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.

Trap

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.

Good Year for Balsamroot

Balsamroot DSC_0779[1]

The balsamroot plants on our ranch are having a good season. They like the open grassland mostly on north-facing slopes near the top of ridges. It’s easy to think they’re mules ear from a distance as the flowers are so similar, but up close it’s easy to differentiate between the two as their leaves are nothing like the large leaves that give mules ear its name.

We had a lot of rain this year and there’s more balsamroot blooming than I’ve ever seen before.

Here’s a link to more information about this uncommon plant which can be found in the east bay hills.

http://calscape.org/Balsamorhiza-macrolepis-()

Ode to Rocky

Just one of many standing in a booth selling his wares. Rocky couldn’t have been more comfortable.

It was as if he’d known you all his life and he had.

Nothing to sell, but plenty to talk about without saying much Rocky had nothing to prove even though his living depended upon it.

My first day of hunting with Rocky seemed routine. We dismounted at a spot new to me and known to him.

We climbed a hill in a foot of snow. I placed my boots in his tracks. We sat against a ten foot tall spruce in a  two foot snow drift. I sat on my coat.

Rocky told me where to look. Then he told me not to shoot at a medium-size buck that trotted out below us.

“There may be elk coming.” he said.

We sat in windless silence and watched.

Finally two rag-horn bulls stepped out of the timber about 200 yards below us. I placed the cross hairs of my scope on the bigger of the two and it seemed to fall into the timber out of sight. Rocky said it looked like a hit.

We climbed down through drifts that were deeper than they looked and came upon the bull.

“I’ll help,” I said.

“No, sit down over there in case a buck comes by,” said Rocky.

So I sat, until another hunter appeared on his hike from below. When I returned to Rocky and the bull, it was quartered and ready to be dragged down the hill.

I couldn’t imagine that anybody could quarter a bull so fast.

Now, after a few more hunts in the Bob, Rocky Heckman is gone. But, like all special people, he cannot and will not be forgotten.

Rocky Heckman

Rocky was standing  next to where I shot my Montana bull when I snapped this photo.

On the Wall

Plenty to do this time of year; put decoys away;  apply for tags, plan future hunts;  fish; honey do’s; remodel plans; fish;  replant the front yard after killing it during the drought; attend MDF fundraising events; fish; and (last but not least) put last fall’s buck on the wall.

My 2016 Doyle muzzle loader buck is back from the taxidermist and after great debate and lengthy discussions with Linda, the great buck is on the wall next to me as I type. IMG_3106 Doyle buck 2017

For a while he was headed to the living room, but as far as I was concerned he had to have the best spot or nothing. Linda said he didn’t rate replacing the kudu which is more colorful and exotic. Therefore the fireplace spot remains with the South African antelope. In my eyes the antelope is beautiful, but not nearly the trophy that the buck is.

The great buck could have hung over the TV in the family room. But another South African antelope (impala) is there and the small antelope is better suited for that spot.

Hung the great buck next to my desk a few minutes ago. Moved him to the most prominent location in my home office and trophy room. He is the buck I’ve been looking for and he will probably be the best buck of my life, but I plan to keep trying to find another like – him for a while.

He is a beautiful buck and obtaining a buck of his stature has always been on my lifetime list. He is wide (27 1/2 inches wide), fairly tall (18 inches high), symmetrical, colorful (very dark with white face) and his hair is very smooth.

My good friend Jerry Lowery deserves credit for doing a great job of field dressing the cape and my taxidermist, Taff Vidalles (Favorite Feathers Taxidermy) turned him into a great shoulder mount.

There is a band on his right antler. It is the band that shows it was in the local big buck contest and it is part of his story. He won the award for best California buck and would have been in the top five in the out-of-state category.

Ironically I’ve hunted in quite a few states while searching for this buck. Here they are: CO, ID, NV, MT, WA, SD and OR. I’ve also hunted mule deer in Canada (AB, BC). It’s ironical that my biggest buck has been killed in California.

When I exclaimed to Linda that the buck was very beautiful, she replied that he was even more beautiful when he was alive.

Yes he was.

But, animals don’t live forever and she would never have seen him.

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.

Return to Pyramid Lake

In the late 1970’s my brother Rob and I fished Pyramid Lake. We camped on the beach and fished wooly worms with a slow strip along the bottom. We didn’t have the traditional ladders used by shore fishermen to rise above the water’s surface to stay warm.

The lake was known for big cut-throat trout and we caught some. Rob fished Pyramid again a year or two later, and caught a nine-pound cut-throat.

To this day it is probably the largest trout either of us has caught while fly fishing, although Rob has caught a couple of others in that same size range. My largest life-time trout (until this past weekend) caught fly fishing or otherwise was an eight-pound brown.

Our idea of “big” in the fly-fishing-for-trout category were completely changed on Friday on our return trip to Pyramid Lake.

On this trip we stayed in a comfortable room at the Nugget Casino as we joined other members of the Tri-Valley Fly Fishers Club guided by Rob Anderson of PyramidLakeFlyFishing.com.

We had it easy as Rob brought the ladders, flies and food. He also repaired our tangles and netted our fish.

We fished with midge larvae imitations and strike indicators. Our flies were set at a depth to keep them just off the bottom.

The largest fish of the trip was brother Rob’s 17 pounder.

There were several high-lights during the trip. We didn’t think Saturday could out-due Friday as the Friday windy weather produced many fish including 16 and 17 pounders.

Unfortunately I came away without a photo of Rob’s big one, so I’ve posted his second largest fish of the day (nine pounds) and my largest fish of the trip a 16 pounder.

We coasted into Saturday needing to catch no fish or to prove anything. Ironically, Saturday’s mostly sunny weather didn’t slow the fishing down, especially for Rob who landed 17 fish. And, four of them weighed eight pounds or more.

The surprise was when we hooked two great fish at the same time. The ensuing battle included reel-pealing runs, crossed lines and Rob’s line spool falling from his reel.

He managed to keep it together while I struggled to keep my fish out of the way and others dip-netted to retrieve his spool from three feet of water while Rob played the fish by hand.

Finally Rob Anderson netted my fish, which turned out to be 15 pounds. A few minutes later a helpful bystander netted Rob’s, which was 16.

Another fisherman, Chris Hallmark, landed a third fish at almost the same time and it weighed 18 pounds.

Here’s Rob Anderson’s photo of the result. (left to right, Chris Hallmark, myself, Rob Anderson and Rob Fletcher)

The Triple Lindy

You can hardly imagine how difficult it was to lift those three slippery monsters into the air at the same time. All of the fish were released in good shape as were all the fish we caught over the two days of fishing.

For information about tying the midge flies and guided fishing trips, go to Rob Anderson’s web page at PyramidLakeFlyFishing.com.

Blacktail Bucks

Here are a few I found in the archives. You can see that the predominant antler characteristic is forked horn. A four-point buck is unusual.

These are all California black-tailed deer.

Top left: Cache Creek (My brother, Rob, took this one.). Top Center: Golden Gate Park. Top right: Pebble Beach.

Second row left: Sand trap at Pebble Beach.

Second row up from the bottom on the left is another Golden Gate Park buck.

I believe all the rest were photographed on or near our ranch in Alameda County.