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U.S.A. -- NEVADA
11 - 18 June 1999
by Ted Floyd
During the past week (6/11-6/18) I traveled from Reno to Las Vegas and
back. My objective was to find as many species of Nevada breeding
birds as possible. The following summary of my findings is broken
down into three parts:
A. TRIP REPORT B. COMMENTS C. SPECIES LIST
For those who are tempted to jump straight to Section C, here's the
bottom line: I found 168 species during the week, all but 3 of which
are known or suspected breeders in Nevada. (For perspective, 234
species have been recorded during the first two full field seasons of
the Nevada Breeding Bird Atlas.) Highlights included: LEAST BITTERN,
GREEN HERON, BALD EAGLE, PEREGRINE FALCON, BONAPARTE'S GULL
(non-breeding summer resident), WHITE-WINGED DOVE, YELLOW-BILLED
CUCKOO, NORTHERN PYGMY-OWL, COSTA'S HUMMINGBIRD, CALLIOPE HUMMINGBIRD,
WHITE-HEADED WOODPECKER, GILDED FLICKER, WILLOW FLYCATCHER, VERMILION
FLYCATCHER, AMERICAN DIPPER, CRISSAL THRASHER, BELL'S VIREO, GRAY
VIREO, CASSIN'S VIREO, NORTHERN PARULA (non-breeding vagrant), AMERICAN
REDSTART (non-breeding vagrant), SUMMER TANAGER, INDIGO BUNTING,
BLACK-CHINNED SPARROW, HOODED ORIOLE, RED CROSSBILL, and EVENING
If you would like to learn more about the Nevada Breeding Bird Atlas,
please contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or check out this web site:
DAY 1 (FRIDAY 11
JUNE 1999): Reno to Moapa.
I got my first four birds while waiting for the Enterprise Car Rental
driver to pick me up at my house (just outside downtown Reno). It
was an unspectacular beginning: HOUSE FINCH, HOUSE SPARROW, ROCK DOVE,
and EUROPEAN STARLING. But I was glad to tick them off, and to be
on my way!
As we drove through town to the car rental site, I got: BARN SWALLOW,
CLIFF SWALLOW, CALIFORNIA GULL, BREWER'S BLACKBIRD, and MALLARD.
I got most of these birds as we drove along the Truckee River in
I got the car and headed east on I-80 toward Fernley. I-80
parallels the Truckee River between Reno and Fernley, so I was able to
pick up a typical smattering of river birds like: DOUBLE-CRESTED
CORMORANT, AMERICAN COOT, MOURNING DOVE, and AMERICAN WHITE PELICAN.
In Fernley I picked up US-50 which I took into Fallon. The
stretch between Fallon and Fernley is characterized by a "salt desert
scrub" plant community, which produced species such as: TURKEY VULTURE,
COMMON RAVEN, WESTERN KINGBIRD, RED-TAILED HAWK, and AMERICAN KESTREL.
After Fallon I headed south, toward Tonopah, on US-95. The first
part of the drive, just past the far western edge of Carson Lake, was
reasonably interesting and yielded: AMERICAN ROBIN, RING-BILLED GULL,
AMERICAN CROW, BULLOCK'S ORIOLE, YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD, WHITE-FACED
IBIS, BLACK-BILLED MAGPIE, NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOW, KILLDEER,
LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE, and HORNED LARK.
At this point, I had driven about 75 miles and had 29 species on my
list. The next 300+ miles would produce a grand total of zero new
species. At least, the highways had exciting names: "Grand Army
of the Republic Highway", "Extraterrestrial Highway", and the like.
Species Number 30 came in an impressive joshua tree forest between
Rachel and Hiko (in Lincoln County): a BURROWING OWL on a fence
post. A little while later, I stopped briefly at the Key Pittman
Wildlife Management Area, where I found: YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT, YELLOW
WARBLER, WESTERN MEADOWLARK, GREAT BLUE HERON, and REDHEAD.
