Whipsnake Survey

Yesterday, biologist Mandy Murphy allowed me to tag along with her while she ran her string of snake traps in search of Alameda whipsnakes and other reptiles.

We found a whipsnake in the third trap we checked. It was a recapture as she had caught it once before and left it with an identifying mark.

The snake was a large one, about four and a half feet long. She also caught a gopher snake.

IMG_3199 trapped gopher snake

The trap consists of vertical boards which guide the target species towards four wire cages that are similar to minnow traps. Once the snake or other critter enters the trap, it cannot find a way out. In this photo there are four separate wire mesh cages underneath the foam boards which protect the caught snakes from overheating.

The traps are monitored closely so that snakes will not be injured.


Snakes that are caught provide samples for DNA testing to determine their genetic makeup. According to Mandy, researchers have determined that two California racer species, the Alameda whipsnake and the California racer, are closely related. It is anticipated that the snakes captured on our ranch will share the genetic makeup of both species.

Pilot Peak Lahontan Cutthroat Trout

Rich 15, Rob 16, 3-25-17

The story of these Pyramid Lake trout is interesting.

Two stains of Lahontan cutthroat trout inhabit the lake. The most recent reintroduction of trout to Pyramid Lake came from a strain of fish found near Pilot Peak in the Pilot Peak Mountains which are located along the eastern border of Nevada, very close to Idaho.

These trout carry the same DNA as the nearly extinct migratory trout that once spawned in the Truckee River from Pyramid Lake to Lake Tahoe. After DNA analysis, trout from the Pilot Peak Mountains were transplanted into Pyramid Lake where they have thrived and grown at rapid rates into monster fish like the two pictured above. These fish were 15 and16 pounds.

For more information, search for Pilot Peak strain, Lahontan cutthroat, Pyramid Lake. It is an amazing story.

California Red-Legged Frog Egg Mass

California red-legged frogs are listed with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as threatened where ever they are found.


This is an adult California Red-legged frog.

Around March 1 is the time of year when we see California red-legged frog egg masses in our ponds. Here is an egg mass photographed on February 26.

IMG_2877 CRF egg mass

This red-legged frog egg mass stands out because it is covered with silt from the murky pond water. The egg mass was photographed on February 26, 2017.

These eggs will produce larva (tad poles) which will eventually morph into frogs by July or August. We see the juvenile frogs in the ponds into late September. During the fall they will disappear from the ponds and move into underground burrows or other hiding places to endure the winter months.

juvenile red leg frog cropped

Juvenile red-legged frogs live in the ponds until fall when they will depart for underground burrows which provide winter security.

Morphing Tiger Salamanders

It’s the time of year when we seine ponds in search of California Tiger Salamander larvae. We found quite a few last week so I thought this would be a good time to display a few photos of salamanders in different stages of development.


In this first photo, the larvae is showing signs of leg muscle development and first signs of diminished dorsal fin.


The dorsal fin on this larvae is further reduced, the leg muscles are improving and some yellow spots are appearing near it’s belly. It’s gills appear to be diminished in size.


This larvae is further along than the others. Gills are gone, dorsal fin gone and coloration is more like an adult. Assuming they avoid predators, these larvae will leave the pond in the next couple weeks.



Tiger Salamander Larvae Approach Metamorphosis

Here are some of the better photos we’ve taken of California Tiger Salamander larvae this summer.  These larvae are all showing various signs of morphing into terrestrial juvenile CTS. These photos were all taken under the supervision of biologist, Joe DiDonato, who has a state and federal permits for handling CTS.

We began to monitor CTS larvae in May. Initially, our take was larva all under 50 mm in length. Look where they are now.

This larva measured 122 mm in length. It is beginning to develop the some of the adult coloration. It's gills are 16mm, showing signs of shrinkage.

This larva measured 122 mm in length. It is beginning to develop the some of the adult coloration. It’s gills are 16mm, showing signs of recession.

This 141 mm larva is quite large. It is showing coloration changes.

This 141 mm larva is showing coloration changes.

120 mm in length

120 mm in length


140 mm length, 17 mm gills and coloration changes.

140 mm length, 17 mm gills and coloration changes.

105 mm long and showing signs of morphing.

105 mm long and showing signs of morphing.

123 mm in length and 166 mm gills.

123 mm in length and 16 mm gills.

124 mm in length with gills down to 3 mm, this is a metamorph that will leave the pond any day.

124 mm in length with gills down to 3 mm, this is a metamorph that will be ready to leave the pond any day.

120 mm in length with 16 mm gills, this larva also has a reduced dorsal fin.

