Masthead: Kaweah Range

A Naturalist's Notebook
Sightings and News From Around the Sierra

Had a Badger snuffling around your feet? A Mt. Lyell Salamander in your sleeping bag? Check our Guidelines and share your observations of Nature At Work with your fellow naturalists.

The National Wildlife Federation has created an extremely cool searchable wildlife database. It allows you to search by critter or even lists the wildlife in your area. A photo and fairly detailed description of each animal is provided:
For the Sierra Biozone.
The guides to plants and wildlife. is a new site that allows you to post any natural history observation (wildlife, mushrooms, plants) by location and link it to a photo (if you have one) on Flickr and other photo sites.

Field Notes:

February 2010:
Submitted by Matt Banta of Lee Vining.

White Tailed Ptarmigan

White Tailed Ptarmigan White Tailed Ptarmigan

Attached are some photos of White Tailed Ptarmigan, Lagopus eucurus, we came across in January of 2008. I believe this is an introduced species of birds to the Sierra Nevada but not sure. They are a bit rare and hard to find so I get a bit excited to see them. There are two populations that I am aware of, one in the Lundy Canyon/20-Lakes Basin area and one in the Virginia Lakes area. These birds were found above Virginia Lake although last weekend I found a lot of ptarmigan sign at the 9-10,000 ft elevation on the east slope of Dunderberg Mt. They are a very interesting bird and very neat to see in the winter.

Editor's note: They were introduced by California Department of Fish and Game to the Sierra in 1971/1972 and have expanded slowly north and south near Lee Vining, California. I've seen them as far south as the east side of Bishop Pass in March.



Bobcat, Sierra Foothills
Photo © Michael Hansen

June 3, 2007: Submitted by Nate Stephenson, USGS Research Scientist, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.  (Events took place May 27, 2007, give or take a day).

Two Foxes and a Bobcat:  a Foothills Drama

Through the open bedroom windows, I heard a load, insistent, and familiar sound approaching:  “AAAOoow! AAAOoow! AAAOoow!”  It had a guttural quality – as if from a throat clogged with phlegm – mixed with an eerie “voice” vaguely resembling a human scream.  My wife and I often hear the sound around our house in the rolling blue oak woodlands near the North Fork of the Kaweah River, but we’ve never identified its creator.  Usually the sound comes during the dark of night, and whatever creature makes it melts away at the first sign of our approaching flashlights.  But at 5:45 a.m. on this Memorial Day weekend, there was plenty of light.  I leaped up and ran to the window.

A bobcat was walking along, shoulders rolling in graceful feline fashion. But the bobcat wasn’t making the sounds. Instead, its ears were pointed back at the source of the ruckus: one of a pair of gray foxes following about 15 feet behind. The foxes trotted parallel to one another, separated by a few feet. Their tails were raised about 45º where they left their rumps, then swept gracefully down and back. The fox closest to me continued to yell at the bobcat, “AAAOoow! AAAOoow!”




Lunch time for a Long Tailed Weasel in Yosemite

This was submitted by "SnowNymph" who was hiking up Rafferty Creek out of Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park on July 24, 2004:

"We heard a high pitch scream, looked back, and saw a small weasel with a fat pika in its mouth, almost bigger than the weasel. The pika was squirming, and the weasel shook it back and forth until the pika quit moving. Then it looked at us, and ran away with the pika in its mouth. I only had time to take two photos, but you could see how vicious this weasel was by the look on its face."

A zoologist from UC Berkeley believes the prey might be a vole instead. Note the relative size of prey vs. predator. I once watched a weasel drag a vole, which was over half its weight, for about 3 hundred meters. The weasel would run forward about 5 meters with the vole dragging between its front legs. It would then stop and breath for a few, then repeat. It saw me watching from only a few meters away, but seemed unconcerned by my presence. Like many members of that family (Mustilidae) they're very curious animals and I've often had both weasels and pine martens come closer to me to see what I'm up to.

Smarter than the average bear? Actually, probably not. This is why bear cannisters and metal boxes are the only things keeping your food safe nowadays!
(photographer and location unknown.)

