Panoche Valley update

I went to the Panoche Valley last Sunday to try and find decent sites for Tulare Grasshopper Mouse and San Joaquin (Nelson’s) Antelope Squirrel.

I arrived in the afternoon and started looking for the San Joaquin Antelope Squirrels in a place where a birder said she had seen several last year. The site is on the gravel part of Panoche Road, where it enters a broad, open plain after the Panoche creek crossing (google map: The Antelope Squirrels were abundant after this winter’s decent rains; I saw an impressive 9 different animals in 1/2 hour of looking. They are good as guaranteed here!

For the evening’s spotlighting, instead of visiting the BLM area (grasshopper mice are very rare there, if present at all) off Little Panoche Road, I spent 2 hours spotlighting Panoche Road starting at the pullout at 36°36’40.2″N 120°40’32.6″W and ending at the Panoche Inn near the Panoche-Little Panoche Rd intersection. This road is sandy dirt and can get very hazardous if there is recent rain, but it’s the best for rodent density and diversity in the area, in my experience. Before reaching the Jackass Pass switchbacks (36°34’39.0″N 120°42’09.0″W), I saw 2 Heermann’s K-rats, 1 Giant K-rat, 1 San Joaquin K-rat (reliable here), and 1 San Joaquin Pocket Mouse as the road paralleled Silver Creek, traveling SW.

After driving over the pass, I explored the main Giant K-rat colonies (the same area as the Antelope Squirrels) for about 40 minutes. I saw about 20 Giant K-rats, which was a little low as I usually see around 40 in this area; the main reason was because the grass was too long. I also searched the edges of Ephedra and Sage scrub nearby for the grasshopper mouse (this is the best area) but struck out, again due to grass height. I also observed a Pallid Bat here too.

Nocturnal rodents possible along the aforementioned section of Panoche Road are: Giant K-rat, Heermann’s K-rat, San Joaquin K-rat, San Joaquin Pocket Mouse, Western Harvest Mouse, Deer Mouse, Pinyon Mouse, Desert Woodrat, and Southern Grasshopper Mouse. Other species frequently seen here include San Joaquin Antelope Squirrel, Kit Fox, American Badger, Bobcat, Coyote, Desert Cottontail, Black-tailed Jackrabbit, and sometimes Pallid and Western Mastiff Bats and Long-tailed Weasel. Panoche Creek would be interesting at night with a bat detector I think.

Entering into Panoche Valley, I saw a few more Giant K-rats and a San Joaquin Kit Fox (fabulous views just W of the Panoche Creek crossing), then a tiny Western Harvest Mouse near the intersection with Recalde Road and a California Pocket Mouse, 2 Canyon Bats, and Bobcat just West of the valley on the McCullough Ranch.



  • bwkeelan

    Hi, Venkat. Thanks for the report. We’ve still not caught up with the pocket mice. Would you be interested in meeting up there, maybe this weekend? We could record bats at the creek crossing and see what we could spotlight elsewhere. Brian and Eileen Keelan,

  • Matthew

    Hi. We’re going to be in Panoche in about a week, so this info is brilliant – thanks. I just have one quick question. We were at Carrizo Plain this week and saw various kangaroo rats while night driving. The Giant we’re pretty sure of, but is there any way to distinguish between the Heermann’s and San Joaquin kangaroo rat when seen at night from a distance? We’d love to know for sure what we see at Panoche (if anything!). Thanks. Matt & Maureen –

    • bwkeelan

      San Joaquin and Giant have strongly crested tail tips, with the fur puffed out to several times the diameter of the rest of the tail. These tail tips look fairly uniformly dark in the field. Heermann’s tail tip in this region is hardly crested, and is black above and below, with a clean white strip in the middle, so it looks like an oreo cookie viewed edge-on. The Giant K-rats and Nelson’s Antelope Squirrels are most abundant in the almost pure grasslands west of the single county line sign, which is at the top of the drop-off, on the north side of the road.

    • vnsankar

      Brian’s notes on identification are spot on. Those are exactly the ones that I use in the field here.

      Also, here are two more sites (not mentioned above) that might be worthwhile for you to visit along with Panoche Road:
      1) San Joaquin Kangaroo Rat – the 2-3 miles of Little Panoche Road W of Little Panoche Reservoir are good; this species is present on both the BLM Road and the dirt part of Panoche Road but not very easy to find.
      2) San Joaquin Kit Fox – the gravel section of Panoche Rd between the end of the pavement (Panoche Valley side) and the creek crossing is pretty reliable (

      • Matthew

        Thanks for the help! We picked a windy night for spotlighting and ended up dust-saturated from the gravel road. But I think we got the San Joaquin Kangaroo Rat along there, on the basis of it having a distinctly puffed tail tip and seeming a bit “slighter” than the Heermann’s we saw on the pavement section. We only saw one fox and it was too darn far to be sure with binoculars that it was Kit rather than Gray (no good look at the tail nor really certain of the size). Drat.

      • vnsankar

        Yeah, when it gets windy spotlighting can be painful up there. My best nights are still and warm. I’m really surprised you didn’t get any Giant Kangaroo Rats though – they’re pretty much a sure thing at the spot I mentioned above (other rodents like SJ K-rat, SJ Pocket Mouse, etc. are tougher).

        Your fox in Panoche Valley was most likely a Kit Fox. Gray Foxes are not present in the valley as the habitat is too open and there aren’t enough good riparian corridors for them. You may have seen a young Coyote however, which can sometimes be tough to tell apart (especially at a distance).

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