Tag Archives: Mono County

California Biodiversity Day Bioblitz for Mono

Users of iNaturalist in or near the Mono Basin might like to join (and thereby automatically contribute to) the “California Biodiversity Day 2020” Bioblitz for the greater Mono Lake area, including Lee Vining Canyon and Lundy Canyon. The project actually runs for a week, September 5 through 13, 2020. Details are on iNaturalist HERE.

I may not get over to Mono myself during this period, but I’ll be helping to identify observations that others make. Here’s a map showing the area in which observations will be added to the project (orange shading):

Map of the project area

Keep cool and hydrated out there — it’s going to be hot and a bit smoky the next few days.

UPDATE 9/6/2020: Oh well, never mind. Too much smoke from the Creek Fire in Fresno and Madera counties (https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/7147/). Air quality is “hazardous” in Lee Vining, with the index over 350. (Up to 460 in Mammoth!) Shelter from the smoke!

Lee Vining WebCam on Sunday morning

Lee Vining WebCam on Sunday morning (https://www.monolake.org/today/lvcam)

Copyright © Tim Messick 2020. All rights reserved.

Strolling around Panum Crater

Panum Crater in Google Earth

Panum Crater (foreground) and Mono Craters as seen in
Google Earth, looking southeast.

Panum Crater

One frosty morning in late October I walked around the narrow rim of Panum Crater, just south of Mono Lake. This is the youngest volcanic feature in the Mono Basin, so if you love landscapes built by fire and carved by ice, I highly recommend this hike, but do it in cool weather or very early on a summer day.

Panum Crater

Panum Crater

Panum Crater is only about 670 ±20 years old (circa 1320s to 1360s AD) (Sieh and Bursik 1986). The initial eruption was of the “Plinian” type, where abundant gases escape from the rising magma, producing a massive plume and rain of volcanic ash that may continue for weeks. (This is the same type of eruption that occurred on a larger scale at Italy’s Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD, burying Pompeii and Herculaneum—witnessed and later described by Pliny the Younger, hence the name “Plinian.”) After the plumes of gas and ash subsided, magma welled up within Panum Crater to form a jagged dome of obsidian and pumice. Some time after the Panum Crater event, more ash fell throughout the area from eruptions several miles farther south in the Inyo Craters area.

Panum Crater

What would it have been like to see, hear, and smell this eruption, to feel the earth shake before and during the eruption? There were certainly Native Americans living here at that time — in the Mono Basin, the Bodie Hills, Bridgeport and Adobe Valleys, and on down to Owens Valley. We don’t know what time of year the eruption occurred, but there could have been groups traveling over Mono Pass and along other routes to trade with neighboring tribes when the eruption began.

Panum Crater

Laylander (1998) speculated on how earlier (ca. 880 AD) and larger Plinian eruptions in the Mono Craters may have affected local witnesses: “Local consequences for human populations from the eruption can be imagined. The event may have directly caused some loss of life or frightened the surviving witnesses into leaving the Mono Basin. The decimation of plant and animal communities may have drastically reduced the resource value of the affected area for humans for some time.” (He goes on to consider whether “an occupational hiatus, followed by a return to pre-event conditions” could be detected in the archaeological record and whether the duration of this hiatus could be estimated archaeologically. He concludes that “a hiatus of as much as a century is not likely to be detectable in the archaeological record” using hydration dating of artifacts, unless the sample size is “very large.”)

Panum Crater

Panum Crater

Banded obsidian and pumice atop the dome.

Panum Crater

Panum Crater

Panum Crater

Panum Crater is not quite the youngest cinder cone in California — that distinction may belong to Cinder Cone in Lassen Volcanic National Park, which erupted about 300 years later, circa 1650. And Lassen Peak itself erupted last in 1915.

Laylander, D. 1998, Cultural Hiatus and Chronological Resolution: Simulating the Mono Craters Eruption of ca. A.D. 880 in the Archaeological Record, Proceedings of the Society for California Archaeology 11:148-154.

Sieh, K. and M. Bursik 1986. Most recent eruption of the Mono Craters, eastern central California. Journal of Geophysical Research, 91(B12): 12,539–12,571.

Copyright © Tim Messick 2020. All rights reserved.

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.