Tag Archives: Wildlife

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.
DOWNLOAD THE CHECKLIST

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.
DOWNLOAD THE CHECKLIST