Buffeted by the fierce winter winds and snows, the branches on the west side of the tree are either entirely wanting or very short and gnarled, and the bark is commonly denuded. Unlike its associate, Pinus Albicaulis, which is abundant as a prostrate shrub far above timber line, the spruce is rarely encountered above timber line at this place, but here and there a hardy individual may be found lurking among the pines. The greatest elevation at which it was noticed is 10,500 feet.
To me this is one of the most beautiful of Sierran trees. Its delicate silvery hue, and the rarely exquisite shading from the old growth to the new, its gracefulness, the quaint and fascinating tilt of its tip which waveringly bends over in obedience to whichever breeze is blowing makes it the most alluringly feminine of all the trees of the Sierra Nevada.
It is interesting to note the differences in the cones, and in the way they grow; singly, in clusters, at the end of branches, on the stems, large, medium-sized, small, short and stubby, long and slender, conical, etc. Then, too, while the pines generally have cones every year, the firs seem to miss a year, and to bear only alternate years.
The gray squirrels are often great reapers of the cones, before they are ripe. They cut them down and then eat off the tips of the scales so that they present a pathetically stripped appearance.
THE BIRDS AND ANIMALS OF THE TAHOE REGION
Birds. The bird life of the Tahoe region does not seem particularly interesting or impressive to the casual observer. At first sight there are not many birds, and those that do appear have neither so vivid plumage nor sweet song as their feathered relatives of the east, south and west. Nevertheless there are several interesting species, and while this chapter makes no pretense to completeness it suggests what one untrained observer without birds particularly on his mind has witnessed in the course of his several trips to the Tahoe region.
It soon becomes evident that altitude has much to do with bird life, some, as the meadow-lark and blackbird never being found higher than the Lake shore, others at the intermediate elevations where the Alpine hemlock thrives, while still others, such as the rosy finch and the rock-wren, are found only on the highest and most craggy peaks.
While water birds are not numerous in the summer, observant visitors at Lake Tahoe for the first time are generally surprised to find numbers of sea gulls. They fly back and forth, however, to and from their native haunts by the sea. They never raise their young here, generally making their return flight to the shores of the Pacific in September, October and at latest November, to come back in March and April. While out on the mountain in these months, fifty or more miles west of Lake Tahoe I have seen them, high in the air, flying straight to the place they desired.