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Not a Rattlesnake

Took a drive to the Mt. Davidson summit east of Washoe Valley and saw this little guy along the route. He looked suspicious sunning himself in the road but proved to be just a 24″ Nevada Gopher Snake and harmless. Not the right markings on the back, wrong shape head and no rattles so not a rattlesnake. I hear some rattlesnakes don’t have rattles so you can’t always be sure with that one. He didn’t seem too alarmed at me either and he took his time slithering off into the sage. We’ve seen lots of snakes out this spring so be careful. I’ve seen people use a shovel out in front of them to alert snakes when they are roaming the sage rockhounding or looking for artifacts. Seems like a good idea.

Where Do Those Crows Fly?

By Susan Juetten

One of the special aspects of living in Washoe Valley are the daily opportunities to view birds (and wildlife ) life in action. Washoe Valley is designed a Nevada State Important Bird Area, a label reserved for places of unique importance to our avian friends.
Recently, a reminder of this richness came from a friend who lives near the state park on the valley’s east side. She swore she saw a great gray owl in a tree in her yard.  Gray owls are magnificent boreal creatures, the tallest North American bird with the greatest wingspan. Great horned owls, on the other hand, are common residents of the valley. So I wondered if she was not mistaking one for the other. Some Internet digging proved that she could have been lucky and spotted a great gray – a few are winter residents of the Sierra Nevada, their farthest-south point.
Now a story about a far more common resident – crows: My neighbor and I, on our morning dog walks up lower Jumbo Grade, have lately observed large contingents of crows, 30-50, flying together, always in a northerly direction. We speculated they are headed for the dump at Lockwood, crows being common visitors to landfills, about 25 miles northeast of Jumbo Grade as the crows fly, possibly literally. I became aware of how close we were across the Virginia Range to Lockwood back in 1998, when the Sierra Chemical Plant in Mustang exploded.  I happened to be walking on my road that January morning, and the two blasts, which killed 4 people and injured 6, were so loud I thought they originated just a few streets away.
More Internet searching (allaboutbirds.org from Cornell University’s bird lab is a great source for bird info, including recorded calls) revealed that crows in some areas lead a double life, maintaining a year round territory with their extended family, but also peeling off to join giant flocks in dumps and fields, and roosting together at night.  So is that what we are witnessing on Jumbo Grade, a crow gathering to visit  that faraway landfill?
One afternoon a week or two ago, I heard a frightful racket coming from the direction of the ridge to the east of my house, and looked out my kitchen window to spy a merlin , a smallish raptor of the falcon family who was making the kik kik kik sound typical to his kind only with a frequency and urgency I’d never heard (A merlin is often after the small birds feeding in my yard). S/he was making those urgent cries because s/he was being harassed by crows – I counted 7 of them, flying in great loops around him and coming in close to harass him (or her). I waved, shouted and stomped, wanting to break up the fight for the sake of the outnumbered merlin but the mass of birds was high, and whirling rapidly east away from me (never have liked the aggressive ways of crows, and would not like them to take over the territory around here occupied currently by magpies). The next day while driving to Carson City I glimpsed a half dozen crows pecking in the stubble of the alfalfa fields on Eastlake. Was I just noticing crow activity there for the first time, or are they moving in?
I do love observing the ways of our valley’s wild coinhabitants, free still from utter control by the human species. (photo by crowdive on flikr.com)

Cat Meets Owl

Submitted by Susan Juetten.

My orange tabby cat Alexander got attacked by an owl the other evening. At least that was the logical guess by my neighbor when I told her Alexander had a wound on his neck about the size of a quarter; when I looked closer there was one tiny puncture mark to the side of the wound.
Blew my mind, the option that his puncture was from an owl, but it made sense – I’ve been hearing, and have seen once or twice, great horned owls in the trees and utility poles on the property. In fact, a couple of nights ago, I stuck my head out the door hoping to see the owl that, at dusk, was calling so nearby. And along came Alex, an inside/outside cat with a history we won’t go into, tail all puffy, and dashed through the door to the safety of inside.
My neighbor and I surmised that the great horneds are coming in close to prey on the cottontail rabbits, which inhabit our yards because there is more to munch than in the surrounding desert (we spend a lot of time surmising about the wildlife around us).
I’m glad Alexander survived, but there is nature’s rough justice in this story. Alexander is a great hunter, and kills baby rabbits every year – because of his hunting I realized that cottontails don’t just breed in the spring. And now he has himself been prey. We are guessing that domestic cats allowed outside around here are more in danger from the owls than from coyotes.

Wildlife Spotted

Dr. Rob Fliegler of New Washoe City (vipmedicalaccess.com) sends in this photo of an owl spotted around his property near Clark and Churchill. Great Shot!

Second Conservation Easement Sought

deer2 County commissioners just voted to approve seeking $1million from the state and another $1million from a federal ranchland protection program to place 45 acres in west Washoe Valley owned by the Bob Rusk family in a conservation easement as reported in this article at RGJ.com.

Conservation easements are a tool for placing deeded restrictions on a parcel of land to control the land use forever. Usually, they are to retain ranch uses and/or natural states. The land owners, who still retain ownership, can receive cash compensation and tax breaks.

The state money comes from a parks and wildlife bond passed by voters in 2002. The other conservation easement is the 113 acre Greil Ranch in southeastern Washoe Valley. This is the alfalfa fields along Eastlake Blvd where the deer congregate.