In May, the Truckee’s banks burst into bloom with sweet-smelling pink Woods’ rose, and all is lush and green. Tiny yellow flowers appear on the coyote willow, which have by now sprouted leaves and line the riverbanks in dense thickets. Close to the ground, look for stems of smooth horsetail (Equisetum laevigatum), green and pencil-thin. At the top of each stem, a cone-like reproductive structure called a strobilus holds spores.
High in the cottonwoods above the river, look for a bright flash of orange, signaling the return of the Bullock’s Oriole. Orioles use hair, twine and grasses to weave gourd-shaped hanging nests. Listen for the squeaky chatter of the Western Kingbird, a gray bird with a yellow belly, which can often be seen sitting on high perches and hunting for insects. Another colorful summer resident, the Western Tanager, builds cup nests in pine and riparian forests along the river. With a yellow body, red head and black wings, the male Western Tanager is especially easy to spot. All three of these species return to the Truckee River region in May, and breed and nest near the river during summer months. During winter, they migrate to Central America.
Mallards have separated from their large winter flocks and split into pairs for nesting season. As eggs hatch, females and their ducklings head toward the river, or nearby ponds and wetlands. In areas of quiet water, look for fluffy Mallard ducklings swimming in line behind their mothers.
During May and June, Mule deer migrate from their wintering grounds in Nevada to summer grounds in California, and are often seen traveling along I-80 and the Truckee River corridor between Reno and Truckee. Drive carefully!
In many parts of the watershed, fish are spawning. May is spawning season for Tahoe sucker, Cui-ui, Lahontan redside, Tui chub, Lahontan cutthroat trout and Paiute sculpin. Toward the end of the month, Fremont cottonwoods begin to release their seeds, sending showers of cottonwood fluff flying all over town. All in all, May goes by much too fast. Get out and enjoy it!
Water Watch: May 2016
The Truckee River in Reno flowed at below-average levels for all of May, while upstream reservoirs such as Stampede, Boca and Prosser were being refilled. The graph below, from the USGS Farad gage, shows Truckee River flows for May 2016 as the thin blue line. Over the 107 year period-of-record for this site, May flows have averaged 1200 – 1500 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 at the end of May 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). You can find more snowpack graphs on the NRCS website.
In Lake Tahoe, the water level continues to rise. As of May 31st, the water level at the USGS gage in Tahoe City, CA was 6223.9 ft — almost a foot above the lake’s natural rim of 6223 feet.
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, in mid-May, the Truckee River region of CA and NV was downgraded from a D3 (extreme) to a D2 (severe) drought.
New on Truckee River Guide: May 2016
Species added to the Truckee River wildlife map in May include: Black-crowned night heron, Western fence lizard, Bullock’s Oriole, Western Kingbird, and Black Phoebe. View on wildlife map.
New species accounts added to the site in May were:
What have you seen along the Truckee River lately? Send in your observations via this form! Thanks for reading!