Turkeys are one of the most recognizable birds in the United States, but many people don’t imagine them in the wild. However, wild turkeys are found in all 50 states, including the Silver State, Nevada. There is one species of wild turkey in the United States, Meleagris gallopavo, but it’s split into six different subspecies. In Nevada, we have the Rio Grande wild turkey and the Merriam’s wild turkey, two subspecies adapted to drier, warmer climates. Most of the population here is made of Rio Grande wild turkeys, a large turkey with longer legs suited to prairie ecosystems. They live in groups in shrubby, grassy areas adjacent to streams. The Nevada Department of Wildlife began introducing turkeys in the state in 1960, in areas like the Ruby Mountains, river corridors in western Nevada, and Lincoln County and the Moapa Valley in southern Nevada. Because their numbers and range is quite small, any problems like drought or predation can seriously affect populations of turkeys in Nevada. However, the population is able to support a hunting season almost every year, closely managed by NDOW to ensure a viable reproductive population is maintained.
Learn More about Turkey Hunting in Nevada
Learn More about the different Turkey Subspecies
Download a Turkey Coloring Page
Riparian ecosystems are the plant and animal communities surrounding rivers and other bodies of freshwater. Particularly in the arid west, these ecosystems are extremely important for providing food, shelter, and water to a variety of wildlife. Riparian areas are usually more diverse and productive than their drier, upland counterparts. Plants in riparian areas often grow quickly and spread rapidly, and the water present provides habitat for aquatic ecosystems to form.
When it comes to wildfires, the high moisture levels of the plants in this ecosystem can provide a buffer, stopping or slowing the spread of a wildfire. They can also provide refuge for animals fleeing fire. However, the presence of dense foliage in these areas can cause their own demise during drought years with high severity fires. If these plants experience a significant drought and there is a lot of standing dead (also literally called “fuel” in wildfire jargon), a wildfire can destroy an entire riparian ecosystem.
Many riparian plants, like willows and aspens, are not adapted to survive wildfire and will die in a high intensity fire. This leaves the waterway vulnerable to erosion, excess sun, and sedimentation, damaging the aquatic ecosystem within it.
Fortunately, riparian ecosystems can be very resilient and grow back quickly. Plants like aspens and willows can resprout through roots that often survive wildfire, restabilizing the soil quickly and beginning to form a canopy cover. Grasses and forbs often respond well to wildfire, sprouting quickly and forming important ground cover and forage for wildlife.
A section of Thomas Creek, in the northern part of Galena Creek Regional Park, burned this season in the Rock Farm Fire, killing many of the aspens, willows, and alders. We will be monitoring the establishment and regrowth of these species in the coming years and documenting the restoration of this area.
Black bears live throughout the Reno-Lake Tahoe area. They spend their summers foraging for bugs, fruit, roots, fish, and small animals. In the fall, as it gets colder, and their food sources begin to disappear, they have to enter a form of long-term deep sleep called hibernation. This process starts much earlier than when they actually go into a den and go to sleep.
As temperatures begin to drop and days shorten in early fall, bears go into a state of hyperphagia. “Hyper” means a lot or excessive and “phagia” means to eat. Bears have to fatten up to store enough fat and energy in their bodies to get through the winter. In the Tahoe area the Kokanee salmon runs in fall help immensely with this process, providing a lot of fat and protein. During this period, bears often forage and eat for 20 hours a day! One of the main indicators for birds to enter hibernation is a lack of food, so please don’t provide food for bears; bear-proof your home and trash cans.
Bears in the Reno-Tahoe area often begin hibernating around Thanksgiving but this varies based on weather. Since this year has been warm, they may enter hibernation later. When the time comes, they go into their dens and often don’t come out for several months! Adult females often produce cubs during this period if conditions are good. We’ll be saying goodbye to our bear friends soon, and will await their return in the spring.
Fall is almost upon us! This means that many animals will be migrating to their winter grounds. But why do some animals migrate?
Animals migrate in search of lands more suitable to their survival. This generally means warmer regions and higher food availability, though some animals also migrate for breeding purposes - such as salmon who migrate up rivers to escape ocean predators that might prey on their eggs - while others migrate in order to follow the rains - such as many animals in the African Savannah seeking to escape the seasonal drought.
Naturally, the change in seasons causes these locations to move throughout the year. In the fall, animals usually migrate south to escape the freezing temperatures that winter brings; while in the spring, animals move north to follow their food sources and escape the summer heat.
How do animals know where to go? Although it is poorly understood, animals use the magnetic field of the Earth in order to orient themselves North and South. Because the core of the Earth is made of metal (mostly iron) and also spinning extremely quickly, a magnetic field is created between the North and South Poles. Even though humans can’t see this magnetic field (which is what a compass is for), many animals are able to sense it. You could say that they have a sixth sense! Despite this, we still don’t understand how animals actually know that their destination will be better suited for them- yet paradoxically, they do it successfully every single year.
Tule Lake in Northern California is one nearby area that boasts a massive bird migration every fall and spring. Almost 500 different species of birds can be spotted at Tule Lake, many of them stopping over for some rest and relaxation during their colossal journey from their summer grounds in Alaska and Canada to their winter grounds in southern California and Mexico.
Throughout the fall, keep an eye out in the sky for flocks of birds migrating south! Can you identify what species of bird they are?
This blog is managed by the staff and volunteers of Galena Creek Visitor Center. We write about parts of the natural world that we find fascinating and want to teach others about, as well as keeping you updated on the Visitor Center and park. If you want to learn more, please sign up for our monthly newsletter, where we share upcoming events, updates on the ecology of the park, and highlights from each month.