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U.S.A. -- NEVADA
27 March - 3 April 2002
by Gavin Edmondstone
Las Vegas and ecotourism do not usually appear in the same sentence but
when Sue told me that we had been invited to a wedding there I began
thinking about the birding potential of a visit to the area.
Based on "A Birder's Guide to Southern California" four birds
(LeConte's & Crissal Thrashers, Lucy's Warbler and Common Poorwill)
seemed to be realistic potential lifers within reasonable driving
distances for the available time at this time of year. Many
helpful Calbirders provided useful tips.
We had flown to Las Vegas and driven to Primm NV the previous
day. Primm consists mostly of three casino hotels right on the
California-Nevada border. It proved to be a convenient and
economical, if somewhat odd, base camp for exploring the Mojave
National Preserve. We drove through the Joshua tree (lifer tree)
forest on Cima Rd. hoping to see a Le Conte's Thrasher on an
exposed perch. No such luck. Black-throated Sparrows,
Ladder-backed Woodpeckers and Loggerhead Shrikes were seen. After
passing through Cima (one store, that's it) we drove Cedar Canyon Road
where at the end of the pavement we spotted four thrashers...Bendire's
Thrashers. Very nice, especially for the California list, but not
exactly what we were looking for at the moment.
We continued to the intersection with Black Canyon Road and looked very
carefully as this spot was indicated to me as favourable for Le
Conte's. Again no luck. Sue called me back to the
car. "There is a small bird in this bush" she said. Indeed
there was. A hummingbird darted out the bush and through the
partially open window of our (red) rental car! The bird trapped
herself where the windshield meets the dashboard. I reached in
and rescued the tiny bird. OK if I had just opened the door the
hummer would have figured it out but I couldn't resist the temptation
handle a hummer. The embarrassing thing is that we could not
immediately ID the bird. Sue took a few photos and I then
released the bird. We have now concluded that she was an Anna's.
After that excitement we decide to retrace our path back. We
missed a turn at Cima and found ourselves fairly close to Primm and in
need of food and fuel so we returned to base. After lunch we
decided to rerun the morning's route since we did not know what else to
try. I expect that the Mojave in the afternoon is often an
unpleasantly hot place to be birding but this day was almost cold and a
bit rainy. The moisture released an interesting aroma from the
normally dry soil. Along Cima Road we saw two Gilded Flickers
near the power line crossing.
Eventually we were back at the intersection of Cedar Canyon & Black
Canyon Roads where we were determined to stay as long as there was
enough light or we found a Le Conte's Thrasher. While searching
we found a Cactus Wren, a covey of Gambel's Quail and several
Verdin. Finally a thrasher flushed from a bush. A few brief
views were offered before the bird disappeared for good. After
due consideration we concluded (with relief) that this was indeed a Le
The weather today and for the rest of the trip was uniformly sunny and
warm. This day was primarily a driving day but we did see some
interesting birds along the way. The first stop was the Baker CA
sewage ponds. The gate was open and an attendant was
present. We asked for and were granted permission to walk the
dikes. Birds here included Cinnamon Teal, Bufflehead and Black
After viewing the lava fields on the west side of Cima Dome we headed
east on I 40 where a roadside rest area was surprisingly birdy.
There we saw a Hooded Oriole, Brewer's Sparrows and Western
Scrub-Jays. After crossing into Arizona we stopped in at London
Bridge partly just to see the bridge and also in hopes of seeing if we
could connect with the Yellow- billed Loon that had been in the
area. Good Friday afternoon was a decidedly bad time for this
quest as the watercraft traffic in the channel was extremely
heavy. We did not have much time to explore other areas but did
see a Roadrunner. The next two nights were in Parker AZ.
Early this morning we crossed the Colorado River into Earp CA to a
couple of spots where we hoped to see Crissal Thrasher. No such
luck but we did see a few Lucy's Warblers fairly easily. The area
was fairly birdy with Abert's Towhee and Ash-throated Flycatcher being
highlights for us. After giving up on finding the thrasher in
Earp we drove along the river on the California side to Parker Dam
stopping a good looking spots along the way. Best birds were a
Sage Thrasher (Lifer for Sue. She pretends to not be a lister but
does seem to enjoy it when I tell that a bird is a life bird for her
and has recently taken to asking me what her life list is at.),
Phainopeplas and Black-tailed Gnatcatcher.
By now a "bug" that had been nagging me was making me quite miserable
so we returned to Parker for a siesta after a visit to a
pharmacy. By late afternoon the potions had done their work
sufficiently for us venture out again. This time the mission was
Common Poorwill. The area of Vidal wash had been suggested.
Vidal wash is accessible by an unpaved road south of Parker an the
California side of the river. New birds seen here were Lesser
Goldfinch and Lesser Nighthawk. At dusk the bats put on an
impressive show. After dark we drove back slowly looking for
eyeshine and listening for Poorwills but again no luck.
Early this morning we tried Earp again for the thrasher but once again
struck out. It was now time to move on to Las Vegas. This
trip we had time to stop a few times on the Arizona side of the
Colorado River. The best birds were an American Bittern, Clark's
& Western Grebes.
In the morning I went to Sunset County Park near the Las Vegas airport
while Sue slept in. Lots of good birds for my Nevada list like
Abert's Towhee, Gambel's Quail and Verdin but no Crissal Thrasher as I
had hoped. In the afternoon we went for a scenic drive through
Red Rock Canyon just west of Las Vegas. Wearing our binoculars
into the Visitors Centre proved to be a good move. One of the
staff members made deduction that we are birders. And offered us
a checklist for the park and some suggestions on birding locales.
He also recommended that we visit the Henderson "Bird Viewing Preserve"
and gave us a checklist. Noticing that Crissal Thrasher was
listed as "common" at Red Rock I asked for suggestions. He said
they could be anywhere. I am sure they are but not for us that
day. We did add Canyon Wren, Spotted Towhee and Juniper Titmouse
to our list.
This was the wedding day so I had not planned any birding activity but
since the wedding was not until late afternoon and no social events
were planned for the first part of the day we thought we would check
out the "City of Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve And Water Reclamation
Facility" in the morning. I translated this name to mean it to be
a birder-friendly sewage pond. We were not to be
American Pipits in the parking lot were a good start. Jim Healey
signed us in and gave us a map, telling us where we were and were not
permitted to go and giving some birding advice. When we stepped
outside Jim pointed out a Cassin's Kingbird. This was an
unexpected lifer for us. While walking the dikes we saw
White-faced Ibis, Black-necked Stilts, Eared Grebes and Violet- green
Swallows among others. At last a Crissal Thrasher popped up onto
a fence for us. With the thrasher seen we declared victory and
returned to our hotel on the strip to get ready for the wedding.
We flew home the next day.
Airport security and optics: No problem but more interest than I have
encountered previously. In Toronto the agent asked to look
through both binoculars and the scope. In Las Vegas the optics
bag got the explosives detector treatment. Incidentally we were
instructed to be back to the Las Vegas airport 2 hours prior to the
flight home and we complied but it happened that we were able to make
it from curb to the gate in 20 minutes on this day.