Hi George,


Attached is a photo I took at about 7:30 PM on June 8, 2004, under planted shrubbery bordering the parking lot on the south side of the NPS maintenance building in El Portal, on the NPS administrative site. This juvenile leucistic Western Scrub Jay (Aphelocoma californica) had been reported right outside the dispatch office for about three days prior. The bird was still with a family group with at least one other fledgling, and the parents were feeding them. The white bird could fly fine. This night it was observed by me, Mike Osborne and Nancy Pimentel. (I know, this group makes the whole thing seem suspect. It really happened. Honest.)


Reading on leucisism in birds on the internet points out to me that there is little agreement of terminology between leucisism, partial albinism and incomplete albinism. There seems to be varying degrees of leucism; this bird would be at the extreme end of the scale. So, my using the term leucistic may be questioned. The bird appears to have dark eyes in the photo, although it was under a bush and there may not have been much light to reflect to show pink eyes. None of the other photos showed pink eyes, even on the pavement in the open. (I was so busy trying to photograph the bird that I did not study it at the time with binoculars.) Because the eyes are dark, I don’t think it would be correct to term it a full albino. The bill and legs seem to be colorless, just to confuse the issue.


Anyway, I thought it was pretty cool! I haven’t found anyone that remembers seeing a white jay around here in the past. I did find a photo of a white Steller’s Jay posted on the internet on a Tehachapi birding site.




Dan Horner

P.O. Box 806

Yosemite, CA 95389

5/04: From wildlife photographer John Senser of Golden Oak Studios:

Two (!) Mountain Lion in afternoon light. This is why they're so rarely spotted by hikers.
Tuolumne County, CA Photo© John Senser


Osprey with dead fish coming in to feed two young as mate watches (look very closely to spot the young).
Tuolumne County, Ca. Photo© John Senser


Excellent example of the front and back paw prints of a Black Bear. Top print: left hind. Bottom: left front.
Photo: © Joseph Migler


Black Bear (Ursus americanus) tracks.
Location: Chowchilla Mountain Rodad near Big Creek and Mt. Savage; near Wawona in Yosemite National Park.
Habitat: Forest/stream
UTMn 11S 4156200 UTMe 264440
Observer: Joseph Migler, Laura & Julio Tellez Date: November 8, 2003

Editor's Note: We're not always lucky enough to see the actual critters in the woods. That's why you want to look down occasionally and see what tracks and scat have been left as clues to who's around.

Dear Sierra Nature Notes:

Lady bugs (Hippodamia Convergens) congregate in Muir Woods National Monument.

This past weekend, my family and I enjoyed a lovely vacation, staying at the Wawona Hotel (a family tradition, this is our 13th year!). As we were hiking along the Swinging Bridge Trail (Monday, November 10, 2003 in the morning) near Wawona, we spotted thousands of ladybugs on some ground cover and small shrubs just off the trail. We were curious as to what they were doing. Thank you for your very informative Sierra Nature Notes!

The Migler Family (Anthony, Regina, Theresa and Joseph)

Dear Migler Family:

How cool! Fall visitors to Yosemite often come across ladybug swarms above Happy Isles in the fen there or along the river in Wawona. They're swarming in a relatively warm and protected spot to hibernate for the winter.

Deer Whisperer
Peter Stekel

Editor's note: kids (and adults!) – don't try this at home. Peter's very experienced with wildlife and willing to take the chance. Every year, though, people receive serious injuries from getting too close to deer and other wildlife, thinking them tame. They're not. They're wild animals and even a gentle looking deer can deliver a serious or fatal injury from a hoof strike. Always keep a safe distance from all wildlife.

Everybody wants to see wildlife. Unfortunately, few have the patience to sit and wait — but that is just what it takes. The good news is that there's no particular skill involved in watching wildlife. Cars, for instance, are natural "blinds" and make excellent wildlife observatories. Just sitting for an extended time at the edge of a meadow or by a stream is another great way to see critters. A friend of mine, though, started me on a completely different quest – getting very close to deer. A major goal of his has been to stalk a deer, then touch it.

An Unexpected Meeting
Erika Jostad

Watercolor © Erika Jostad 2001

We met on a clouded afternoon along the John Muir Trail near Crabtree Meadows. In the absence of shadow, I could see far into the lodgepole/foxtail pine forest rimming Sandy Meadow as I strolled north. Ahead, I spotted an awkward coyote hop a log then get on the trail coming my direction.