Next it was south toward Moapa along US-93, through the beautiful
Pahranagat Valley, where I found a SWAINSON'S HAWK.
I finally arrived at Moapa Valley National Wildlife Refuge, in northern
Clark County, at around 7:00 P.M. (I was late because of road
construction between Hawthorne and Tonopah, and because I couldn't
resist the temptation to stop in at the Area 51 Hangar and at the
"Little Alie-Inn" along the Extraterrestrial Highway.) My hosts at
Moapa Valley were Bruce and Flo Lund, who put me up in the refuge
station for visiting researchers. Birds right around the station
included: BLACK-THROATED SPARROW, BLACK PHOEBE, and GAMBEL'S QUAIL.
DAY 2 (SATURDAY 12
JUNE 1999): Mormon Ranch,
Meadow Valley Wash, and Overton W.M.A.
Bruce and I spent the morning at the 1200-acre Mormon Ranch that abuts
the wildlife refuge. The ranch is a private holding along the
Muddy River, and it is in fairly good shape. And the birding is
wonderful. It produced all of the following additions to the trip
list: RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD, SONG SPARROW, VERDIN (numerous), BLUE
GROSBEAK (about 10), NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD, BROWN-HEADED COWBIRD
(numerous), PHAINOPEPLA (up to 20), LUCY'S WARBLER (at least 10,
including a confirmed breeder), ABERT'S TOWHEE (numerous), LESSER
GOLDFINCH, VERMILION FLYCATCHER (11, including 9 males), COMMON
YELLOWTHROAT, LESSER NIGHTHAWK, LADDER-BACKED WOODPECKER, BLACK-TAILED
GNATCATCHER (several breeding pairs), ASH-THROATED FLYCATCHER, BELL'S
VIREO (singing persistently), WILLOW FLYCATCHER (2 singing),
VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOW, BEWICK'S WREN, GREAT-TAILED GRACKLE,
WHITE-THROATED SWIFT, BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK (non-breeding?), CRISSAL
THRASHER (an animated pair), WESTERN WARBLING-VIREO (non-breeding?),
AMERICAN REDSTART (presumably a non-breeding vagrant), SAY'S PHOEBE,
WESTERN TANAGER (non-breeding?), and HOODED ORIOLE.
After the Mormon Ranch, we visited one of Bruce's Breeding Bird Atlas
blocks, along Meadow Valley Wash near the border between Lincoln and
Clark Counties. Bruce's Atlas block is intriguing: a tiny sliver
of green that cuts a narrow canyon in bone-dry Mojave Desert
scrub. The canyon walls produced ROCK WREN and CANYON WREN, and
we were able to find nests of both species. We also heard
something that sounded tantalizingly like a rufous-crowned sparrow, but
we were unable to track down the elusive songster. The wash
itself contained many of the birds that we got at the Mormon Ranch,
including 3 bell's vireos and 1 singing willow flycatcher. New
species for the list included: a female LAZULI BUNTING, a GREAT HORNED
OWL that flew out of the wash and up onto a ledge on one of the canyon
walls, a MARSH WREN at a beaver pond, and a loudly calling SUMMER
Next it was onto Overton for ... a cello recital.
After the concert, Bruce and I visited the Overton Wildlife Management
Area, at the northern tip of Lake Mead. We were looking for a
place called Honeybee Pond, where clapper rail had recently been
reported. It took us a long time to find the pond, but in the
process we managed to come across: a singing YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO, a
WILD TURKEY running through a barren field, and a RING-NECKED PHEASANT
calling off in the distance. We finally did find the pond, but we
couldn't turn up a clapper rail. However, we did manage to get
all of the following: PIED-BILLED GREBE, RUDDY DUCK (several family
groups), GREEN HERON (a pair), FORSTER'S TERN, WESTERN GREBE, CLARK'S
GREBE, and even a single LEAST BITTERN.
