Hart Mountain NAR: Wildlife Diversity
Diversity in habitat creates variety in wildlife. Hart Mountain NAR's diverse landscape and habitat are alive with over 300 species of wildlife, primarily birds (239) species) and mammals (42 species). Mammals such as pronghorn, deer, coyotes, kangaroo rats, marmots, bobcats, ground squirrels, and rabbits are generally year-round residents of the refuge while most birds come and go with the seasons. Reptiles include rattlesnakes, bull snakes, yellow-bellied racers, and sagebrush lizards.
Hart Mountain NAR is renowned for its upland habitat and wildlife: pronghorn race across the low sagebrush expanses of the refuge's east side, sage grouse nest under large sagebrush bushes in the heart of the refuge, mule deer roam the mountain mahogany and bitter brush habitats found at higher elevations, and bighorn sheep nimbly scale the rocky cliffs of the refuge's west face. The higher elevations of Hart Mountain are typified by several steep canyons, rock bluffs, and cliffs with snowbrush, wild gooseberry, chokecherry, and aspen thickets.
Other important areas on the refuge for wildlife include shallow playa lakes, grassy meadows watered by springs, riparian areas along stream sides, aspen stands, and secluded pine groves. Habitats closely associated with water support the greatest richness of wildlife species.
Pronghorn may be seen throughout the rolling sagebrush habitat on the eastern half of the refuge. The Frenchglen Road and Lookout Point on the Blue Sky Road are the best places to spot pronghorn.
Pronghorn are able to run over 45 miles-per-hour which makes them the fastest land animal in North America. Their great speed evolved thousands of years ago at a time when two species of cheetahs (now extinct) hunted in North America. Healthy pronghorn can outrun any modern-day predator. Coyotes, bobcats, and golden eagles are a threat only in the first few weeks of a pronghorn's life.
About the size of a large house cat at birth, pronghorn grow to over 100 pounds. Most of this weight is amassed in their thick bodies with extremely large lungs necessary for distance running. Pronghorn rely on speed and keen vision for protection. Their large eyes see the world as you would if using binoculars with 8 power magnification.
Female pronghorn usually give birth to twins each year in May or early June. Until they are able to run with the herd, fawns are kept hidden in the low sagebrush and grasses of the fawning grounds.
Waterfowl may use refuge lakes in wet years. Nesting geese and Sandhill cranes can occasionally be seen at Paiute Reservoir. The Warner Wetlands, at the base of Hart Mountain is a mecca for migratory waterfowl observation. Blinds have been built at Hart Bar and are available on a first come basis.
Bighorn sheep can be seen year-round from the base of Hart Mountain Stop at the bighorn sheep sign near the CCC camp or any other location along the road and scan with binoculars for herds of agile California bighorn sheep as they move skillfully in the steep and rugged terrain on the west face of Hart Mountain and Poker Jim Ridge. You are more likely to observe ewes and lambs, especially in the spring and summer because the primary nursery at Hart Mountain is along the extensive cliffs of the upper slope. Hiking is the best way to see sheep. Suggested day trips include Degarmo and Arsenic Canyons, areas extensively used by rams during the summer and early fall. For an excellent overnight trip and good sheep viewing try the southern 1/2 of Hart Mountain during the summer. Please refrain from entering cliff areas during May and early June so as not to disturb sheep lambs.
A ram's massive curled horns can weigh nearly 30 pounds, which sets it apart from the female sheep whose horns are much smaller.
Once abundant, these majestic animals fell victim to diseases from domestic livestock and over-hunting, becoming eliminated from Hart Mountain by 1915. A very successful process of reintroduction began in 1954, when animals of similar genetic stock were brought from British Columbia. Today approximately 300 bighorn sheep call the refuge home.
Mule deer frequent the juniper and aspen stands found in the intermediate hills and the higher elevations of the refuge. Walk or drive the Skyline trail (open seasonally to 4WD vehicles) for the best viewing opportunities.
Sage grouse often gather in meadows located between refuge headquarters and the top of the mountain. To observe these cryptically colored birds, we suggest an early evening walk along any meadow edge, or a drive along the Skyline trail at sunset, or watching the areas around natural springs, and water holes in lake beds during sunrise.
The drumming chest and elaborate strut of the male sage grouse is a renowned spectacle of the high desert. This early morning courtship dance occurs on numerous refuge strutting grounds (leks) in late March and April. Once bred, hens build a nest, generally under a sagebrush, and lay about 9 eggs. Grouse were once so plentiful that settlers gathered buckets of eggs for camp fare. Through careful research and management, it is hoped that sage grouse will recover to their former population abundance.
Over 200 resident and 39 migratory birds species use the refuge. Riparian areas, such as the Hot springs Campground, are especially good areas for birding. Blue Sky supports a wealth of birds that are attracted to this isolated stand of ponderosa pine. Aspen groves also support diverse populations of songbirds and other migratory species.