Lizards of Rock Creek Reservoir

Adult female western fence lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis)

Pathway to the “Garden of the World” Abigail Scott Duniway, Oregon Trail pioneer 1852

I love a spur of the moment road trip, with no specific place in mind.  It’s more adventurous, and often leads to somewhere marvelous.  With sandwiches, iced coffee, a large canteen of water, backpacks, and fly rods, we drove east of Mount Hood.

The road to Frog Lake in April snow.

Along the way, we checked several favorite fishing spots—Frog and Clear Lakes.  The roads to both were still locked in snow; it would be another week before we could reach Clear Lake.  At Frog Lake, in the outer parking lot at the edge of the snow, we ate our sandwiches tailgate style in the blistering sun.  A Steller’s jay found us, and I shared my lunch with her.

Moving on, and reaching the high desert east of Mount Hood, we turned to Tygh Valley.  We stopped in Pine Hollow to visit friends who live on the lake.  We enjoyed their good company, and the view.  Incredible how fast time flies when in good company.  The afternoon was waning, and we wanted to get in a few casts over at Rock Creek Reservoir in Wamic, about 20 miles SW of Pine Hollow.  We waved goodbye to our friends and started back.

Tygh Valley Oregon.
Cliffs and canyons of Tygh Valley.
White River in Wamic Oregon.

We had about three hours of daylight left when we arrived at Rock Creek—elevation 2,200 feet.  The lake spans 90 acres and is fed by Rock Creek, Wildcat Creek, and a branch of Gate Creek.  The lake is 34 feet deep and provides summer irrigation.  The draw greatly lowers the reservoir staring in June.  There wasn’t a soul around.  You could have heard a pin drop if not for the vibrant song and chatter of the Brewer’s blackbirds.  A bald eagle left the shore, a juvenile whose powerful wings carried it across the lake.  The lake was dazzling, and flat as a mirror until broken by hungry trout.  Oh, those trout rings!  There are some big trout in this lake.  Brooders can weigh between 5 to 8 pounds.  There is also largemouth bass, bluegill, and bullhead.  Pines and white oaks lined the shore.  Across the lake, beyond the green foothills, Mount Hood projected like a white diamond in the pale blue sky.  

Mount Hood in the distance at Rock Creek.

My husband cast to rising trout, but they just weren’t biting.  I would have fished too, but I got sidetracked by all the lizards.  There were scores of them basking on the rocks, and on the logs.  I moved slowly and stepped carefully as lizards darted around me.  Acorns of Oregon white oak littered the ground.  I had hoped to see a turkey or two, but apparently none wanted to be seen.  For the next hour, it was just the lizards and me, and we had a marvelous time.

Close to sunset at Rock Creek.
A large female western fence lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis).
Adult female western fence lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis).
Juvenile western fence lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis).
Juvenile western fence lizards (Sceloporus occidentalis).

About the western fence lizard . . .

The western fence lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis) is a medium-sized, scaly lizard between 7 to 8.4 inches from snout to tail tip.  The name Sceloporus means “spiny lizard.”  They are also called “blue-bellies” for their iridescent turquoise blue underside, and the throat patch that occurs in adults.  Some males also wear turquoise spots on their back and sides.  Adults also have yellow patches on the inside of their legs.  This blue and yellow coloring is more vivid in males than females, and absent in juveniles.  The backs of both sexes have dark stripes.  Their tails are long and regenerate if lost or broken.  Western fence lizards can change their color from black to brown, tan or gray, and sometimes shades of green.  It is suggested color change is more for regulating body temperature than for camouflage, which I happen to agree.  Depending on climate, the western fence lizard hibernates in winter.  They emerge in spring to mate.  Between May and July females lay as many as 17 eggs that hatch in August.  The young resemble adults.        

Food:  Mostly insects such as spiders, flies, mosquitoes, ants, caterpillars, beetles, crickets, and grasshoppers, and occasionally small lizards including their own.

Habitat:  Chaparral, sagebrush, grassland, oak woodlands, dry fir-pine forests, cliffs, canyons, and farmlands.  They like to be near water, and typically avoid extreme arid conditions.  They love high places for sunning, and will bask on fencepost’s (hence the name fence lizard) as well as rocks, logs, shrubs, upended tree roots, and trees.       

Predators:  Snakes, birds, coyote, raccoons, skunks, shrews, house cats, and even black widow spiders prey on small, juvenile lizards. 

Defense:  Agility and speed, sharp scales, camouflage, tail release, and protein in their blood.  The latter is most interesting in that the blood of the western fence lizard has a protein that kills the bacterium that causes Lyme disease.  When a diseased tick drinks the blood, the tick no longer carries the disease.  

Range:  The western fence lizard is a common lizard that occurs on both sides of the Cascades.  They can be found from Washington to Northern Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and Utah. 

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