120 mm in length with 16 mm gills, this larva also has a reduced dorsal fin.

These larvae are representative of 42 CTS larvae seined at the proposed Ohlone West Conservation bank on July 24th, 2014.  Yesterday, August 21, our crew seined 27 in similar stages of development, including another larva that was a metamorph ready to leave the pond. We believe that larvae similar to the ones shown have been leaving the pond and moving into the upland on a regular basis over the past few months. However, it is very difficult to validate exactly when they leave. We are continuing to develop ways to pin down the exact time that these larvae leave the pond and move into mammal burrows, primarily those of the California ground squirrel.

Of the five ponds in which we have recorded successful breeding at on various years, three are completely dry at this time and two still have significant water.

This has been a difficult drought year for the CTS, but we are convinced that the diversity of our ponds, including both seasonal and near perennial, has been beneficial to CTS breeding.

Surveying for California Tiger Salamander Larvae

Each year we survey ranch ponds for breeding success, which is quite variable. In the middle of a drought year, with fluctuating rainfall and shrinking ponds, we were quite concerned that we would not find California Tiger Salamander (CTS) larvae in our ponds during this year’s survey.
After failing to net any larvae in three successive ponds, we were ecstatic when the fourth pond yielded many healthy CTS larvae ranging in size from what we considered small to large, 30mm-75 mm. So it often goes with surveys.(read more)

OR7, A Wolf Conundrum

Conundrum: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conundrum

After spending the afternoon with a gray wolf stakeholder group, I have concluded that California gray wolf  management is a conundrum.

First question: Why is it important to re-establish wolves in California? Answer: It is not very important.

Second question: Why is it important to facilitate the successful rehabilitation of California wolf habitat to accommodate a stray wolf that has wandered into California? Answer: It is not very important.

Third question: What problems do wolves create for California ranchers, conservationists and wildlife managers? Answer: Too many to list.

Last question: Why are we holding meetings to make decisions about gray wolf management in California when there is only one known gray wolf in California? Answer:  California politics are out of control and we are driven by  a form of insanity, which is the result of guilt feelings (for all the evironmental destruction man has wreaked on the earth) and an out of control emotional attachment to iconic creatures – like wolves.

I am a wolf fan and I will be thrilled when I see my first wolf and hope to have a wolf  hide hanging on my wall some day, right next to a couple of coyote hides. You can bet that wolf hide won’t be from a California gray wolf.

Here are four possible solutions to the gray wolf situation. The simplest and most cost-effective approach? Have the gray wolf classified as a varmint so that it can be eradicated. This solution is simple, painless, proven and cheap. It worked well for almost 100 years. End of discussion.

If the simple, cheap, proven and painless solution is not acceptable, the second solution would be to work with the US Fish and Wildlife Service to create a recovery plan under the Federal Endangered Species Act. The recovery plan would establish management goals and create opportunities to fund activities like monitoring, study and mitigation for negative impacts to the species and its habitat. Hopefully, this would also create opportunities to manage other species, such as ungulates, that are critical prey species for wolves. But, I have to believe that the last thing the USFWS wants is to drag California into the already colossal fiasco that is taking place in Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Minnesota, Oregon and Washington – so odds are that this will not be the approach taken.

Another option is for California to take the lead in wolf recovery using a management plan as a guide. This option could create some problems by attempting to create a wolf program without proper funding. This approach would be particularly undesirable if wolves were delisted by the USFWS or is they make some type of formal decision that California is not important wolf habitat.

The last option  is for California to list wolves under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA) and use the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) as a tool to fund enhancement of wolf habitat and also habitat of related prey species. Land managers and conservationists could use the enormous power of CESA and CEQA to fund mitigation for habitat losses and compensate stakeholders who are negatively impacted by wolves. This type of action would prevent the creation of a (potenitally) huge unfunded mandate (option 3). And, politicians would be making the decision to go forward with a better idea of societal costs. Under this plan, wolves could thrive and so could their prey species.

(A side benefit would be that college freshmen planning a career in wolf management will have their chances for a success enhanced.)

The complexity of  this solution would be mind-boggling and also extremely expensive. Maybe that’s a reason for it to happen.

Californians can’t resist the temptation to spend money – especially on iconic creatures. The best thing about this last option is that it could result in improved habitat for and boost awareness of the other species out there that share wolf habitat – like mule deer. Wouldn’t it be ironical if one stray wolf accomplished all that for California wildlife?

Oh. There is another solution. California’s lone wolf (OR7) could go back home to Oregon and never come back. That would be nice.

Now, having this off my chest, maybe I can go to bed and get some sleep.