There’s a dance party happening across much of the basin and range as the sage grouse strut their stuff to try to attract females. This is more a Madrid type party than a stateside party as the fun only gets started at dawn. That’s when the males start to dance. There are many descriptions of their dance out there, but it is electric as any disco when you see one of these fantastic beings puffing and stretching in a predawn. It is only the males who puff and strut about, but the more camoflauged females are there too, looking for the best dance partner.
Sage grouse are well known. NDOW has a quick overview of them and I’m sure there are others. But what you might not know is that you can check out the party (from a very respectful distance of course) if you volunteer with NDOWs lek count program. While the program for 2018 is already underway, 2019 is will be here soon. Volunteering provides a great opportunity to explore the basin and range region, see some amazing sunrises, start your hike or play day doing citizen science all while getting to see these unique birds in action.
Get out there lekkin’!
Gopher Snakes (Pituophis catenifer) are found throughout the basin and range. In northern Nevada we typically come across the Great Basin Gopher Snake (Pituophis catenifer deserticola).
Gopher snakes are also known as bull snakes or blow snakes. Some people confuse them with rattlesnakes; and indeed gopher snakes have evolved to mimic rattlesnakes. They do this in a few ways: (1) Their coloration is somewhat similar, however the patterns of the gopher snakes black/dark splotches down their backs are quite different from a rattlesnakes; (2) they shake their tails like rattlesnakes and when they do this in a pile of dry leaves, grass or other vegetation they can sound very similar to rattlers; and (3) they will flatten their heads and blow through their mouths to make a hissing noise, which also sounds similar to the rattle of a rattlesnake--this last reason is why they are sometimes referred to as blow snakes.
Gopher snakes are non-venomous, but they will bite you if they feel threatened.
Gopher snakes are typically around 4 to 5 feet in length and their bodies are moderately heavy. They are tan or straw in color with large, dark, rectangular blotches down the center of their backs, with smaller, more irregular blotches down their sides. Their heads are small when compared to rattlesnakes, but as mentioned above they'll flatten their heads to make them look bigger and more triangular like a rattlesnakes.
They typically eat small rodents (mice, rats, gophers, and ground squirrels), but they will also rabbits, birds (and their eggs), and lizards. They kill their prey by constriction.
These snakes tend to be out a lot in the day time and are unfortunately often on roadways where they are subjected to road kill. When out and about, I always try to stop--in a safe place--and prod snakes off roads to save them from the danger of death by vehicle.
Desert horned lizards (Phrynosoma playrhinos) are found in the western deserts of the United States and are a fairly common sight. There are two subspecies of desert horned lizards 1) the northern desert horned lizard (Phrynosoma platyrhinos platyrhinos) and 2) the southern desert horned lizard (Phrynosoma platyrhinos calidiarum). They are very often referred to as horny toads, however they are lizards (reptiles) not toads (amphibians). It would seem that they get the name "toad" from their rounded bodies.
Desert Horned Lizards like arid regions and are often found in sagebrush habitats. Also, since they burrow in the sand, they tend to like loose, sandy soils. They are ant specialists (which is why it's difficult to keep them as pets), but will also eat slow insects such as beetles and even some vegetation.
Horned lizards can vary in their coloration quite a bit. Being fairly grey in color to bright red, usually mottled with white, grey and black. They blend in very well into their surroundings and can be quite difficult to see. They have a distinctive flat, round body with fringed scales that look like horns, hence their name. And, in this species the horns are longer than they are wide.
Sources and for more information:
Idaho Museum of Natural History: http://imnh.isu.edu/digitalatlas/bio/reptile/lacer/phpl/phplfram.htm
Columbia Spotted Frogs (Rana Luteiventris) are found in only three locations in the Basin and Range region and all three locations are found in Nevada, the Toiyabe Mountains in central Nevada; the Ruby Mountains and Jarbidge-Independence Ranges near Elko Nevada; and Deep Creek in eastern Nevada, near the Utah boarder. Their full range however extends from Alaska south through British Columbia to Washington, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah and of course Nevada. See a map of their range here.
They tend to like clear, slow moving water, with little shade. They can be found in or near ponds, wetlands, lakes, and streams. They eat mostly insects, but will eat other amphibians as well as mollusks.
