As winter transitions into spring, Fremont cottonwoods begin to flower along the Truckee River. Cottonwood blossoms (called “catkins”) start out as compact buds, and eventually extend into long, hanging flowers that dangle from upper branches. When flowering, it is easy to tell a male cottonwood tree (with red flowers) from a female (with green flowers).
Though cottonwood flowers add a light haze of color to the landscape, the first trees to really “go green” in the spring are the Siberian elm. On the elm, the green that you see isn’t leaves, but seed-pods, which develop by early to mid-March. Around the same time, Red willow — beautiful native trees with dark, twisted trunks – begin to put out leaves, making them somewhat easy to spot along the riverbanks.
Along riverside trails, look for the cheery flowers of Golden currant blooming in bright yellow. Over the next few months, berries will develop in place of the blossoms. Farther from the channel, look (and smell) for the sweet pink blossoms of the beautiful Desert peach.
At the far downstream end of the river, American white pelicans arrive at Pyramid Lake. During March, pelicans migrate from the Central Valley of CA across the Sierra Nevada to a large breeding colony on Anaho Island where they spend the summer. Beneath the lake surface, Lahontan cutthroat trout move close to the edges of the lake to feed on tui-chub, attracting large numbers of fishermen.
Water Watch: March 2016
The Truckee River flowed well above average for most of March, peaking at 2330 cfs on March 6 following a winter storm. The graph below, from the USGS Farad gage, shows Truckee River flows for March 2016 as the thin blue line. Over the 107 year period-of-record for this site, February flows have averaged 400 – 600 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 March 31 was approximately 107% of average, and the Lake Tahoe Basin was at 115%. For the Truckee River basin, this winter’s snowpack (shown in black on the graph below) is currently right on par with average (red). After four years of drought in the Truckee and Tahoe basins, this winter is brining much needed moisture. You can find more snowpack graphs on the NRCS website.
As of March 31st, Lake Tahoe’s water level at the USGS gage in Tahoe City, CA was 6222.86 ft. Lake level rose a few inches in February, but is still almost two inches below the Lake’s natural rim of 6223 feet. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, in mid-March, the Truckee River region of CA and NV has officially been downgraded from a D4 to a D3 drought.
New on Truckee River Guide: March 2016
Species added to the Truckee River wildlife map in March include: American white pelican, thinleaf alder, Hooded merganser, Common merganser and Red-tailed hawk. View on wildlife map.
New species accounts added to the site in March were:
Spring is a great time to get outside and enjoy the river. Flows have been high and it is fun to see water again! Happy trails!