Category Archives: Bodie Hills

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

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.
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iNaturalist in the Bodie Hills

Behr's Hairstreak butterfly on Spineless Horsebrush

Behr’s Hairstreak butterfly (Satyrium behrii) on Spineless Horsebrush (Tetradymia canescens)
at Masonic Mountain in the Bodie Hills

Botany in the time of Covid-19 is a mostly virtual endeavor, for now. My plans to spend more time in the Bodie Hills and Beyond this spring and summer are postponed. The counties and states I am so eager to visit (all a 3 to 6 hour drive from home) are discouraging tourism.

Fortunately, there is iNaturalist. “iNat” is a citizen-science portal where bio-nerds, outdoor enthusiasts, curious beginners, and research pros can all post photos of things they’ve seen (ideally showing all the characters needed for accurate identification), mark their locations, provide other info, suggest an ID, or ask others for help in identifying observations. It’s a great place to find out what others are seeing in one’s places of interest, test one’s skill at identifying observations that “Need ID”, and learn to recognize unfamiliar species.

Trichodes ornatus on Perideridia

Ornate checkered beetle (Trichodes ornatus) on Bolander’s yampah (Perideridia bolanderi) near Masonic Mountain

Worldwide, as of today, there are more than 33 million observations in iNaturalist. A very modest 1,418 of those are mine (I strive for quality over quantity). Here are some stats for iNaruralist observations in the Bodie Hills, as of late March 2020:

iNaturalist stats in the Bodie Hills

View the observations and check the current numbers HERE.

I especially enjoy exploring the maps in iNaturalist. Here’s a map of the 1,962 observations listed above, with the orange outline being my boundary for the Bodie Hills:

Map of observations in the Bodie Hills

Most observations occur along well-traveled roads. Large gaps invite the curious explorer of public lands in between these areas:

A closer view of the map

Of the 1,962 observations to date, 554 observations (including 237 of plants and 266 of invertebrates) are still in need of IDs or confirmations to become “Research Grade.” Observations are designated “Research Grade” when 2 or more people agree on an identification at the level of species or below. Sometimes the original observer will “second” or “like” another person’s suggested ID by clicking the “Agree” button, but without having really learned and understood the basis for the ID, which means that the ID is effectively based on only one person’s informed opinion or educated guess—which is sometimes not correct.

Many species of vascular plants, vertebrates, and fungi commonly achieve “Research grade” because there are many avid and knowledgeable observers and—with good photos, reliable taxonomy, and reference materials—many are readily identifiable. Unfortunately, many nonvascular plants, invertebrates, and “lower” or very small organisms rarely achieve “Research grade” because they are harder to identify from photos, identification to species may be technically difficult, and references for identification may be largely buried or scattered through the scientific literature.

In spite of some limitations, iNaturalist is a great way to explore and learn about biodiversity any time, but especially when field visits are impractical — be that due to seasonal weather and road conditions, or global pandemics.

So, as we all practice “social distancing” and heed orders to stay near home, if your home is near a place where you can safely observe and photograph plants, animals, fungi or whatever, please share what you see on iNaturalist!

iNaturalist home page

iNaturalist home page banner (https://www.inaturalist.org/)


Copyright © Tim Messick 2020. All rights reserved.
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Plants of the Bodie Hills, 2020 Edition!

Plants of the Bodie Hills, 2020 edition

A new edition of Plants of the Bodie Hills, an Annotated Checklist is now available as a free PDF from the Downloads page. The 2020 edition includes a number of improvements:
• keys to species (and subspecies or variety) are provided for ALL genera that have more than one taxon in the Bodie Hills (keys to families and genera will come in future editions, maybe),
• several species have been added, based on recent field observations and herbarium data,
• lots of typos have been corrected.

One inconvenient result of all the added keys is that the document has grown from 64 pages last year to 92 pages this year. But you now have 3 options for how to use it: 1) load the PDF onto a mobile device, 2) print the PDF yourself, or 3) order a printed copy from MagCloud.

Using a mobile device. I’ve found the PDF to be quite readable on my iPhone 8+ (in the Books app), although it helps that I’m near-sighted. It’s even easier to read on an iPad, other tablet, or laptop. A phone or tablet is pretty easy to carry in the field, but you may want to secure it with a lanyard or wrist strap. (Personally, I like the ones from PodFob.)

Printing the PDF. You can print the PDF yourself or at a local print shop, but I highly recommend printing it 2-sided to conserve paper and reduce bulk and weight in the field. A comb or spiral binding, binder clip, or other binding will hold it together.

Ordering a print from MagCloud. I’ve made the PDF available for on-demand printing at MagCloud. I’ve ordered one of these myself, and found the print quality to be very good and the 2-staple binding to be adequate (though rough handling and folding could loosen some pages in the middle). Go to the document in the MagCloud Shop, click on the “Buy Print” button, fill out the “Join Us” section if you aren’t already a Magcloud customer, and complete the order. The price is $18.40 (as of March 2020); tax and shipping brings the cost to a little over $25. This is the base price of printing from MagCloud, with no additional mark-up for profit.

As always, your additions, corrections, comments, or questions are welcome.

Happy botanizing!

Beauty Peak from Dry Lakes Plateau

Beauty Peak from Dry Lakes Plateau

Phlox stansburyi

Phlox stansburyi

 


Copyright © Tim Messick 2020. All rights reserved.
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