Fieldwork in the Sierra Nevada Mountains

Turns out it is a bit hard to run a blog with little to no internet – who would have thought! Well I’m back to good internet (for now), so I’m going to write about the next chapter of this summer (after the Panama trip), which was field work in the Sierra Nevada Mountains near Lake Tahoe.


A view of the surrounding area from a high point near the field station.

The reason I was up near Lake Tahoe was to study Calliope hummingbirds, which occur throughout the Sierra Nevada and upper Rocky Mountains. Near Lake Tahoe there is a University of California – Berkeley Field Station, where a collaborator of mine – Dr. Christopher Clark – had previously studied Calliope hummingbirds. In addition to being excited to working on a new species that has some very interesting throat plumage morphology (see picture below), I was super excited to be in this beautiful place. And wow was it beautiful! Throughout this post, I will have many many pictures which hopefully capture the beauty of the land surrounding this field station.


A Calliope hummingbird male with his interestingly shaped throat feathers (google “male Calliope hummingbird display” to see their feathers erected)


Another view of the surrounding area around the field station.


A narrow but long valley I found while exploring the lands around the field station.



A classic view of the surrounding forest and meadows.

The station was called Sagehen Creek Field Station (link). It is situated along Sagehen creek, which is a year-round stream that flows through many alpine meadows and mixed coniferous forests. One of the first things I learned while exploring this place, is that meadows are not like the grasslands of Arizona I am used to. They are wet, very wet, and full of hidden streams or pools just waiting to be stepped in, which I did a lot. Once I learned to keep an eye out on the ground, I explored several miles along the main stream looking for hummingbird territories. While doing that I was able to witness some beautiful environments and see some incredible wildlife. Here are a some pictures of the stream and surrounding habitats.


One of the many meadows that I explored.


Some of the flowers that my hummingbirds liked to feed on.


One of the surrounding forests, which could either be fairly open like this or pretty dense.


The trees were a very vibrant green and also full of pretty lichen.


This was a particularly wet meadow, full of snow-melt water.


A view of one of the larger meadows I found.


Even the rocky areas were full of vibrant green plants.


A really neat flower I found in one of the meadows.


A meadow surrounding the Sagehen Creek.


A view of Sagehen Creek.


Another landscape view of the area around Sagehen.


Some of the grass and plant varieties that grow within the denser parts of the forests.

As previously mentioned, I saw some really interesting wildlife. I saw several mammals that I had never seen before, such as a long-tailed weasel and a bobcat. I also saw a female black bear with two cubs, many deer with fawn, and an uncountable number of squirrels and chipmunks.


The bobcat I found and totally followed for a while!


The long-tailed weasel I found up in a tree.


While I never saw one, there were many beaver dams along Sagehen Creek – further contributing to the wetness in the meadows.

In terms of birds, I saw around 50 different species, including several lifers. Some of the highlights included six different species of woodpeckers, many Sooty grouse and chicks, several warbler species, and many more. Here are some pictures of the birds I saw.


A common merganser female with her many chicks.


A western tanager showing off his striking yellow and red plumage.


A Wilson’s warbler I found moving around a strand of willows.


One of the many mountain bluebirds I found in the meadows.


A song sparrow, which was a common bird along the creek.


The most common bird at the station – a dark-eyed junco. And it is a different color morph than the one we get in Arizona.


A female sooty grouse trying to distract me from her chicks that were fleeing. It worked and I got a great picture!


A mountain chickadee with its mouth full of yummy grubs for its chicks.


While I was staying at Sagehen, there was an entomology course going on at the same time, so I was able to interact with some awesome University of California – Davis entomology students and see some of the diversity of insects at Sagehen. I learned quite a bit about insets and their diversity – there are a ton of different flies! – and was even able to collect a few insects myself. I do not have too many insect photos unfortunately, because my camera struggles with macro photos. Here are a couple though:


A yellow long-horned beetled which loved to hang out on flowers and eat their pollen.


A really neat and interestingly shaped moth that came to the many blacklight set-ups from the entomology class.

One insect I did get to interact with a lot was mosquitoes…. There were more mosquitoes here than when I was in Panama. Luckily they did not seem to like the “heat” (it only got up to the high 80s) of the day and they seemed to avoid open areas, which is where my hummingbirds were. However, I still got plenty of bites while I was scouting for my birds, as you can see from this picture of my hand – one of the few areas of skin not covered.


I had up to 12 bites just on this one hand!

Sagehen Creek and the surrounding area was a great place to visit and work at. Unfortunately it seems like there were several factors that made my research difficult while I was staying there, such as a forest management project that involved many chainsaws – scaring away my birds – and it seems that I came a bit late and was at the end of the Calliope breeding season. I was still able to get some good data, and I believe that this would be a great field site to go back to with better circumstances. I also had a great field assistant, Ushrayinee Sarker, who really helped me out a lot. Overall, this field work was an amazing experience!


Another obstacle I faced at the field station – I walked a lot while I was there.


Another view of the Sagehen Creek winding along its path – with a deer off to the side.

While I was at Sagehen and on my drive back to Tempe, I managed to go on a few adventures, which will be the topics of my next two posts, so look forward to them!

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