s difficult to compile a list with much certainty. I’ll leave that list for a later post.

Overall, there are few well documented and confirmed observations for most of the mammal species expected to occur in the Bodie Hills area. Opportunities abound to observe mammals large and small in the Bodie Hills and contribute data to iNaturalist or your favorite university MVZ!

Too Many Sheep

Too Many Sheep (Mormon Meadow)

Copyright © Tim Messick 2020. All rights reserved.

6 responses to “Of Bear Poops and Rose Hips (or, Carnivores and Ungulates) in the Bodie Hills

  1. Keith Thompson

    Hi Tim,
    Years ago, mid-90’s maybe, my wife and I tried the exact spot where Lake Russel spilled over into Adobe Valley but we never found it. The only thing we could find at the time was a geologist report of possible fossils he had found in the early 50’s. We never, to our satisfaction, were able to locate or verify where the spill-way might have been. Did you ever located it. With the satellite maps available now, I suspect it might be a little bit easier. I’d still like to locate it if possible. Thanks, Keith

    • Hi, Keith!
      What I understand of the spillway comes mostly from an article by Rehis, Stine, and Sarna-Wojcicki in GSA Bulletin 114(8): 991–1006, August 2002, on “Drainage reversals in Mono Basin during the late Pliocene and Pleistocene”. I’d like to do a blog post on this, but geology papers, being about as dense as basalt, are a challenge for me to paraphrase in friendlier prose.

      The spillway into Adobe Valley is followed more or less exactly by today’s Dobie Meadows Road, segments of which are also named on maps as “Deep Wells Road”. Following that road south, you climb out of Mono Basin at a short, steep grade that tops out at 38.058709, -118.774167. This is where some snail fossils can be found. The current-day summit on the road is another 0.6 mile to the southeast, across a sandy flat that I would like to think may, when the spillway was active, have been an area of marshes and ponds.

      The precise channel, if one existed here, seems to be obscured, though. Since the spillway was last active, there has been continued faulting and vertical displacement throughout the Adobe Hills. More importantly, perhaps, “extensive and locally thick blankets of Holocene ejecta from the Mono and Inyo Craters” have probably buried parts of the spillway channel. It’s interesting to consider how this place would have appeared when it was an active spillway for Lake Russell, sometime over 13 thousand years ago.

  2. Keith Thompson

    This is exactly the type of information we needed back 25 years ago, lol. Thank you so much for provided this updated information. We did not try and find it from the Adobe Basin side but from the Mono Lake side.At the time we were looking for fossil snails from the genus, Helisoma, similar to those found at Owens Lake and collected from other sites throughout the Great Basin. The species I was working with is only found in a few spots today. Anyway, with the gps coordinates we should be able to go and not waste as much time looking. I’ll try and chase down a copy of the article you referenced as well. Thanks for your continued interest and postings.

  3. Back in 2010, our group came across THREE Mountain lions on our camping trip on the East Walker, about 10 miles downstream from the Elbow, (Nevada side). We were at our camp, and while scanning the cliffs with a spotlight , I caught the eyes of all 3 ,which glowed like beacons , a mamma and 2 cubs. They just sat up there in the rocks, watching us , wagging their huge tails , for about 15 minutes . They eventually got bored ,and left. The next morning, we climbed up to where they were and it was pretty dicey. I climb up to that same spot every time I’m there (about 3 times a year) and have not seen even a track or scat since .

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