Wildlife and Flowers of Truckee-Tahoe's Sierra Nevada
Truckee-Tahoe, California sits in the heart of the Sierra Nevada, a mountain range filled with a vast array of flora and fauna. The region is surrounded by miles of National Forest that wildlife like bears, coyotes, even wolverines call home. Pack your binoculars and keep your eyes peeled for Truckee-Tahoe wildlife and wildflowers!
Truckee Wildlife and Flowers
These large birds of prey are excellent fishermen and can often be seen circling water high overhead then diving in to grab a fish. Ospreys have brown backs and white bellies with distinctive dark patches. Look for them near Donner Lake or Prosser Creek Reservoir.
Black Bears are the unofficial mascot of Truckee and Lake Tahoe, beloved by both visitors and residents alike. Don’t be fooled by the name, black bears can be a variety of colors such as cinnamon or blonde. They are excellent climbers and as omnivores, enjoy a seasonal diet of grasses, berries, insects, and more. Learn how to keep our bears safe from the Bear League.
Count yourself lucky is you see a Bobcat in Truckee. This elusive cat has a majestic presence as it slinks quietly through the forest. It has distinctive coloring, ear tufts, and is typically between 20 - 30 lbs, larger than a domesticated house cat but smaller than a mountain lion.
These cunning canines are frequently spotted throughout Truckee. In fact, it’s not uncommon to see one crossing Donner Pass Road in the early morning hours downtown! Coyotes are social animals and communicate with a variety of loud vocalizations. Have you ever heard their yelps and howls?
Just look at those ears! You’ll know a mule deer when you see one. Their large ears set them apart, always alert and listening for signs of danger. Their dark foreheads and black-tipped tails are other noteworthy features to help with identification. It takes a keen eye to spot mule deer from the trail. Their coat blends in with the forest and they stand still as a statue to avoid predators, making them hard to spot!
Yellow Bellied Marmot
No, it’s not a beaver but it sure looks like one! Yellow bellied marmots are often confused for their water-dwelling relatives. The large rodents are about the size of your average housecat and are typically found at higher elevations on rocky outcroppings, alpine meadows, etc. They spend their days lounging in the sun and eating as much as possible, fattening up for winter.
When settlers began trapping wolverines in the early 1900s, their populations dwindled and in California they disappeared completely after 1922. But after a nearly 90-year hiatus, a wolverine (nicknamed Buddy) was spotted just northwest of Truckee in 2008 and occasional sightings followed up to 2016. Where is Buddy now? No one knows but if you hope to catch a glimpse of this rare animal, you’ll have to venture into Truckee’s vast wilderness.
Look for these unusual plants in late spring or early summer, just after the snow has melted. Snow plants are only found in California, Oregon, and Nevada so it’s a special sight when you find one! Unlike most other plants you’ll find in the Tahoe National Forest, snow plants don’t photosynthesize and instead live off of fungi in the soil.
Lupine is a gorgeous wildflower that’s native to California and common in Truckee. It lights up the trails and fills entire meadows with gorgeous purple/blue hues. Lupine can grow quite tall and can be found around downtown Truckee or out on the trails. The best time to look for it is starting in late spring and through the summer.
Did you know that Truckee is home to the tallest and most massive type of pine tree? Sugar pines were once called “king of the conifers” by John Muir and can be up to 200 feet tall! Look for their massive cones, typically 10 - 20 inches long, on the ground. Native Americans used to use the resin from this tree as a sweetener, hence the name sugar pine.
You can find this remarkable, fiery red wildflower in Truckee during late spring and summer. After it blooms downtown, hike to higher elevations to find it later in the season. You’ll understand why it’s called Paintbrush when you see it. The red leaves that make up the flower cluster look like an artist’s brush, and its color is straight from a painters palette!
Woolly Mule Ears and Arrowleaf Balsamroot
These two yellow wildflowers are nearly indistinguishable and both grow abundantly in the Truckee/Tahoe region. How can you tell them apart? Look at their leaves because the flowers are almost identical. Arrowleaf balsamroot (pictured above) has shorter, arrow-shaped leaves while Woolly Mule Ears has longer, fuzzy, spade-shaped leaves. Both tend to take over meadows and hillsides with an impressive, showy display of color!
What kinds of wildlife and flowers have you seen in the Sierra Nevada?