The Columbia spotted frogs that are found in the Basin and Range region have a light-colored stripe along their jaw and their back is brown to olive in coloration and they have a variety of black splotches throughout their bodies. Their skin varies from smooth to rough in texture--not "warty" like a toad though. The coloration of their bellies vary from white to yellow, and there is often mottling in that coloration. They are a thin looking frog. Adults tend to be between three and four inches in length and females tend to be larger than males.
Threats to these amphibians comes mostly from habitat destruction such as; water diversions, improper grazing management, spring development, and fragmentation from roads and culverts. Habitat disturbance often lead to invasive species and disease which are also common threats to these frogs. In 2003, a conservation agreement and strategy for Columbia spotted frogs was signed by the Bureau of Land Management, Nevada Department of Wildlife, the Nevada Natural Heritage Program, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, Nye County, and the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, for both the northeast and central Nevada populations of the Columbia spotted frog.
Sources and to learn more:
Nevada department of Wildlife, Columbia Spotted Frog Brochure
http://www.ndow.org/uploadedFiles/ndoworg/Content/public_documents/Nevada_Wildlife/Columbia%20Spotted%20Frog%20-%20USFW%20Brochure.pdf accessed: 3-3-2015
USFWS Columbia Spotted Frog
http://www.fws.gov/nevada/protected_species/amphibians/species/col_spotted_frog.html accesses: 3-3-2015
USFWS Nevada Fish and Wildlife, Columbia Spotted Frog
http://www.fws.gov/nevada/protected_species/amphibians/species/col_spotted_frog.html accessed 3-3-2015
Desert Dace (Eremichthys acros) are a rare fish from the family Cyprinidae (minnow). They are found in several spring systems in the Soldier Meadows area of Humboldt County, Nevada and they are listed as threatened.
An interesting fact is that the Desert Dace has the highest temperature tolerance of all minnows in western North America, occupying habitats that range from 64-104 degrees Fahrenheit.
They are fairly small fish, growing up to roughly 2.5 inches. They are olive in color above and silvery beneath, with some mottling along their sides. They tend to feed on small invertebrates and some algae. Threats to desert dace include habitat alterations, a result from water diversions, and the introduction of non-native fishes such as goldfish, green sunfish and largemouth bass.
Sources and to learn more:
Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Nevada's Native Fishes:
http://dcnr.nv.gov/documents/documents/nevadas-fishes-2/ accessed 2/22/2015
USFWS: Nevada Fish and Wildlife, Desert Dace:
http://www.fws.gov/nevada/protected_species/fish/species/desert_dace.html accessed 2/22/2015
USGS: Status of Listed Species and Recovery Plan Development, Desert Dace:
http://www.npwrc.usgs.gov/resource/wildlife/recoprog/states/species/eremacro.htm accesssed 2/22/2015
The western fence lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis) can be found in Southern California, Nevada, and parts of Oregon, Idaho, Utah and Mexico. They are also known as a Blue-Belly Lizards because adults have blue sides to their abdomens.
Western fence lizards have pointy, overlapping scales--these scales can help distinguish between western fence lizards and sagebrush lizards. Western Fence lizards scales are much more spiny looking than sagebrush lizards, with spines on their backs and limbs and on the posterior of their legs, which sagebrush lizards do not. Western fence lizards tend to be tan-dark brown in color with wavy black lines or spots. They can shift their color slightly from darker to lighter based on their surroundings and to absorb more heat from the sun. As mentioned above, they have blue on their abdomens. The blue patches tend to be much more prominent on adult male lizards than on females and juveniles. They typically eat insects and spiders, but have been known to eat small lizards as well.
Sources and more information:
Lahontan Cutthroat Trout (LCT) (Oncorhynchus clarkii henshawi) are endemic or native to the Lahontan basin of northern Nevada, eastern California, and southern Oregon. And is the official state fish of Nevada! They were listed as Endangered on October 13, 1970 and reclassified as Threatened in 1975.
Lahontan Cutthroat Trout are found in a variety of cold-water habitats including large terminal alkaline lakes, like Pyramid and Walker lakes; alpine lakes, like Lake Tahoe; slow meandering rivers like the Humboldt River; mountain rivers like the Carson, Truckee and Walker Rivers; and finally in tributary streams.
With three subspecies of cutthroat trout in Nevada, their body color is highly variable. Their back tends to be olive-green to grey in color. Their sides may be yellow-brown with red or pink along the belly. They tend to have spots throughout, which are usually round and black and are more dense towards the tail. The slash marks on either side of the throat can be yellow, red or orange and the fins tend to be uniform in color with no white tips.
