Tahoe science institute connecting people of all ages to nature
INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — Did you know there’s a scientific research team in Lake Tahoe conducting conservation-based wildlife research, and that work is helping land managers make better decisions on how to preserve and protect Tahoe’s wildlife?
Did you know that there’s a nonprofit providing place-based science education curriculum and hands-on enrichment programs to students across the Tahoe region? These programs awaken students’ curiosity of the natural world and promote responsible environmental citizenship; equipping them with the tools they need to make informed decisions about Tahoe’s natural resource issues.
Did you know there’s a fun-loving group of natural history experts hosting guided hikes, snowshoe tours, and friendly bird and wildflower counting competitions? These free programs allow people of all ages to connect with nature and wildlife.
Here’s the best part – all three groups are one and the same. The Tahoe Institute of Natural Science is a member-supported nonprofit that aims to make the natural wonders of Lake Tahoe accessible to all people.
Here’s a snapshot of just a few of the many events TINS offers throughout the year.
Each summer, TINS offers a wide variety of experiences for children ages 4-17, all across the Lake Tahoe region. Young campers can search the outdoors for hidden insects in our Bug Camp, while older campers can join backpacking trips.
A short and scenic hike through the forests of Tahoe Meadows that includes a discussion of winter ecology concepts and the survival strategies employed by animals in the Sierra Nevada. TINS regularly schedules a few for the public each winter, along with school field trips, and private guided outings.
Driving tours of Carson and Sierra valleys, which are fantastic places to view raptors of all kinds in winter. Rough-legged Hawks that come down from the high arctic, Ferruginous Hawks from northern grasslands, and tons of Red-tailed Hawks take advantage of open fields full of rodents, and many eagles move into the area for calving season in January and February.
A guided, leisurely stroll around the Village Green and the surrounding woods in Incline Village, Nev. hosted every Thursday morning starting May through mid-June. Guides will identify the songs, calls, and field marks of birds that return or migrate through Tahoe in the spring. No registration required, and TINS can provide binoculars with advanced notice.
Every June TINS hosts this event (which is paired with the Tahoe Native Species Day comprising Wild Tahoe Weekend) at the Taylor Creek Visitor Center. The bird festival offers many opportunities to connect with, watch, and enjoy birds. The Lake Tahoe Bird Festival includes hourly guided bird walks along the Rainbow Trail, visits with live birds of prey, information and presentations on migratory birds, bird crafts and games, and more.
A Bio-blitz is a detailed study of biodiversity in a specific location over a specific period of time, bringing volunteers and experts together to document the diversity of life with a snapshot record, usually over a single day or weekend. The annual Sagehen Bio-blitz tackles this challenge for one day each summer from the UC Berkeley Sagehen Creek Field Station, just north of Truckee. Participants can bring their smartphone or camera — and enthusiasm, as the team looks for birds, mammals, insects, spiders, plants, fungi, and wildflowers, and anything else that walks, flies, or swims.
Odonates, or simply “odes” for short, are members of the insect order Odonata, comprising dragonflies and damselflies. Each year, typically in the second half of the summer, TINS sponsors an Odes Mini-blitz, and the goals are threefold: to (1) document the odonate fauna of the Tahoe region, (2) identify locations with high odonate diversity or hosting unique or rare species, and (3) have fun. It’s one of TINS’ more esoteric events, but with an emphasis on learning and photography, it’s great for beginners.
Tahoe’s an incredible place for butterflies, with a mix of Pacific Slope, Great Basin, and Boreal/Montane faunas. As a result, folks regularly come from all over the state to participate in the annual count held on the third Sunday of July. Of course, children and eager beginners are always welcome too.
Perhaps the easiest and simplest entry into TINS’ natural world are these regularly hosted wildflower walks. These walks are offered all season long, including dozens during the Wildflower Big Year event held every three years. These often kick off with a walk in late May or early June to see the Small Camas display along Sagehen Creek, but the most spectacular shows happen at higher elevations, usually peaking in late July or early August.
Held in mid-December every year, this event is part of the largest and longest-running citizen science project on the planet. Volunteers gather along the Upper Truckee River to count birds and have fun. You can even do it on skis or snowshoes – an opportunity you won’t find in many places.
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