Sierra Nevada update

This is generally of local interest, but since so many people are apparently planning to visit California this summer, I thought I should post it here.

I spent the last three days in the area around South Lake Tahoe. Sciurid numbers are very low this year (there are posters about plague outbreak at visitor centers, but I don’t know if there’s any connection), and relative abundance of chipmunk species also seems changed. I saw about ten least chipmunks (mostly in the new and delightfully non-crowded Van Sickle State Park), a few yellow-pine chipmunks (mostly along the trail to Big Meadow off Hwy 89), one long-eared (on Hwy 50 a few miles W of Echo Pass), no Allen’s and no lodgepole chipmunks.

The best mammal seen during the day was a vagrant shrew near the creek at the N end of Big Meadow. Raccoons visit the large garbage bin at 3 Peaks Resort in South Lake Tahoe 1-2 hour after sunset. I did some scuba diving around the lake and met one river otter at night at Hole Rock.

Spotlighting in the High Sierra is usually very slow, but this time I spent just five hours in the meadows around the junction of Hwys 88 and 89 (east of Luther Pass) and saw one mountain pocket gopher, a few deer mice, one northern grasshopper mouse,  one long-tailed vole,  one beaver near the bridge (unexpected in such a fast river) ,  one Cordilleran water shrew (in a side channel), and a few Yuma myotis (apparently roosting under the bridge). On Hwy 88 there were a snowshoe hare just W of Carson Pass and a porcupine (the first one I ever saw in California) a few mile W of Carson Spur Pass. Be careful driving Hwy 88 late at night as there are mule deer everywhere.

Vladimir Dinets


  • Nick Waterstraat

    I’ve been heading up and down 5 a couple times this spring and will continue into the summer, and I thought I’d share a couple observations so far in 2016. I saw a Bobcat near the bottom of Wright’s road, which was fairly unexpected because I’ve never seen a bobcat around there before. I saw it only briefly , but just long enough to ID.

    Lily Lake is a beaver pond above fallen leaf lake, if you take the main road all the way past the lake and glen creek falls. When I was up there in the evening, the beavers came out just about when the sun set behind the mountains, but there was still sufficient light for video recording for about an hour afterward, so it seems like a decent place to look for beaver if you’re interested in photography. They also didn’t seem to mind me on the shoreline, coming fairly close to investigate and go about their business. Lily Lake has also been a good place for long-eared chipmunk for me. The road up to fallen leaf lake has been good for Black Bear.

    • vnsankar

      What is the best place at the lake to look for the beavers from? Near the main parking area? I’m thinking about heading up to the high sierra for a weekend this summer sometime.

      • Nick Waterstraat

        Right between the main parking are and the lake there’s a rocky hill. Just follow the paths through it to the lake and you should have a clear view of the lodge. If you’re setting up a camera or scope, set it somewhere to get a good view of the meadows East of it it, because the two largest (adult pair, I’m assuming) spent most of their time in the meadow. The others swam throughout the lake.

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