The great thing about Heavenly is that there is so much to look forward to in both the winter and summer. Here during the spring and summer, after the snow starts melting, we have an abundance of wildlife both large and small. The most popular is the American Black Bear, who hibernates during the winter months and will roam both the upper mountain and down in town.
The black bear female will give birth during the end of January and beginning of February in her den while we are skiing and snowboarding on the mountain. We just had a visit from a young male about 3 years old on the mid-station deck prior to our opening the Gondola for the summer. He was escorted off the deck and hasn’t returned.
Golden Mantled Ground Squirrels and the Chipmunks are two of the most favorite animals that our guests frequently get to see and photograph during the Gondola summer operations. These little guys love to pan-handle food from our guests and, during breeding season, have an almost comical obsession with grabbing napkins to line their dens in preparation of giving birth in the spring/summer months.
The nemesis of the squirrels and chipmunks is the American Pine Marten (weasel family) that specializes in living in old growth forests/conifer forests and eating our squirrels and chipmunks. Heavenly has a family of Pine Martens that live and hunt at the mid-station. You have to be quick with your camera if you want a picture. They are active both summer & winter although the winter activity is limited to around five hours a day.
If you are hiking the California Trail into Sky Meadows, you will likely see a Yellow-Bellied Marmot sunning himself on the rocks. He is the larger of the ground squirrel family and loves to sunbath. They dig their burrows under rocks and live in groups of 10 to 20, and when they see a predator coming their way, they will whistle an alarm. Marmots spend 80% of their time in their burrows and 60% of that time hibernating.
Some of the most visible are the birds in our area, especially from the mid-station vantage point. We have Clarks Nutcrackers, who are grey and white and harvest the nuts from pinecones. They will perch on the end of a pine tree branch and use their long beaks to break into the pinecones to reach the seeds. They will bury the nuts in the ground and can harvest more than 100,000 nuts in a season. What’s remarkable about these birds are their memories! They can remember where their piles are even under the snow.
With beautiful blue feathers, the Stellar Jay is a cousin of the Clarks Nutcracker, and they are very loud when an intruder/predator is in their area. They will eat almost anything and will frequently be found in campgrounds or any place they can beg a free meal.
The king of the hill for all of us is the Golden Eagle, who will hunt his prey on our mountain floor. We often see them playing on the air currents on windy days, showing off to our guests. The Golden Eagle loves to hunt squirrels and rabbits in our area and during the winter months can easily fly over to the Carson Valley to live/hunt until the snow begins to melt.
The one important message for all that come to our mountain is that if you encounter a –Black Bear or Mountain Lion the best way to handle this situation is to make yourself look larger and yell. Take your jacket and hold it over your head and announce your presence by yelling something as simple as “Hey I’m right here”! – Back away slowly and choice another trail or hike another day.
In the REMOTE (I do mean remote) chance you are attacked by either of these animals you need to fight back using anything handy (a rock or large stick) and yell for help. Do not play dead, as this works with only Grizzly Bears, and we haven’t had a Grizzly in this area since 1924 as they were hunted out of California.
All of us here at Heavenly work side-by-side with the wildlife and take special care to educate our guests about visiting in our area. We have signs & Eco-Rangers that remind everyone guests and locals alike not to feed the wildlife and everyone is very receptive to this message. Our food and trash can severely harm these wonderful creatures and reduce the chance of having a healthy eco-system here in the Sierras.
Please respect all rope closures as this is done to protect both our wildlife and vegetation that can be harmed by us walking in this area.
What other animals have you seen or photographed at Heavenly?
~Jolena Hern, Eco-Ranger