January is a great time for wildlife viewing along the Truckee. The trees and shrubs are bare, with no leaves to obstruct the view of the channel, and on a snowy morning, you can look for tracks of animals that came by in the night. Morning sun lights up the mountains and makes the tree-trunks glow, and the air feels cold and clean.
When the weather is cold, shallow water along the edges of the Truckee River freezes into wide ice-beaches where flocks of Canada Geese and Mallards rest. Most of these birds have already formed mating pairs, but they will remain in large flocks made up of family groups and individuals until later in the spring; their mates are likely somewhere in the flock.
Out in the channel, winter migrants such as the Common Goldeneye, Bufflehead and Hooded Merganser can often be seen swimming in the current. These ducks spend most waking hours feeding, taking frequent dives beneath the surface to search for aquatic insects and plants. As the spring progresses, they will begin to migrate away from the Truckee River to breeding grounds farther north.
Although the trees and shrubs along the Truckee River are mostly dormant in January, if you take a close look, you may begin to see signs of changes soon to come. On the Thinleaf Alder, soft, reddish male catkins (flowers) have already formed at the tips of twigs, and may begin to bloom as early as February. On the Incense-cedar, the tips of branchlets are covered with tiny yellow male cones, which release their pollen during winter and early spring.
In January, runoff from winter storms in the Sierra can cause the water level in the river to rise abruptly. Some of the Truckee River’s largest floods have occurred during early January, such as the floods of 1997 and 2005 — products of atmospheric river storm events. Atmospheric rivers are narrow bands of vapor in the atmosphere that carry warm, moist air from the tropics and sometimes result in heavy precipitation and flooding. These storms can be destructive to human infrastructure, but are an important source of water for the Truckee River region.
Truckee River in January: Slideshow
New on Truckee River Guide: January 2016
In January, Truckee River Guide received reports of American Mink, Common Goldeneye, Hooded Merganser, and Striped skunk sightings. View on wildlife map.
New species accounts added to the site in January were:
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