California RFI

Hi all

I will be visiting California for the last 10 days of October. It won’t be a hardcore mammal watching trip but I will be spending a good chunk of my time looking wildlife, particularly potential mammal lifers.

There is already a huge amount of California info on this site and I also have Vladimir’s guide. In fact so detailed is all this information I’m having serious issues trying fit the best sites into a 10 day itinerary.

I’m pretty keen to see Kit Fox, Giant K-rat and Nelson’s Antelope Squirrel but understand that mammal watching in the Carrizo Plain NM is pretty poor at the moment following the lack of rain. Can anyone who has been there recently confirm if this is still the case? Would I be better visiting Little Panoche Road instead (which would be easier to fit into my plans)?

I also intend to spend some time exploring Yosemite NP and Mono Lake. I’m guessing by late October all the marmots and pikas will be hibernating. Are any of the chipmunks still likely to be active?

Finally, does anyone have any information on where best to look for Pygmy Rabbit in the Mono Lake area?

Any help or advice would be greatly appreciated. If time wasn’t so limited I would visit all the above sites and just see what I could turn up.


  • vnsankar123

    With regards to Panoche Valley, I’ll ask some people I know to see if it’s currently productive. Wildlife viewing should be decent there – I’ve had great luck in previous Octobers (2013 especially). I might actually try and go out there in early Oct and see what I can find – I’ll probably put a post on here. I think Simon Feys was in Carrizo earlier this year and was able to find K-rats, so you may want to ask him about that option too…

    I suspect some Chipmunks will still be active in the Sierra, but there are people here who can answer this better than I can.

  • vdinets

    Carrizo might not be too bad as it got some monsoon rain this summer. As for Panoche, I might be there in mid-October, so I’ll post an update here.

    Pikas don’t hibernate, and chipmunks are usually active until the first major snowfall. Last winter they didn’t really hibernate at all, except at high elevations (higher than Lake Tahoe). So you should be able to get them all except for maybe the alpine. Not sure about marmots; try Glacier Point in Yosemite.

    Note that there’s a huge traffic jam at Tioga Pass entrance to Yosemite every day, so try to get in before dawn.

    The best place for pygmy rabbits at Mono Lake is usually the boardwalk to South Tufa Towers, but they were a bit scarce last fall and completely absent in June. No idea when and if the population will recover.

  • vdinets

    If you really want to see a pygmy rabbit in California, I know anoter site near Susanville, but it’s difficult to find and not that reliable.

    • vnsankar123

      Hi Vladimir,
      If you could let me know the site near Susanville, that would be great. This is a species I’d really like to find in CA. Thanks!!

      • vdinets

        It is called Susanville Sage Grouse Lek. You should be able to find the directions online, but if you can’t, just let me know and I’ll look through my notes when I get home next week. PRs are said to be common there at dusk. I was there last March at dawn and didn’t see any.

  • Jon Hall

    Mike, I might be out there for the last weekend of California.. was thinking of Mono Lake, maybe Beatty NV, and the Pinnacles… from 30 – 2 November. When are you going home?

  • vnsankar123

    I’ve been meaning to check a spot for Tulare Grasshopper Mouse and San Joaquin Pocket Mice in Panoche. If anyone’s going to be in the area, I’ll just describe the areas I’m thinking of trying. 1. The BLM road into the Panoche Hills (the plains on the plateau at the top are best; this is also a great spot for Blunt-nosed Leopard Lizard, Coast Horned Lizard, and Sage Sparrow) and 2. on the gravel road past Panoche Creek towards I-5 between the New Idria Rd junction and Jackass Pass (the hairpins W of I-5) on Panoche Rd (not Little Panoche Rd). Someone who used to do trapping/surveying at the top of Little Panoche Rd (the plateau plains) said there are lots of Heerman’s K-rats, CA and SJ Pocket Mice, Tulare Grasshopper Mouse, Giant K-rat, and even CA vole in one wetter area.

    For reference, I saw Kit Fox and Badger on Panoche Rd (in the plains just W of Jackass Pass) in Oct 2013 and Nov 2013 and saw 30 Giant K-rats and 5 Heermann’s in the same area in April ’14. In April ’14, I also had a Heermann’s and San Joaquin on Little Panoche Rd, but it was slower for me then. I’ve seen California K-rats and what I think are D. venustus elephantinus in the chaparral just W of the valley and Desert Woodrat in Griswold Canyon on New Idria Rd – someone told me they saw Pallid Bat there too…

    • Mike Richardson

      Excellent info, many thanks. I’m also interested in herps so I’ll keep an eye out for the lizards.

      • vnsankar123

        Ok, more info. The wash at this site is also good for the Blunt-nosed Leopard Lizards: 36.616524, -120.896135; the dirt road to the site is open to public access (and you also get Yellow-backed Spiny Lizards here). There was a Badger that lived along the road in the Douglas Ranch somewhere around here (36.595044, -120.788503) last winter/spring in case you’re interested too. A site that had a nice Giant K-rat colony last April is here: 36.57485, -120.721765; at least a few should be in the area; I would focus on the plains in the immediate area. The corral just below Jackass Pass (better reached from I-5 is a good place for San Joaquin Antelope Squirrels; drive the road slowly in the morning or afternoon and you should find them (I did last April). I’m not sure on coordinates, but just drive up to the steep hairpins in a passenger car and scan the valley on the way back down to find it; the road is doable in a passenger car unless it has rained recently (what are the chances of that!?).

        Another place to check out if you’re in the area would be Old Hernandez Rd. There’s a road closed sign due to a washed out ford, but you can drive up to the ford on either side with a passenger vehicle through great habitat. The road is awesome for Bobcats and you’re coming at a great time of the year; in one pass of the road, I saw 6 cats last April and a friend of mine saw 10 late last December; late Oct-Feb is the best time of the year. Morning and afternoon are the best times… It’s also good for Coyote and Merriam’s Chipmunk in scrub and the meadows along Willow Road had a resident Badger in Feb.

  • simonfeys

    I was in Carrizo in mid June, and found the K-rats were very easy to see, I saw 30+ during a few hours of spotlighting near the campsite (most of them were Giant K-rats). Despite this, I could not find any foxes unfortunately… Good luck!

  • Mike Richardson

    Thanks Jason. I will send you an email.

  • bwkeelan

    We had about 5 Giant K-rats on the north side of Panoche Rd. at 36.57679 -120.71641 on July 24; these coordinates are very close to those given above. We used night vision gear and then spotlighted when they came really close to the road. Also one San Joaquin Valley K-Rat on the same road, just west of the stream crossing at 36.59460 -120.78065. Finally, 2 Kit Foxes, one on Panoche Rd,, and one on Little Panoche Rd, both in the valley proper. — Brian Keelan

    • Mike Richardson

      Excellent Brian. Many thanks.

    • vdinets

      What kind of night vision gear do you use? Is it helpful?

      • bwkeelan

        Sorry for the belated reply, Vladimir, but we were just leaving on a trip when your query arrived. We are using a 5x Night Owl Nexgen Night Vision Binocular, available on Amazon ( We got it this spring while in Texas, as they will not ship to California (complex but related to hunting laws). So we’ve not had a lot of chance to use them but I think the verdict will be positive. Although edge sharpness is poor and focus is difficult, you actually can see quite a remarkable amount in total darkness with the active infrared illumination. Given the extra weight and cost of binoculars and the difficulty of getting matched sharpness in the left and right images, a monocular may be a better choice. — Brian Keelan

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