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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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4 days ago

We are buried in smoke again today, so we thought it would be fun to share a little about how the names of some of the towns in the Eastern Sierra came about. Thank you, California High Sierra for the article!
californiahighsierra.com/trips/california-high-sierra-towns-the-origin-of-their-names/
Photo by Amy Leist
... See MoreSee Less

We are buried in smoke again today, so we thought it would be fun to share a little about how the names of some of the towns in the Eastern Sierra came about. Thank you, California High Sierra for the article!
https://californiahighsierra.com/trips/california-high-sierra-towns-the-origin-of-their-names/
Photo by Amy Leist

Comment on Facebook

Wow... been a good long while since I’ve been to Bishop. Their high school team was in our league (I went to Tehachapi High) and we traveled there for some football games — something like a 5-6 hour drive each way if I recall correctly. A tough team to beat also. I’m betting it hasn’t changed all that much over all these years (circa late ‘60s).

I'm so sorry the smoke is bad there still. I missed my annual visit this year. It's on my to do list for next year.

We can see it over the Spring Mountains to the West/NW here in Las Vegas. Fortunately, not much of it made it into the LV valley.

Would LOVE to move there if my hubby can find a job nearby!

We left this morning. Not only is it very smokey the smell of smoke is incredible. I don't smoke and I was ready to light up.

Nice photo. That's the real West.

Miss Bishop, Lone Pine, Big Pine, Tinnamaha campground!!!!

No, that is where the theater and Joseph’s used to be. Joseph’s has been gone for some time now. Penny’s is now Dollar General. Unfortunately a lot of vacant stores. Hi Kent!❤️

Hello and good morning. I am planning to drive up to Bishop from Southern California. The main purpose is to see fall colors. May I know if the fall colors are still at peak this coming next two weeks or is it past peak? Thank you for your advice/suggestions.

We were just there.😔

We have to leave too, I almost threw up it was so bad, got to Lee Vining and blue fresh air..take care of yourselves

so sorry for the smoke crazy time for all this year.

I spent a week here and didn't get to see the beauty through the smoke 😏

When was this picture taken, Sunday at 6 am ? never seen it this quiet.

Awesome pic! I wish a Main Street business had a rooftop deck so you can eat with that exact same view!

No smoke in the photo. ??

Is this an old photo? Joseph’s market was the only market back when we lived in Bishop in 1969.

It’s still Smokey? Where is the smoke coming from ?

Beautiful town

I always love to go threw Bishop.

Went thru Bishop yesterday, it was terribly Smokey 😪💚

I wish it was still small !

Does bishop still have a jack in the box

My favorite place ❤️

Isnt that the Old JC Penney store?

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1 week ago

Wonder if this little sheep was as grateful as we were for a view of the mountains this morning??!! Happy Friday! From Bishop, with love ❤️
#keepbishopsafe #mttom
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Wonder if this little sheep was as grateful as we were for a view of the mountains this morning??!! Happy Friday! From Bishop, with love ❤️
#keepbishopsafe #mttom

Comment on Facebook

Wonderful vacation destination

And a free thinker! This is Good!

🙏praying that it stays like this 💖

I miss Bishop so much and living there too 😢😉❤️

This is one of my favorite places to take pictures when I lived in Bishop. There’s many more.

Sigh. Bishop. Love it.

See you next week little sheep

We loved our visit to Bishop

Miss bishop fun times there

Nice!!!

Oh how I love that view

It was beautiful

Love Bishop

👍

Need snow on them things!

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1 week ago

In case you are wondering what roads and campgrounds are open, here is the latest, as of yesterday, October 14th:
www.sierrawave.net/state-of-inyo-roads-and-campgrounds-whats-open-closed-oct-14
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In case you are wondering what roads and campgrounds are open, here is the latest, as of yesterday, October 14th:
https://www.sierrawave.net/state-of-inyo-roads-and-campgrounds-whats-open-closed-oct-14

Comment on Facebook

I've been on that same road every year at this time...

It sure was smoky today.

Still hazy there.😥

I love the West.

Beautiful picture thanks for sharing 🙂🙂❤❤

We always used to stay at Brown’s Millpond Campground just north of Bishop. Very nice private campground with a stream running through it. So many wonderful memories from Mule Days!

Up her for 4 day little smoke but really nice trees turning colors

It's the hunting and fishing Road 🏞️🎣🏕️🌌🤠🥰

Love Bishop and the surrounding mountains !!!

Hwy 168 going to Lake Sabrina, North and South lakes?

With I was there.

maybe next weekend any hotel suggestions?

Johanna Atwell

GOD HOW I WISH I WAS ON THAT ROAD... CAREFREE HIWAY...

Lots of nice smoke.....

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1 week ago

The Eastern Sierra Cancer Alliance is hosting a virtual 5K walk and fun run this year!!! Going on NOW!! You can do it from WHEREVER you are!!!Hello Friends!☺️
💥 ESCA 20th Annual 5K Walk & Fun Run! 💥October 11-17th! Virtual Edition!
Please LIKE and SHARE this flyer with your friends and family!
Thank you for your continued support! ☺️
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The Eastern Sierra Cancer Alliance is hosting a virtual 5K walk and fun run this year!!! Going on NOW!! You can do it from WHEREVER you are!!!

1 week ago

Dog days of summer or fall??!!
Last weekend we had warm temps and blue skies again. Fingers crossed we get some more blue skies this weekend!

Photo by Amanda Zhang
#NorthLake #fallcolors #keepbishopsafe
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Dog days of summer or fall??!! 
Last weekend we had warm temps and blue skies again. Fingers crossed we get some more blue skies this weekend!

Photo by Amanda Zhang
#NorthLake #fallcolors #keepbishopsafe

Comment on Facebook

I heard the colors have peaked in this area. Is it still worth visiting or are there other good spots to hit up?

Beautiful picture.

Wonderful vacation destination

Beautiful

Beautiful picture! Cute dog!

North Lake?

Looking good

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