Along the Truckee River, February is a month of subtle changes. Warm days bring feelings of spring, but the river corridor is still cloaked in the sleepy browns of winter, and bright colors are hard to come by. A few early-blooming plants begin to flower, though their blossoms are tiny and easy to miss. A few plants begin to put out their first leaves, but the rest remain dormant. Cold snaps and snowstorms are not yet out of the question.
In the animal world, February marks the beginning of breeding season for the striped skunk, which emerge from underground wintering dens in search of mates during February and March, and will give birth approximately two months later. Another furry Truckee River critter, the American mink, also begins its breeding season around this time, and will give birth to “kits” in underground burrows between April and June.
Soaring over the river, you may see pairs of Red-tailed hawks beginning to establish breeding territories and building nests for the coming season. Red-tailed hawks nest in tall trees or on man-made structures such as telephone poles that project above the landscape. If you see a hawk flying by with a stick, stop and watch for a minute; it is likely headed for a nest.
In areas of thick vegetation, dark green fern-like leaves of poison hemlock and the brighter green leaves of stinging nettle are emerging from the base of last year’s plants. By summer’s end, poison hemlock can grow to eight feet tall, and stinging nettle up to seven feet.
When walking riverside trails, keep an eye out for the first flowers of spring. Along lower elevation sections of river, the first silver buffaloberry blossoms open in February – clusters of tiny, four-petaled yellow flowers. And overhead, all over town, the invasive Siberian elm are blooming, their branches loaded with tiny brown flowers that are easy to miss if you’re moving too fast.
Truckee River in February: Slideshow
Water Watch: February 2016
The Truckee River flowed high in early February, following a late-January winter storm. Water levels then dropped to just below average until a second winter storm around February 18. The graph below, from the USGS Farad gage, shows Truckee River flows for February 2016 as the thin blue line. Over the 107 year period-of-record for this site, February flows have averaged just over 400 cubic feet per second, depicted as the series of orange triangles.
According to NRCS SNOTEL data, snowpack (measured as snow water equivalent) in the Truckee River Basin on February 29th was 89% of average, and the Lake Tahoe Basin was at 99%. At the SNOTEL snow survey station on Mt. Rose, this winter’s snowpack (shown in black on the graph below) is currently just below average (red). So far, this winter’s snowpack is similar to that of 2013 (blue), and much higher than 2014 (brown) or 2015 (green). You can find more snowpack graphs on the NRCS website.
As of February 29th, Lake Tahoe’s water level at the USGS gage in Tahoe City, CA was 6222.25 ft. Lake level rose a few inches in February, but is still nine inches below the Lake’s natural rim of 6223 feet.
New on Truckee River Guide: February 2016
February wildlife sightings along the Truckee River included Red-shouldered hawks (one shown in photo above), Barrow’s Goldeneye and Red-tailed hawks working on a nest near Mayberry Park. On February 29, Dylan Kuhn sent in the year’s first sighting of a double-crested cormorant. Cormorants winter in California’s central valley and along the Pacific coast, and start showing up in the Truckee River region again in February. To see what else is new, check out the Truckee River wildlife map!
New species accounts added to the site in February were:
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