We wound down the day with a quick pass by Bowman Reservoir, which
produced lots of jet-skis but no new birds. The last bird of the
day was a GREATER ROADRUNNER, just off the highway near Overton.
DAY 3 (SUNDAY 13
JUNE 1999): Southern
I departed from Moapa around sun-up and headed for the hottest and
driest part of Nevada, down near the towns of Searchlight and Laughlin.
My first stop was the Cottonwood Desert Management Area (CDMA), in the
arid foothills of the Irateba Mountains, just north of
Searchlight. I worked my way from north to south, and picked up
Mojave Desert species such as: CACTUS WREN, SCOTT'S ORIOLE, and COSTA'S
HUMMINGBIRD. The best bird was GILDED FLICKER; I saw 3 (2 adults
and 1 juvenile). This is a species that was not known to breed in
Nevada until a few weeks ago, when Joe Kahl and others discovered
several birds (including 1 definite breeder) at a site a little to the
north of where I was. In addition to the interesting birds, CDMA
proved to be a good place for other Mojave Desert spectacles. The
highlight for me was my first desert tortoise, and I also saw
rattlesnakes, jackrabbits, kangaroo rats, tarantula hawks, robber
flies, flowering cacti, enormous joshua trees, and impressive dust
After Cottonwood, it was onto another DMA: the El Dorado DMA, just
south of the town of Calnevari. It was a little higher (about
1500m) here, and there were a few pinyons and junipers, but there were
very few birds. The only addition was SPOTTED TOWHEE. I
think it was just too hot.
If El Dorado seemed hot, then my next destination was blistering: the
temperature at Laughlin was 112F. There wasn't much to see here,
and I called it a day. At this point, I headed north a little
ways, to a campground at the Lake Mead National Environmental Disaster
Area. Some sights from around the campground included: a lone
distant gull, a greater roadrunner, several rock doves, dozens of
great-tailed grackles, and hundreds of motorboats and jet-skis.
It was surprisingly humid here, and I noticed a dense fog over the
campground after nightfall.
DAY 4 (MONDAY 14
JUNE 1999): Southern Nevada
I departed from Lake Mead at first light, and picked up my first and
only WHITE-WINGED DOVE on the road up to Searchlight.
From Searchlight I headed into Las Vegas, to meet up with Chuck Rumsey
and Liz Joyce of The Nature Conservancy. En route I stopped off
at urban Sunset Park, an amazing oasis of Mojave Desert habitat in a
sprawling desert of pavement and air-conditioners. Particularly
impressive was a stand of mesquites in the northwestern corner of the
park, which produced an excellent sampling of Mojave Desert birds:
ladder-backed woodpecker, ash-throated flycatcher, verdin, cactus wren,
black-tailed gnatcatcher, crissal thrasher (2 pairs), a loudly singing
bell's vireo, and abert's towhee. Sunset Park also produced my
first BLACK-CHINNED HUMMINGBIRD of the trip, as well as a very tardy
After my brief detour at Sunset Park, it was onto TNC's headquarters,
and then out to the west slope of the Mormon Mountains in southern
Lincoln County. We picked up Bruce Lund along the way, and began
birding around 11:00 A.M. - not a highly favorable time of
day. All the same, the birding would prove to be fairly good.
The drive up into the foothills of the Mormons took us through an
impressive joshua tree forest, where the highlight was my 4th gilded
flicker of the trip. Either they're much more common in southern
Nevada than we had imagined, or they've staged a mini-invasion into the
northern Mojave Desert this year.
The ascent into the Mormons went reasonably quickly, and the transition
between desert and montane forest was abrupt. It wasn't too long
before we were picking up birds like: BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER (several),
GRAY VIREO (several pairs, including one with food for nestlings),
BLACK-CHINNED SPARROW (carrying food), BROAD-TAILED HUMMINGBIRD,
PLUMBEOUS VIREO, and PEREGRINE FALCON (a noisy pair up on a cliffside
roost or nest). Despite the presence of these pre-montane and
montane species, one of the most common birds in the area was cactus
wren. Also, we saw a greater roadrunner carrying a lizard, just a
hundred meters lower. Definitely, there was a diverse avifauna
compressed within this narrow transition zone.
