My sixth tour on the NBC started earlier than normal, on the weekend after our fifth tour, because there were a few extra transects that needed to be done and the boss was looking for people who wanted to do them. On weekends like last one where I have no means of getting away from the field house (I really need to get a car!) I'm always chomping at the bit to get away and do something, so getting to work in the mountains for pay seemed like a great idea.
Making it even more enticing, the transect needing to be done was one part of a brand new NBC contract in the Virginias and nearby ranges up north of Reno. Most of our sites are part of long-running projects, and the NBC veterans like Dave and Sue have surveyed most of them over the years. The Virginias, however, were new to this season, so not even they knew what to expect. Luckily my whole first half of the tour was stationed up there to knock out the majority of the transects, so it was a rare opportunity on the NBC to explore the unknown area.
So I headed up on my own on Friday June 17th to spend the night in the oddly named Dogskin Range to be in position for a survey the next morning. In this range and in the nearby ranges the usual PJ of Nevada's mid-elevation ranges was reduced to simply J, as the forests were entirely scattered junipers. Apparently the pinyons drop out very quickly once you get north of Reno. Lots of rock outcrops scattered around added to the scenery.
That afternoon, with temperatures climbing to the mid-high 30s Celsius, we decided to head over to nearby Pyramid Lake to look for a shady place to putt on paperwork for the afternoon. Pyramid Lake is one of the few large terminal lakes in this desert state, and belongs to the Pyramid Lake Indian Reservation. We had to pay a $10 day use fee for our stay, but our nice set up under a shaded awning, with a picnic table to work on and a scope set up to watch the grebes and pelicans, it was worth it.
|Paperwork and pelicans at Pyramid Lake|
|Sunrise over The Needles|
Atop my highest ridge while looking over the cliff in the valley below I got a rare look at a Golden Eagle from above. It was really something to watch it gliding over the valley below me, with its shadow gliding over the sagebrush and cheatgrass below it on the valley floor.
The rocky terrain on these ridges was perfect for lizards, and I saw numerous Great Basin Collared Lizards along with the more widespread Western Fence Lizards.
|Great Basin Collared Lizard|
|Western Fence Lizard|
The afternoon and evening was spent driving all over the wilderness trying to find an alternate way into our transects for the next day, since our original route was thwarted by a gate on private land. Eventually we found a long, rough road in too late to attempt, so we took Plan B and got into camp by some back-up transects just before nightfall. Happy to finally be off the road, we took a break for a little astronomy. With the naked eye we were able to pick out 3 different planets, and after getting out my scope we had amazing views of Mars, the bands on Jupiter plus all 4 of its large moons (Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto), and the brilliant rings on Saturn in addition to its large moon Titan. A great way to end a long day.
Our final morning in the Virginias was fairly low-key, with my transect passing through rocky, hilly scattered juniper country again.
|Great Basin Gophersnake|
Also on the way back I got close views of a pair of Swainson's Hawks mobbing a Golden Eagle which was fun to see. Additionally, fairly close to me meeting point I flushed another 3 Long-eared Owls! There must be a good population of rodents this year because I keep tripping over these birds.
And with that we finished the first half of our tour. After our mid-tour area search we were excited to have a circuit of transects in 3 different mountain ranges to round our the second half of the tour: the Sierras, the Pine Nuts, and finally back up to the Virginias.