The past several weeks have been exciting and each new observation or activity has filled me with a certain sense of joy! About 2 weeks ago we had a much needed rain in the Carson Valley and a small amount of snow in the Sierras, which desperately needs more snow for this winter season. Thanks to the new snow I was able to go snowmobiling for the second time and get to view the wonderful trees of the eastern Sierra Nevada mountains. Some of my favorites are the Incense Cedar (Calocedrus decurrens), Sugar Pine (Pinus lambertiana), Sierra White Fir (Abies concolor var. lowiana) and the California Red Fir (Abies magnifica). All of these trees and more are such a wonderful representation of forests that are full of life and excitement! One such creature is the small Chickaree (Tamiasciurus douglasii) that is a bundle full of energy, running to and fro gathering cones and seeds to eat or stash away. The Clark’s Nutcracker (Nucifraga columbiana) is another animal that is quite conspicuous and talkative as you make your way up in elevation. This bird can store over seventy-five pine seeds in a special pouch inside the throat. It then takes the seeds and buries them in caches along the mountain slopes. I have read some research that says they usually bury their caches on south-facing slopes, so that in the spring time the snow in these areas will melt faster and they can get to their caches earlier!
I have also seen the emergence of the California Ground Squirrels (Spermophilus beecheyi) in the past two weeks. They are funny animals that scurry around on the ground looking for items to eat and then run back to their burrows! If presented with the chance to see them up close or through binoculars, I believe you will be surprised with how nice-looking they really are and the characteristics of their fur. Another bird I was able to see recently was the Say’s Phoebe (Sayornis saya), which is adorned with a very nice plumage. The back and upperparts are mostly gray, but the underparts are a rusty orange color and of course they have the usually tail-bobbing characteristic of the Phoebes.
The snow is melting fast on the eastern slope of the Sierras and many plants in the sagebrush steppe have already begun to flower and release their buds from dormancy. Several species from the Grossulariaceae have begun to leaf out and show flowers and flower buds. The Golden Currant (Ribes aureum) is leafing out and showing flower buds, while the Desert Gooseberry (Ribes velutinum) has leafed out and several individuals which I have seen are in flower! Various willow species have also begun to open their male and female catkins, which are so beautiful to look at up close. The Arroyo Willow (Salix lasiolepis), Yellow Willow (Salix lutea) and Peachleaf Willow (Salix amygdaloides) have all begun to flower and leaf out in the past two weeks. Several herbaceous species that have begun to grow and flower include the wonderful and colorful Yellowbells (Fritillaria pudica), Sagebrush Violet (Viola beckwithii),Longleaf Phlox (Phlox longifolia), Darkred Onion (Allium atrorubens var. cristatum), Slender Phlox (Microsteris gracilis) and Whitlow Grass (Draba verna) to name a few of the colorful characters of early spring!
It excites me to know that the sagebrush steppe is beginning to come alive and that there are many other members of this incredible habitat that I will come to know well over the course of this year!
An incredible tree that grows in an austere and becoming environment. (Abies concolor var. lowiana)
Surrounded by large mountains this watershed is a jewel in the Sierra Nevadas.
The HUGE cones of Sugar Pine! I think it’s possible that someone could climb a tree quite high to get a closer look at these beauties.
The colorful male catkin of Salix lasiolepis.
The small, yet lightening flower of the Desert Gooseberry.
The sandy and dry habitat of Prickly Pear. Job’s Peak, of the Sierra Nevada mountains, looms in the distance:)
Darkred Onion is almost inconspicuous in vegetative form but when the flowers come out it cannot be missed by the attentive eye!
Longleaf Phlox has a quite showy flower that brings color to the sagebrush floor.
Yellowbells is a wonderful flower to see in the early spring as the sagebrush steppe begins to awaken.
Follow new roads and adventures to the edge of discovery my friends,
Carson City BLM Field Office