We were back in Las Vegas by late afternoon. Chuck and Liz urged
me to spend the night on the Strip, but I opted for a high elevation
campground in the Spring Mountains instead. I arrived just before
sun-down, but the area around the campground was hopping, with:
TOWNSEND'S SOLITAIRE, CASSIN'S FINCH (a few), PINE SISKIN (several
flying over), RED-SHAFTED FLICKER, HERMIT THRUSH (numerous), DUSKY
FLYCATCHER (a rather agitated individual), WESTERN WOOD-PEWEE, MOUNTAIN
CHICKADEE, OREGON JUNCO, HAIRY WOODPECKER, AUDUBON'S WARBLER, STELLER'S
JAY, CHIPPING SPARROW, and even a RED CROSSBILL pair flying over.
I was disappointed to hear no owls overnight, but a western wood-pewee
was quite vocal for much of the night.
DAY 5 (TUESDAY 15
JUNE 1999): Back to Reno.
There was a lot of ground to cover today, so I wasn't able to linger
for long in the campground. Still, I managed to get: RUBY-CROWNED
KINGLET (several), RED-NAPED SAPSUCKER (a noisy pair), WESTERN BLUEBIRD
(a pair), and NORTHERN PYGMY-OWL (1 singing bird). Other species
in the campground included: broad-tailed hummingbird (common),
olive-sided flycatcher, violet-green swallow, western warbling-vireo,
and western tanager.
On the way down, back into the Las Vegas Valley, I stopped off in a
juniper - joshua tree transition, where I picked up my only JUNIPER
TITMOUSE of the trip.
Now it was back toward Reno, but I would make a few stops along the way.
My first stop was at TNC's new Torrance Ranch property, just north of
Beatty, in the Amargosa Valley of southern Nye County. The
Torrance Ranch is famous for its amargosa toads, of which I saw
none. However, I did find a beautiful singing male NORTHERN
PARULA, in a low willow just off the highway. It is very unlikely
that this bird is a breeder. In fact, its appearance is
consistent with a pattern of vagrancy of eastern species in Nevada in
early to mid June. Another new trip bird at the Torrance Ranch
was a VIRGINIA RAIL, singing out in some wetlands beyond the highway.
Next I made the long haul through the Great Basin Desert, and all the
way to Carson Lake, just south of the town of Fallon. Carson Lake
is as good as any aquatic birding hotspot I have ever seen, and it
didn't disappoint today - despite the advanced hour and date. My
first new bird was a lone BANK SWALLOW, probably a sentry from the
near-by breeding colony at Soda Lake.
I checked in at the "headquarters" (such as they are), and headed out
along the main dike. I stopped less than a mile out, and picked
up: SAVANNAH SPARROW (numerous), CATTLE EGRET, SNOWY EGRET, GREAT
EGRET, AMERICAN AVOCET (I would see at least 2000 in the next 2 hours),
BLACK-NECKED STILT (hundreds), BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON, LONG-BILLED
CURLEW (4 birds, including a pair), GADWALL, NORTHERN SHOVELER,
CINNAMON TEAL, (numerous), NORTHERN HARRIER, CANADA GOOSE (it was oddly
gratifying not to get this species until Day 5 of the trip), NORTHERN
PINTAIL, and GREEN-WINGED TEAL (an uncommon breeder in the region).
I continued, toward the "sump" road that bisects the lake from west to
east. Here I found: WILSON'S PHALAROPE (hundreds), BONAPARTE'S
GULL (a non-breeder that will probably hang around for the summer), and
BLACK TERN (a pair on an island). At this point, the weather was
turning nasty: the wind was whipping up an enormous cloud of salt spray
and dust, so I decided to retreat.
