California update

Last night (5/20/17), I spent 3.5 hours spotlighting in and near Panoche Valley (8:30 PM-12:00 AM) in San Benito and Fresno counties, CA. Very warm night-time temperatures (65-75 F), no wind, clear skies, and a late-rising waning crescent moon meant perfect conditions. In the end, I observed 22 species of mammals (with approx. 210 kangaroo rats), my record for the area and probably the maximum possible here in a night; I think I should have tried a Big Day as I suspect I may have had a chance at beating a certain record with appropriate planning 😉

On Little Panoche Road, I saw 1 fabulous Southern Grasshopper Mouse (tularensis), 2 San Joaquin Pocket Mice, 2 San Joaquin Kangaroo Rats (brevinasus), about 30 Heermann’s Kangaroo Rats, and more than 30 Giant Kangaroo Rats. The first three species were in the small valleys near Mercey Hot Springs (alongside many HKR), the Heermann’s scattered between Little Panoche Reservoir and the Panoche valley floor, and GKR on the valley floor. I also saw 2 Pallid Bats while spotlighting near the springs (foraging low the ground) and Tule Elk and Mule Deer near San Luis Reservoir, driving to the site.

On Panoche Road East of the Little Panoche Rd intersection, I found upwards of 60 Giant Kangaroo Rats (Recalde Road was a good place to photograph them), 2 San Joaquin Kit Foxes, and 2 American Badgers (very distant, poor views). The Douglas Ranch (just before the pavement end) was spectacular for the k-rats, where the eyes of 10-15 animals lit up the roadside grasslands in one sweep of the spotlight. I was truly dumbfounded, as I’ve never seen anything like this in 6 years of visiting the area… At the creek crossing, there were lots of Mexican Free-tailed Bats and Dark-nosed Small-footed Myotis (acoustic ID confirmation; probably easy to mistnet if you wanted to) feeding in a mass insect emergence; I also heard and saw a few Western Mastiff Bats.

On New Idria Road, there were about 40 Giant Kangaroo Rats between Panoche Road and the staging area at Griswold Hills; I also saw 2 more distant San Joaquin Kit Foxes, another San Joaquin Pocket Mouse, and a California Pocket Mouse. I drove the road through the narrow canyon until Agostini & Strohn, seeing another ~20 Heermann’s Kangaroo Rats, a Desert Woodrat, a Hoary Bat (in a cottonwood grove), and a probable Fringed Myotis that I disturbed from a crevice night roost and briefly relocated in the binoculars (no photo however). I also heard Western Mastiff Bat flight calls at the staging area.

On Panoche Road W of New Idria Road intersection, there were another 10 or so Giant Kangaroo Rats, about 15 Heermann’s Kangaroo Rats, and 3 adorable San Joaquin Pocket Mice in the valley; in the Diablo Range, I saw 4 lovely Narrow-faced Kangaroo Rats (darker color, big ears, contrasting facial pattern), another Heermann’s Kangaroo Rat, a San Joaquin Pocket Mouse, a Brush Rabbit, and a superb Western Harvest Mouse (jumping onto a tall grass stalk on the road verge). Desert Cottontail and Black-tailed Jackrabbit were abundant everywhere.

In short, now is the time to look for Southern/Central CA’s endemic rodents!!



  • Jon Hall

    What an incredible evening. Can’t wait to look for some rodents myself further south this weekend

  • Vladimir Dinets

    It’s amazing how quickly they recover after six years of drought.

  • tomeslice

    Cool stuff Venkat!
    Next time I’m in California I might hit you up to try for some local animals (not so much the mice, but more like kit foxes, which I don’t know if I ever saw, and American badgers which I only saw once or twice, before I was a “mammal watcher” and have no pictures of)

    Oh and I meant to tell you – congrats on your recent graduation 🙂

    • vnsankar

      Thanks Tomer!

      Kit Fox is easy in the right areas, American Badger a bit tougher; also, I can get you great daytime sightings of Bobcat when you come by too. I’ll trade you those for Blanford’s Fox, Striped Hyena, and Caracal in Israel 😉

      Btw, I used to feel the same way as you regarding the small mammals. Trust me, once you watch your first Giant Kangaroo Rat close-up, you’ll be hooked too!!

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