48 Hours in the Eastern Sierras

North of Mono Lake

Last month I zipped across the country to Nevada for a very brief 48 hours in the Eastern Sierras, on the California/Nevada border.  Once again I was inspired by a trip report from Venkat Sankar. Venkat’s report has a lot of detail and so I will not repeat it here, other than to stress that this is indeed a stunningly beautiful bit of the USA.

Mono Lake Area

On my first evening I got to the Long Valley Dam at Owen’s Gorge at sunset, a spot discovered by Brian Keelan. About an hour later at least two Spotted Bats were feeding 10 metres or more above the creek: their calls, while audible, were much quieter than those of Western Bonneted Bats. Although I got decent looks at this rare species in flight, it is still an animal I want very much to see in the hand, or in a roost. I also saw a couple of Deer Mice close to the bat viewing spot (37.58741, -118.70121).

An hour later I wandered along the boardwalk at South Tufa at 11 p.m and saw several Ord’s/Panamint Kangaroo Rats in the space of half an hour, as well as a Black-tailed Jackrabbit along the road into the park. Another smaller lagomorph dashed in front of the car: most likely a cottontail but possibly a Pygmy Rabbt.

I spotlit along Highway 167 on the north side of the lake for 30 minutes just before midnight: I saw several rodents but didn’t get a decent look at any of them. Spotlighting alone while driving is hard. Spotlighting while driving and tired is harder. Or maybe it is just me …

Dark Kangaroo Mouse, Microdipodops megacephalus

Spotted Bats aside, my main target here was a Dark Kangaroo Mouse, and I caught two in traps set in dunes alongside Highway 167.  The first animal, which I initially thought might be a Pale Kangaroo Mouse because of its pale tail, was very close to where Venkat saw his animal (38.1057, -118.96690). The other – somewhat darker and more of a textbook Dark Kangaroo Mouse – was a mile or so to the west. Really lovely animals (and it seems considerably darker than Pale Kangaroo Mice).

I also caught several Deer Mice, an Ord’s Kangaroo Rat and a Least Chipmunk.

Highway 167

After breakfast I drove the half hour to Saddlebag Lake, just before the entrance to Yosemite. This is a good area for Alpine Chipmunk, a species I had only seen once before, and not photographed. It is also a beautiful spot for a walk.

Saddlebag Lake

I spent a couple of hours hiking slowly around the lake. I didn’t see much on the talus slopes on the west side of the lake other than a Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel. But on the northern side there were several Belding’s Ground Squirrels and – among the conifers – at least three Alpine Chipmunks. Though none of them sat still long enough for a photograph.

Belding’s Ground Squirrel, Urocitellus beldingi

I also saw a Red Squirrel on the way back to the car. And from there I set off on the two hour drive back to Dyer, Nevada.

Dark Kangaroo Mouse, Microdipodops megacephalus

Dyer, Nevada

I spent a night around the small town of Dyer where Venkat had seen a Pale Kangaroo Mouse a month earlier.

Although I spent four hours driving around, and saw a lot of rodents cross the road, I couldn’t identify properly any of them. But trapping was a little more successful: and the next morning I caught several Ord’s/Merriam’s Kangaroo Mice, some Deer Mice and my first Little Pocket Mouse (somewhere near 37.628, -118.012).

And then back to Las Vegas airport, refreshed – despite a lack of sleep – from 46 hours in some of the USA’s best scenery.

Little Pocket Mouse, Perognathus longimembris

  1. Profile photo of vnsankar
    vnsankar 12 months ago

    Great report–really love the beautiful photos and makes me miss CA a fair bit… I think the boardwalk you’re mentioning is South Tufa Towers, not Mono Lake County Park (the boardwalk at the county park goes through some marshy areas where you won’t find k-rats).

    For future reference, the spot you trapped at in Dyer doesn’t seem like great k-mouse habitat; they aren’t common in those brushy desert flats (Little PM is though). Pale K-mouse prefers areas of windblown sand deposits, i.e. at (37.8433, -118.0525) and (37.7795, -118.0978), or eroded sandy washes (where I saw one).

    • Profile photo of Jon Hall Author
      Jon Hall 12 months ago

      Thanks Venkat – now corrected!

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