On the way out, I stopped at a roadside slough, where I got my only
WILLET of the trip.
Before heading back to Reno, I decided to stop by at several of the
smaller bodies of water in the vicinity of Carson Lake. First I
went to S-Line Reservoir, where I found an OSPREY at a nest. Then
I went to Lahontan Reservoir, where I found a BALD EAGLE atop the only
known nest of this species in Nevada.
DAY 6 (WEDNESDAY
16 JUNE 1999): Reno Area
I started off the day at the doctor's office, where I learned that a
nasty case of pneumonia was in full remission. There's nothing
like a week of birding to restore one's health!
After the doctor's office I stopped off at near-by Oxbow Park, a
surprisingly good strip of riparian habitat along the Truckee River in
the western part of Reno. Here I found birds such as the
following to be numerous: black-chinned hummingbird, western
wood-pewee, cliff swallow, black-billed magpie, bewick's wren, western
warbling-vireo, yellow warbler, black-headed grosbeak, song sparrow,
and lesser goldfinch. I also added CALIFORNIA QUAIL (numerous),
TREE SWALLOW, DOWNY WOODPECKER, COOPER'S HAWK (at a nest), and WESTERN
I spent the rest of the morning, plus the afternoon, in the office,
trying to catch up on things.
But I managed to get out to the new Audubon refuge at Lemmon Valley
Marsh, in the early evening. This time I was accompanied by Nath
Welch, an intern with TNC. The road into Lemmon Valley Marsh cuts
a narrow swath through the sagebrush, so we got out to look for birds
typical of this habitat. Right away, we found: SAGE THRASHER (a
pair, including one bird carrying food), BREWER'S SPARROW (many singing
birds), and SAGE SPARROW (a single bird). Out on the open water,
we found fair numbers of: cinnamon teal, gadwall, american coot,
black-necked stilt, american avocet, wilson's phalarope, ring-billed
gull, and california gull. Basically, Carson Lake in
miniature! But we also found a bird that I was unable to get at
Carson Lake: EARED GREBE, in decent numbers.
DAY 7 (THURSDAY 17
JUNE 1999): The Carson Range.
After a morning of errands, my wife Kei and I struck out for the front
range of the Sierra, just to the southwest of Reno.
On the way up the Mount Rose Highway, we stopped off in the
sagebrush-covered foothills just below Galena. The two most
common birds here were rock wren and brewer's sparrow, a somewhat
Higher up, we found a GREEN-TAILED TOWHEE along the road.
At around 10:30 A.M., we arrived in the town of Incline Village, where
we met up with Pam Straley, Lucie Clark, and Jim Eidel. Here we
found an EVENING GROSBEAK pair, which Pam and Lucie have observed
After the grosbeaks we visited one of Lucie's Breeding Bird Atlas
blocks, where we found an AMERICAN DIPPER on a log in a mountain
stream. Earlier, Lucie had seen the bird carrying nesting
material and food into a waterfall. We all hung around for a
little while, to try to see it on the nest. (And Jim hung around
for an eternity, to confirm that the bird was incubating.)
We spent the rest of the morning, plus the early afternoon, looking for
birds in one of Pam's atlas blocks. Here we found: MACGILLIVRAY'S
WARBLER, RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH, and FOX SPARROW. Just beyond
Pam's block, we had a singing BROWN CREEPER.
Our last bird in Incline Village was a juvenile WHITE-HEADED
WOODPECKER, calling loudly and incessantly from a nest-hole in a short
wooden post in a very busy shopping center parking lot. It was an
incongruous sight: one of the true emblems of the High Sierra
wilderness, literally just a few feet away from a small army of SUVs
and soccer moms.
On the drive back to Reno, Kei and I stopped off in a high mountain
meadow along the Mount Rose Highway. There was still deep snow
cover here, but this didn't seem to deter the local WHITE-CROWNED
SPARROW population. At the edge of the meadow, we added HAMMOND'S
FLYCATCHER (3 birds) and a singing WILSON'S WARBLER. We also
noted several western warbling-vireos up here.
