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Guest Post by Tom & Jo Heindel

Deserts occur worldwide and all the wildlife that lives in these deserts faces similar challenges. Basically, deserts are areas with little rain, high evaporation rates, hot and windy summers, cold and windy winters, little open water, limited food, and sparse vegetation. Each biome and the habitats contained within it pose advantages and challenges for the wildlife and plants that live there. Much of the Eastern Sierra region is desert, Great Basin and Mojave types, and its wildlife has had to adapt to some demanding conditions.

great basin desert landscape

All plants and animals require water for life and the very business of living uses up water within the organism and more is needed to replace it. Animals lose water three ways: via respiration when breathing, via excretion in urine and feces, and cutaneously through the skin. It is critical that water intake equals water loss and if it doesn’t, the plant or animal weakens and dies.

The first strategy of animals is to drink water if surface water is available. In the western parts of Mono and Inyo Counties, there is an abundance of water in the Owens River, lakes, reservoirs and ponds but to the east water becomes more scarce. In the Great Basin and Mojave deserts, there is little surface water and the best indication that water is near is vegetation. Some birds can fly to an oasis, spring, or seep, and often flocks of Lesser Goldfinches, Mourning Doves, and House Finches can be seen flying into a small open water source. Other organisms like some insects, and quail must set up their residence within a short distance of a water supply. Alden Miller, who worked in the Grapevine Mountains along the Inyo County/Nevada border in June 1940, was irritated because he could not find a spring that he knew was there. How did he know it was there if he didn’t see it? Because he had seen Mountain Quail and they are never far from a water supply.

Plants and animals have developed a number of strategies to get water. Some plants store excess water in their roots, stems, and leaves for times when the ground is dry and some animals can absorb water directly from the plants or insects they eat or they can produce metabolic water from the breakdown of the seeds they have eaten. Kangaroo Rats produce all the water they need from the seeds they eat; a gram of dry food may produce 0.6 grams of water.

A second challenge for animals is temperature, both high and low. Optimal temperatures for metabolic processes are high. In mammals, the range is 97–99°F and in birds 104–108°F. These are just a few degrees below the lethal level for some tissues. Birds have developed several strategies to cope with desert temperatures. First is avoidance, by migrating north or south or choosing routes or times to avoid extreme temperatures, or by moving higher into the mountains to cool down, or by descending the mountains to the valleys to gain warmth. Another strategy is to hibernate like the Common Poorwill, or to enter torpor like some swifts and hummingbirds do to avoid the cold, or to build roosting nests lined with feathers like Verdins and Cactus Wrens, or to roost in tree trunks or cavities like woodpeckers, titmice, and small owls.

common poorwill bird

On a daily basis during the summer, another set of strategies are in effect to avoid the heat of mid day. Many birds become less active and often can be found sitting in the shade with their beaks open or panting to promote evaporative cooling. Some animals have adopted crepuscular or nocturnal patterns of activity to avoid the heat such as many different mammal species and a few bird species, like owls and nightjars. Say’s Phoebes often choose a nest site on a shaded cliff face and Burrowing Owls and mammals seek subterranean burrows that remain comfortable on the hottest of days. Vultures may urinate on their legs to promote evaporative cooling and Gambel’s Quail may dilate blood vessels in their unfeathered legs to promote conduction of body heat to the outside.

burrowing owl photo

Because water is scarce in the desert, so too is vegetation. This translates into fewer food supplies for the wildlife that inhabits this biome and less cover available in which to hide to avoid detection by predators. The reduced vegetative cover limits the amount of biomass that invertebrates and others can rely on for food. This results in fewer invertebrates for vertebrates to devour which results in fewer vertebrates and fierce competition between the few vertebrates who live in the desert for the few resources available. Birds and mammals are on constant alert for danger. Those who let their guard down are usually quickly taken down themselves. When they detect a predator they usually freeze and remain silent and those with cryptically colored or patterned plumage or pelage blend in with their surroundings and, if they don’t lose their nerve and move, usually live for another day.
Human visitors can use these strategies to enhance their desert wildlife experiences by spending time in the early morning or late afternoon hours, near water, sitting quietly in the shade. Keep a camera ready!
Find more articles like this on our local Eastern Sierra Audubon Society’s website. Many thanks to the Heindels for sharing!

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19 hours ago

Who loves to get up where the oxygen is thin??!! Mt. Langley is one of the many 14,000' peaks here in our backyard. If you are coming this way, make sure to check out the current guidelines and state regulations. www.bishopvisitor.com/covid/
#KeepBishopOpen #KeepInyoOpen
Thanks, @wanderlena82 for this awesome shot!
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Who loves to get up where the oxygen is thin??!! Mt. Langley is one of the many 14,000 peaks here in our backyard. If you are coming this way, make sure to check out the current guidelines and state regulations. https://www.bishopvisitor.com/covid/
#KeepBishopOpen #KeepInyoOpen 
Thanks, @wanderlena82 for this awesome shot!

Comment on Facebook Who loves to get up ...

I went up to 12,500 at Ski Apache in Ruidoso, N.M. My head nearly exploded.

Yep. I feel so amazing in high altitudes.

Very well done. I’ve never been over 12,000 and that just about ended me.

Why cant we post pics on this site anymore?

Been there a couple of times. Better than Whitney

Congratulations!

BEAUTIFUL

I like those kinds of places. You can get a natural high. I think I've been there before. Hope to get back there soon. <3

Badassery

Great photo! Looking great @ 14k+ ❤️

Definitely has a great view

...would have done it 40 years ago

How come females look so good after bagging a peak, but guys look tuckered out?

Mammoth parade starts at 11:00

Always head up to Whites Mountain for Ancient Bristol Cone Forest.

