Category Archives: Wildlife

A Herd of Pronghorn

Pronghorn in Fletcher Valley

On a late-September drive along the East Walker River Road, at the north end of Fletcher Valley, I came upon a herd of pronghorn strolling through the sagebrush. I quickly stopped the car, stayed in car, and whipped out the binoculars and telephoto lens. They looked at me, but did not run away. They continued their leisurely walk up an unnamed hill and over the ridge, in the general direction of The Elbow and the Bodie Hills, six miles to the west.

Pronghorn in Fletcher Valley

I counted 21 of them, but I think a few more had already crossed the ridge before I put down the camera for a closer look with binoculars.

Pronghorn in Fletcher Valley

These animals are part of what’s recognized as the Bodie Hills herd of pronghorn. The Nevada Department of Wildlife2012-2013 Big Game Status” report notes: “This antelope herd is shared with California and utilizes upper elevation summer range in the Bodie Hills of California and winters primarily in Nevada. Because of the rain-shadow effect of the Sierra Nevada’s, the Nevada portion of winter range is often in poor condition. This can wreak havoc on fawn survival through the winter months. . . . Following good precipitation years, the population responds quite well with ample fawns contributing to a stable antelope herd.”

Pronghorn in Fletcher Valley

The “2013-2014 Big Game Status” report says, “In March of 2014, 10 pronghorn does were captured and fitted with satellite/telemetry receivers in the Rough Creek Aldridge Grade area. This was a collaborative project between the Nevada Department of Wildlife and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to look at pronghorn distribution patterns and migration routes of the Bodie interstate herd. The follow up of this antelope herd will determine if fawns are being lost on summer range or on winter range.”

Pronghorn in Fletcher Valley

The “2015-2016 Big Game Status” report finds that 2015 was a better year for these animals: “The habitat located within these unit groups is in excellent condition because of the moisture received in fall 2015. . . . Precipitation in 2015 left the grasses and browse community in a productive state. This year’s fawn ratio should result in a stable population trend. At one time this herd numbered close to 200 animals. Consecutive years of low fawn recruitment have reduced the population to 100 animals. Future projects removing pinyon and juniper will allow for some limited expansion. Also creating corridors between California and Nevada will enable the herd to migrate easier from summer range to winter range. The population estimate for Bodie interstate herd is 110 animals.”

Fletcher Valley from Aldrich Pass

Pronghorn country: looking south from Aldrich Pass, across Fletcher Valley,
to the southeastern Bodie Hills.

Copyright © Tim Messick 2016. All rights reserved.

Why did the Sage Hen Cross the Road?

Certainly not to impress me with it’s survival skills. I was driving toward Bodie on Highway 270, west of Murphy Spring. As I rounded a bend, the bird you see here was ambling slowly, very slowly, across the road. Whether from confusion, fright, defiance, or an instinct to be still and blend in, it was in no hurry to move out of my way, despite the lack of cover.  Fortunately, there was no one behind me. I slowed to a stop and let it toddle off the road.

Around the next bend, sometime earlier that morning, another sage grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) had not been as lucky as this one.

Copyright © Tim Messick 2015. All rights reserved.

Hemileuca Larvae: Do Not Touch!

On a recent hike near Carson Pass in Alpine County, I encountered this critter crawling vigorously across a dry swale in the subalpine dwarf-shrub steppe at 8,900 feet.

Hemileuca heraHemileuca hera larva

It was about the size of my little finger and was about to disappear under an Eriogonum, so I coaxed it onto a stick and moved it to a large rock, where I took pictures while it resumed its ascent toward Red Lake Peak. The spines all over its body made it look about as fun to handle as a cholla cactus or porcupine, so I used the stick to prevent any direct contact.

That was a good thing, because on doing an image search in Google and checking further on Butterflies and Moths of North America and Bug Guide, I narrowed it down to Hemileuca hera, the Hera buck moth or Sagebrush sheep moth. The larvae of Buck moths and the related Io moths (both Saturniids) are well known for the extremely painful, persistent, burning, swelling stings produced when the spines inject their toxin into your skin.

Hemileuca habitatHemileuca hera habitat

An article on the University of Florida’s Featured Creatures site advises that “Not handling caterpillars that have spines is one of the best ways to avoid receiving stings.” Obvious, but sensible advice. Should you, however, inadvertently come into contact with one of these beautiful creatures, the wound should be treated by “washing the site immediately in order to remove any loose spines that might be present. The site should be allowed to dry without the use of a towel. Any remaining spines should then be removed with an adhesive such as duct tape. Finally you can apply ice packs to the site to relieve some of the pain.”

Hemileuca hera has been seen in the Mono Basin and it ranges across much of the Intermountain region, so it is likely to be present in the Bodie Hills. The larvae feed on sagebrush. The adults have striking white and black patterns on their wings.

Copyright © Tim Messick 2015. All rights reserved.