Readers’ wildlife photos

September 16, 2022 • 8:00 am

Please send good photos if you got ’em; we’re running low again. I should just pin this request to the top of the website page! But there is a post on the left sidebar called “How to send me wildlife photos,” which will tell you all you need to know.

Today’s photos, by UC Davis ecologist Susan Harrison, portray one of my favorite places in California, and if you’re in the Owens Valley or heading to Death Valley, you must visit it. Susan’s captions are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.


The White Mountains and Ancient Bristlecone Pines

California’s White Mountains lie just one valley east of the Sierra Nevada mountains and reach comparable heights (14,252’ vs. 14,505’), but the two ranges are quite different ecologically.  Lying in the rain shadow of the Sierras, the White Mts. have the cold desert climate of the Great Basin.

White Mountain Road ascends to UC’s Barcroft Station at 12,470’, where high-elevation physiology and ecology are studied.  Along the way are forests of Great Basin bristlecone pines (Pinus longaeva) from about 9,000’-11,000’.

White Mt. Road, with bristlecone pines and view west across the Owens Valley to the Sierra Nevada’s escarpment (click photo to enlarge):

Bristlecone pines are famed and Latin-named for living up to 5,000 years – or perhaps longer, since the oldest trees are unlikely to be found.  They can survive even when most of their bark is gone except for thin strips, an unusual trait that gives the millenia-old (“ancient”) bristlecones a partly-dead look.

Live and dead ancient bristlecone pines:

Bristlecone pines grow extremely slowly. One inch of their wood can hold 100 annual growth rings, and their needles hang on for decades.  Their dense wood resists breakage, beetles, and decay.

Cross-section of a 3,200-year-old tree that died in 1676:

Beginning in the 1950s, scientists used the growth rings of live and dead White Mts. bristlecone pines to create an 8,000-year climate record.  The carbon-14 dating clock was recalibrated, the “Mesopotamia as cradle of civilization” story was overthrown, and the hockey-stick graph of modern climate change was built using this unprecedented data (as described in this New Yorker story).

Methuselah Grove, home to the oldest known bristlecones, on a north-facing slope at 9,500’ on white dolomite soils (view east to the Last Chance Range, north end of Death Valley):

Wildlife are scant in the bristlecone pines, but here are some sightings from my August 2022 visit.

Mountain chickadee (Poecile gambeli) and the bristly cones of Pinus longaeva:

White-breasted nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) on an ancient tree:

Damage by a sapsucker (Sphyrapicus species) on a younger tree:

Chipmunk (Neotamias — either speciosus, umbrinus, or minimus):

Golden-mantled ground squirrel (Callospermophilus lateralis):

Male and female Chukar (Alectoris chukar), an introduced partridge, surprising to see in the 11,000’ Patriarch Grove:

A spartan alpine landscape lies above the bristlecone pine forest. Up here I saw yellow-bellied marmots (Marmota flaviventris), a golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), mountain bluebirds (Sialia currucoides), and many horned larks (Eremophila alpestris).

White Mountain, the highest peak, seen from just above Barcroft Station:

Horned larks (Eremophila alpestris):

11 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos

  1. I watched some chipmunks yesterday – they work acorns off the tree, then run down to get them – they know where the acorns fall! Delightful!

  2. 5,000 years is a long time. Just to give context, the trees were tiny seedlings when, “The recorded history of Nile Valley civilization begins more than 5,000 years ago, with the Palette of Narmer, a stone tablet that dates from 3100 BC. The tablet states that Narmer, also known as Menes, is the first pharaoh to unite the kingdoms of Upper (Southern) and Lower (Northern) Egypt.”

  3. Jerry, question about sending photos. Once the photo attachments become >25 MB Gmail will send them as a google drive link, which I know you do not prefer. How do others send large amounts of attachments? Do they send multiple emails or is there another way? I searched but could not find better alternatives.

    1. We don’t need huge photos, so people either send reasonable ones that don’t add up to 25 mB, zip them, or send them in multiple emails. If you do the last one, please don’t send more than two emails.


  4. The Fertile Crescent still has the oldest I think. It is just that we now think there were separate origins in Egypt, China etc.

    Lucky you to go there! The invasive partridge looks similar to the red-legged partridge in Europe.

  5. Wonderful set! It’s amazing the few critters you observed can scratch out a living amidst what appears to be meager living conditions. There is often more going on than meets the eye! Thanks for sharing.

  6. Beautiful photos, and I love the bristlecone pines. I can’t see a chickadee, though, without thinking, “wow, they really ARE little, aren’t they”…and a ground squirrel just makes me wonder if anyone ever asks a waiter for some ground squirrel on their salad or pasta…I’m weird.

Leave a Reply