References and sources for more information:
Great Horned Owls (Bubo virginianus) are beautiful, nocturnal birds. They are common throughout north America, including the Basin and Range region and are actually one of the Basin and Ranges largest nocturnal birds of prey.
When outdoors at night, you can often hear their deep, hooting voices. Their calls tend to be the familiar and soft hoo-h’HOO-hoo-hoo. Great horned owls have large earlike tufts. Generally, they have brown body plumage with a white throat patch. Their undersides have dark horizontal bars. They have broad, rounded wings and their head is rounded with a short bill. Great horned owls tend to be 18 to 25 inches tall with a wingspan of 40 to 60 inches, weighing between 2 to 5 pounds.
These birds are strong, capable predators that can take down prey larger than themselves, but their typical prey tends to be small rodents. They find high perches to hunt from where they listen for sounds of prey. Once they locate their target, they swoop down silently onto their prey.
Fun fact from All About Birds: "Great Horned Owls have large eyes, pupils that open widely in the dark, and retinas containing many rod cells for excellent night vision. Their eyes don’t move in their sockets, but they can swivel their heads more than 180 degrees to look in any direction. They also have sensitive hearing, thanks in part to facial disc feathers that direct sound waves to their ears."
Sources and where you can learn more:
All About Birds; Great Horned Owl: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Great_Horned_Owl/id
Nevada Department of Wildlife; Great Horned Owl: http://www.ndow.org/Species/Birds/Great_Horned_Owl/
Red-Tailed Hawks (Buteo jamaicensis), are a common site in the Basin and Range region and are probably one of the most common hawks in all of the North America. They are often seen perching on power or fence lines, flying high over fields or catching a thermal updraft.
Red-Tailed Hawks belong to the genus Buteo. Hawks in this genus have broad, rounded wings; relatively short tails; and soaring flight. These hawks have a variety of color morphs, but typically they are rich brown on their backs. Their fronts tend to be light with some brown streaking and a dark belly band. When you look at them in flight from below, they have a dark bar that runs along the front of edge of their wing. Adult birds have the characteristic cinnamon color tail which the birds are named after. Young birds don't have the red tail.
From their perches and while in flight, red-tailed hawks search for small mammals and birds that make up their diet. Red-tailed hawks prefer open field habitat including; desert, scrublands, grasslands, and roadsides. These open areas allow for good hunting.
Lukas, David. Watchable Birds of the Great Basin. Missoula, Mont.: Mountain Press Pub. Co., 1999.
Kit Foxes (Vulpes macrotis) are fun animals to see when out in about in the basin and range, they tend to be quite inquisitive and not too shy, which can be a detriment. They live in the desert and semi-arid regions between the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Rocky Mountains and down into Baja California and the North Central states of Mexico. They belong to the Canidae family which includes, wolves, coyotes, red foxes and grey foxes. Kit foxes are the smallest of the North American foxes, yet they have the biggest ears.
Being the smallest member of the Canidae family in North America, mature adults tend to measure between 15-20 inches in length with a 9-12 inch tail, weighing roughly 3-4 pounds. As mentioned above, they have very large ears which help them find prey at night and dissipate body heat. They tend to be light gray to sandy in color, which helps them blend into their surroundings, camouflaging them. Their tail has a dark tip and their muzzles have dark patches on both sides.
Kit foxes live in burrows which helps them to keep cool in the extreme heat and warm in the extreme cold. The burrows also help them avoid predators. Kit foxes typically dig their own dens, however they will take over rodent dens, enlarging them to meet their needs. They will also take over old, abandoned dens if they are available. Research suggests that kit foxes are very sensitive to den disturbance and if an entry way has been blocked or disturbed they will abandon the den and move to a new one.
Kit foxes are in the same family as some of the big carnivores, but they tend to be more of an opportunistic omnivore. Their main prey items include: black-tailed jackrabbits, cottontails, and small rodents, but they will also eat insects, small reptiles, ground nesting birds and fruit. They get the water they need from the body fluids of their prey.
Utah Division of Wildlife Resources; https://wildlife.utah.gov/publications/pdf/2010_kit_fox.pdf accessed 7/19/2014
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History; North American Mammals: http://www.mnh.si.edu/mna/image_info.cfm?species_id=428 accessed 7/19/2014
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