Seeking current info on Mohave Ground Squirrel

Hello mammal-heads.

I am planning a trip that will take me to California, to the Red Rock Canyon / California City / Fremont Peak general area for a few days this coming March.  Does anyone have any current information on sites for Mohave Ground Squirrel?  I see that both Jon and Vladimir saw them in Desert Tortoise Natural Area in 2011 and 2016, respectively, but that Venkat had no luck in 2021.  There are quite a few iNaturalist records (which are obscured for this species) that look like they are probably from the Fremont Peak area, all seemingly from a stationary trail cam of unknown specific location, so the dense scatter of dots in the area is probably really only one den.  Anyway, that is all I have been able to find, and I am hoping someone on this forum has recent information.    I have a Subaru Forester, so can handle off-pavement driving, but am not super confident on sand or where the road conditions are too hairy.

Thanks in advance!

Dave Robichaud

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  • vnsankar

    Hey Dave – I also saw MGS in mid May 2016, getting brief but clear views along the perimeter fence of the DTNA. This was before I had decent camera gear, though, and my desire to photograph the species has opened a bit of Pandora’s box over the last few years. Besides that visit in April 2021, I’ve tried again twice in a good rain year (in late April and mid July 2023) without success. Honestly, I now think it’s the most difficult sciurid in N America to find “on demand” (and this is coming from someone who has seen Alaska Marmot, many Mexican species, most of the chipmunks, etc.).

    The squirrels are only active about late Feb-late July, with the juveniles only active in July. The peak is mid April-mid June, but this tends to vary. For example, last year we had a late winter and the ranger at DTNA thought were still asleep in late April as he hadn’t seen any yet. Populations also vary A LOT year to year, with the animals basically vanishing in drought years. But this year should be ok as last year’s rains were excellent in the Mojave. Everyone looks for this species at DTNA as that’s where people have seen it in the past, but I’m not convinced it’s the best area as the population there doesn’t seem that large. The stronghold is basically sandy sagebrush desert on the N shore of Rogers Dry Lake, unfortunately within Edwards Air Force Base (which is not accessible to the public). Better areas I reckon are off Suckow & Gephart Rds to the W of the Rio Tinto borax mine (stay on the roads; there’s some great recent trail cam photos of active dens there, as it’s a conservation easement for the mine & the population is actively monitored); W of the 395 N of Kramer Junction (all public land, but tricky to explore as roads can be inconsistent & bad); around Phacelia Wildlife Sanctuary near Hi Vista; and in the Little Dixie Wash between Red Rock Canyon and Inyokern (where biologists caught a few on surveys early May 2023). In terms of microhabitat, you want to focus on sandy washes with thistle sage (Salvia carduacea; a plant they’re strongly associated with, per the DTNA biologists).

    What I would do is call the people at DTNA and check if they’ve seen any. There’s a small wash along one of the trails within the preserve that in the right year, can be a good place and the biologist/ranger there will know if they’re being seen. If they are, try there first. Otherwise, I’d focus on Little Dixie Wash or the borax mine area. Mid morning is when you want to try, once it’s started to warm up, based on the time stamps on the trail cam footage (look up “camera trapping at US borax conservation easement”). Hope this helps, and feel free to ask any questions in follow-up.

    Here’s a few survey reports:
    – The biologist who runs this account ( did the Little Dixie Wash surveys and could also be helpful

  • charleswhood

    Just to verify that there seems to be no guaranteed way or easy way to tick this species — I “did” Dixie Wash very thoroughly with an expert spotter one spring, and we got nil, and that has been true for other likely spots, eg in eastern Red Rock park areas etc. And I have missed them many many times at the desert tortoise preserve. If you keep a bird list, this is all good habitat for the localized LeConte’s Thrasher, and can be good for herps. This spring (2024) might be good though because there was intense August rain in 2023 that caused birds to “second nest” in the deserts, and so far, the 2023-2024 rains have been fairly decent. / Charles Hood


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