Western Rattlesnake (Crotalis viridis).
Photo: © Gerald and Buff Corsi, California Academy of Sciences

Buzz-worms of the Southern Sierra
Jim Warner

I've walked the trails of the Southern Sierra for many years, and have seen a good many "buzz-worms," as one former Kings Canyon ranger occasionally calls rattlesnakes. Folks tend to think of rattlesnakes as denizens of low elevations, maybe up to about 6,000'. In the southern Sierra, they are found at elevations up to 11,000'. One was even found near the top of Alta Peak (11,204') in Sequoia National Park.

Blue Grouse chick (Dendragapus obscurus).
Photo: © Benjamin R. Miller
Volunteer's Luck
Pete Clum

My first trip as a backcountry volunteer in Kings Canyon National Park was an especially rewarding wildlife experience and just shows what marvelous critters await the lucky Sierra hiker. My first day, I hiked from Cedar Grove to Junction Meadow at about 8,000 feet. When I reached the meadow, I walked out into it and spotted a medium size cinnamon colored bear munching the grass. At first the bear was unaware of my presence. Upon sensing me, he ran several hundred feet to a spot by the creek and picked up a dead fawn and started to eat it. Within a few minutes however, he snatched up the fawn and ran off into the trees. Continued



Red Crossbill (Loxia curvirostra)
Location: Sky Parkor Meadow, Sequoia National Park.
Habitat: Lodgepole forest
UTMn 4036000 UTMe 371000
Observer: Rob Hayden Date: August 2000

Imagine treeline in the high mountains, the Kaweah Range in Sequoia National Park as a backdrop, miles and miles of mixed lodgepole and whitebark pine. Up in the high branches, hearing a sweet, delicate chirp ("chirp-chirp" – pause, undulate – "chirp-chirp", again); a plump shape smaller than a robin, moving through the tree – from cone to cone – just a silhouette, not sure the color – was it just a shadow? But then: there are more of ‘em swarming over the branches, clinging as they tear at the lodgepole cones with their strange beaks. Small flakes of cone float to the ground. Continued


Fisher Martes pennanti Family Mustelidae
Location: East Fork Kaweah River, Sequoia National Park
Habitat: mixed chaparrel
UTMn 4032500 UTMe 342000
Observer: Liz van Mantgem Date: 4/2001

Winning the Fisher Lottery

Last April (2001), I saw a fisher for 10 whole minutes. That's an eternity in the realm of wildlife viewing, and it could have been longer if I'd only had more nerve. She (or he) dodged past as I hiked to the East Fork of the Kaweah River. Surprising me, after I scared her first, the fisher crashed through the adjacent shrubbery and leaped into a big oak tree. It was the only big tree in the scrub, so she was stuck on a fat limb, sinuously pacing and waiting for me to leave.


Black Bear (Ursus Americanus)
Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus)
Location: Round Meadow, Sequoia National Park
Habitat: Meadow, mixed conifer
UTMn 4048000 UTMe 342000
Observer: G. Durkee Date: 6/04/2001

Bear vs. Woodpecker
The nice thing about being an amateur naturalist is that you don't have to expend too much energy to see neat events. In June, as my friends powered up a trail near Sequoia National Park's Giant Forest, I found a comfortable (and comforting) Giant Sequoia at the edge of a meadow to lean against while reading my newspaper. Continued

Species: Black Bear (Ursus Americanus)
South Fork, Merced River, Wawona, Yosemite NP
Habitat: Stream, riparian.
UTMn 4047000 UTMe 343000
Observer: William Byrne Date: 6/18/2001

Bear vs. Fisherman
I thought you all would like to hear of the adventures of our 14 year old son Charlie. Charlie fished the Merced River near the Foresta Road bridge on Monday June 18 and had a bit of luck, including catching a pretty large Brown Trout that he couldn't land because he had no net. In the process of trying to pick this fish out of the water, Continued


Mt. Lyell Salamander

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Hydromantes platycephalus

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Masthead Photo from:
Kaweahs From Trailcrest, Kings Canyon National Park
© 2009, Howard Weamer