Our last stop was Galena County Park, at the lower edge of the
ponderosa pines. Things were a little slower here than usual, but
we did add two more species to the list: CALLIOPE HUMMINGBIRD and
DAY 8 (FRIDAY 18
JUNE 1999): Truckee River
I spent the afternoon with TNC's Chuck Rumsey, and we canoed the
Truckee River from Wadsworth to near Nixon. As soon as we put in,
a HOUSE WREN sang from a streamside tangle. We would hear 4 more
during the trip. The next new bird was a SPOTTED SANDPIPER, and
this species, too, would prove to be reasonably numerous along the
river. COMMON MERGANSER was especially common, and I estimated
that we saw at least 40 (including several family groups) along the
river. The last new bird for the trip - and one of the best - was
an INDIGO BUNTING that sang atop a streamside tree and then flew
directly behind us.
Other birds on the river included: double-crested cormorant (a few),
great blue heron (frequent), great egret (1), black-crowned night-heron
(a few), northern harrier (3), downy woodpecker (3), black phoebe (1),
tree swallow (1), bewick's wren (several), western warbling-vireo
(several), yellow warbler (several), yellow-breasted chat (1), lazuli
bunting (2), song sparrow (numerous), and bullock's oriole (a few).
To me, the most exciting thing about birding in Nevada is the potential
for surprise and discovery. When you ask people about the
distribution and abundance of Nevada birds, a common reply is: "We
really don't know". To me, that's exciting.
What's also exciting is that, right now, we're in the process of
learning quite a lot about Nevada's avifauna. We're documenting
the presence of several Mojave Desert species in areas considerably
farther north than we had expected. We're discovering that early
summer is an excellent time of year for eastern vagrants. We're
finding that the Lahontan Valley wetlands and the Elko highlands harbor
diverse and unique assemblages of bird species. And we're seeing
that the hundreds of mountain ranges and valleys are more distinct from
one another than we had imagined.
To be sure, I encountered numerous surprises during the past
week. I didn't expect to see 4 gilded flickers. I was
surprised to find that cactus wrens and broad-tailed hummingbirds occur
together in the Mormon Mountains. I came across several species
that aren't "supposed" to be in Clark County in the summer: swainson's
hawk, forster's tern, northern pygmy-owl, spotted towhee, and
others. I was pleasantly surprised by the extensive high-quality
riparian areas in the Moapa-Overton area. I certainly wasn't
expecting to get northern parula or american redstart. The
olive-sided flycatcher in downtown Las Vegas was unanticipated, and I
was surprised to see the Indigo Bunting along the Truckee River.
The evening grosbeaks at Incline Village were unexpected, and red
crossbills (by their very nature!) are always something of a
surprise. And Carson Lake is always surprising, no matter how
often I visit there.
Nevada has much to offer to the birder looking for the
unexpected. Our knowledge of the state's avifauna is minimal,
compared to what we know from neighboring states such as California and
Arizona. If you're going to be in Nevada (it's on the way to
California, after all!), please let me know. I'll be happy to
show you around, or to point you toward someone who can. In the
meantime, you can learn more about the birds of Nevada, by visiting the
web site of the Great Basin Bird Observatory: www.gbbo.org.
I saw 168 species, all but 3 of which are known to have bred in
Nevada. That comes out to a little more than 70% of all the
species that have been documented as known or suspected breeders during
the first two years (1997-1998) of the Nevada Breeding Bird
Atlas. Here's the breakdown, using standard breeding bird status
3 Possible breeders
62 Probable breeders
55 Confirmed breeders 48
Here is the complete list. The entries in the first two columns
require no explanation. In the third column, a letter "e" after
an entry means "estimated"; generally, all counts in the double digits
(or higher) are estimates. (However, I couldn't stop myself from
counting all those vermilion flycatchers!)
Rough-winged Swallow Probable 50e