Author’s note: I’m playing catchup this month, so June and July blogs are combined. We welcomed a new baby into our home back in June, and it’s been hard to get any writing done! Luckily, the little guy seems to be on board with his mother’s Truckee River habits and we’ve been able to get out on some walks in the last few weeks. I foresee many years of splashing in the river and exploring the Truckee’s trails in his future. Happy summer, all!
On sunny days in June, keep an eye out for butterflies. Along the banks of the Truckee, the Western tiger swallowtail is one of our most common butterflies, and easy to spot, with large yellow-and-black wings. Monarch butterflies, in black-and-orange, are also a common sight. Monarchs are famous for their annual migration to the oyamel fir forests of Mexico, but it is mostly Monarchs from east of the Rocky Mountains that make that journey; Monarchs from the Truckee River region (and most others found west of the Rocky Mountains) actually winter along the California coast. Another common butterfly that you might see along the river in June is the Lorquin’s Admiral. Larvae of this species feed on willows, cottonwoods and cherry trees — all common along the Truckee River corridor.
Out in the river channel, watch for American mink and their babies (called “kits), which are born in underground burrows between April and June. They’re blind at birth, open their eyes after about 25 days, and begin hunting at about eight weeks old. So, kits that were born in April or early May would be out-and-about on the Truckee in June and July. If you see one, please submit an observation!
Flowering plants are abundant along the Truckee’s green banks in June. Showy milkweed, Stinging nettle, Redosier dogwood, Musk thistle, Hooker’s evening primrose and Yarrow are a few of the most common flowers you might see. Poison hemlock, with tall white flowers, blooms in June as well; look, but don’t touch!
Along upper reaches of river (from Tahoe to Verdi) look for the unusual fruit of the Sierra gooseberry. Gooseberry fruit are covered in soft spines, and quite tasty if you can get through to the center. Berries are also forming on the Utah Serviceberry, which will ripen during July and August. These are edible by humans, but also a favored food source for many species of wildlife.
During years when the river has sufficient water, the Truckee River in July is busy with humans, who spend hot summer days floating downstream on rafts and tubes of all shapes and sizes. If you’re one of those humans, enjoy the cool water, and pick up some trash along the way! Many beer cans and punctured tubes are left behind in the river each year.
As you float, look along the riverbanks for mid-summer wildflowers such as the Common sunflower, Curlycup gumweed and Narrowleaf milkweed. An introduced species called Bouncingbet (Saponaria officinalis), with pinkish-white flowers, blooms during July as well.
In shallow areas along the edge of the river channel, look for schools of baby fish, which hatched from eggs that were deposited earlier this spring and summer. Adult dragonflies and damselflies buzz along the banks, landing on rocks and plants as they mate and lay eggs for the next generation.
Osprey nest along the Truckee River during June and July, including one active nest on West 4th Street where birds nested in 2015 and 2016. In July, watch as the parent Osprey make trips to the nest carrying fish for their nestlings.
In upland areas, invasive cheatgrass has gone to seed, leaving behind dense carpets of dry fuel that can carry wildfires quickly down to the river or up through the surrounding dry slopes and mountainsides. Flower buds are forming on the Sagebrush, which will begin to bloom in August, and ‘hips’ (fruit) are forming on the Woods’ Rose — a favored fall and winter food item for many species of birds and wildlife.
As always, if you see any interesting wildlife along the Truckee, please submit observations here! Happy trails!