Awesome

Been up there.

My friend Jack McBroom from Hemet climbed the highest 14 peaks on California in about four and a half days. Not sure that is still the record but I know it was for awhile. Sports Illustrated did an article about him.

Hayden Pester adding this to our list

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2 days ago

In case you need to do a little reflecting today....

Thanks for the beautiful shot of Honeymoon Lake, @biffnix
#KeepInyoOpen #KeepBishopOpen #MaskWashDistance
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In case you need to do a little reflecting today.... 

Thanks for the beautiful shot of Honeymoon Lake, @biffnix  
#KeepInyoOpen #KeepBishopOpen #MaskWashDistance

Comment on Facebook In case you need to ...

So beautiful California gold 😊😊❤❤

Reflection pix are my fav 🤩

Oh my, unimaginable beauty! Stunning!

Beautiful

So where exactly is this lake?

Just amazing!

Beautiful

Incredible!

See you there 4ofjuly

Can’t wait to get back up there!

I love it!

I like that you can go there even when you aren't on a Honeymoon. Even single folks go there. <3

So which side is up? Lol Great shot 👌!

Maayan Damti

Gorgeous.

Can't wait for August 1st will be there a whole week

Absolutely beautiful

Sharp knife and a shave! Awesome.

That water is like glass!

How beautiful

Hot creek. Much good for skin! Be respectful of native americans!!!!

Amazing

Hopefully we'll be able to go up there Labor Day weekend.

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3 days ago

The night sky here sure is something magical. 😍

Thank you, @Pat Pester for this beautiful shot!
#KeepInyoOpen #KeepBishopOpen
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The night sky here sure is something magical. 😍

Thank you, @Pat Pester for this beautiful shot!
#KeepInyoOpen #KeepBishopOpen

Comment on Facebook The night sky here ...

Amazing! Don't see this very often!

The stars at night are beautiful. Miss them

Just beautiful. One of many reasons I love going there

Just spent 3 days there. Beautiful as always.

Missed my annual trip this past Memorial Day weekend, the beautiful Eastern Sierras Lake Sabrina South Lake etc were always so peaceful & tranquil to visit!

Absolutely amazing 😉

So beautifulth thanks for sharing 😊😊❤❤

13 days..... I We’ll be there!!!!

South Lake

This is at bishops??

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6 days ago

Happy Friday!! Ahhhhh, Big Pine Creek, looking sooooo good!
Thank you, @Pat Pester for the photo!
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Happy Friday!! Ahhhhh, Big Pine Creek, looking sooooo good!
Thank you, @Pat Pester for the photo!

Comment on Facebook Happy Friday!! ...

Beautiful!! I wish I would be there!!

Such breath taking beauty! I so 💙 the Sierra's, and have many awesome memories of my times there. Thanks for sharing! 🌞

I love second lake especially for the view of temple crag

Just magnificent!

Great picture love Bishop

I wish the same as you Mary!

Was up there last week. Weather was perfect. Hiked up to Chickenfoot while I was there.

Still having earthquakes?

Been there! Beautiful!

Wonderful picture

Spent fathers day week there

Love the Sierras.

Beautiful!

Remember doing this hike. Gorgeous

So beautiful

Headed that way soon! 🏕

Beautiful

Sure hope to get there soon.

Very peaceful setting.

Breathtaking

Beautiful

What a godly view. On the hwy. drive you can see Snow on top of Mount Whitney mountains, so awesome during in month of June when its hot

Mt. Sill ! Sally Spear Molé. Stephen Busch . Do remember climbing this mountain Stephen ? That was an adventure !

I used to live in the town of Big pine many years ago

I wish !!!

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7 days ago

We love seeing folks doing their part to #KeepInyoOpen by wearing their face coverings! #lovebishop
Thank you, Chris Bubser for Congress for this cool shot!
#visitbishop
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We love seeing folks doing their part to #KeepInyoOpen by wearing their face coverings!  #lovebishop
Thank you, Chris Bubser for Congress for this cool shot!
#visitbishop

Comment on Facebook We love seeing folks...

Thank you for doing your part. Just get used to it, we're in it for the long haul. It doesn't hurt to err on the side of caution. I would.

Best little town in the West. I hope you're all hanging in there. Stay safe so I can visit this fall!

I love Bishop because of it’s proximity to Death Valley and the Sierras. On a motorcycle!

A family hiking out in the mountains on a warm summer day..... with masks on. This has to be the stupidest photo on FB all day.

Ah, wearing a mask outdoors in the Sierra's. They're obeying their globalist masters. Good little sheep.

What a sad picture that this family appears to be out in the countryside ,away from people, wearing a mask..

You don’t need masks if you are outside hiking with your family.

Makes no sense to go up to the mountains for fresh mountain air just to breathe in your own co2

The masks with the exhale feature on it does not block your droplets from exiting and infecting the people around you.

That is not the Bishop I grew up in. We didn’t live in fear‼️ Bishop as lost it’s way. Sad fir a beautiful area ,

What time does the 4th of July parade start ?

masks are nonsense,, please stop

I really miss living there. Be back soon.

Enough of this bs. No way I would go hiking in the mtns and wear a mask. Just may as well stay in the cesspool known as LA County and breathe the air here with a mask on.

Hopefully the mask wearing works, cause the social distancing and all the sanitizing isn’t...

Wearing masks in fresh mountain air & sunshine. Just can't fix stupid.

More crying 😢 about wearing a mask. Pitiful little babies!!

Guess I won’t go this year👎

Jeeping this 4th of July!

More sheep

Looking good!

Yellow star,mask..same thing advocated by the same types of people.

No more masks.

Missing hometown

Lived in Bishop early 90's. Can't believe what houses cost there now!!!

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