Birding the Americas Trip
and Planning Repository
Return to the Main
Return to the North
Return to the U.S.A.
Return to the Nevada
U.S.A. -- NEVADA: Mormon Mountains
27 - 29 June 1999
by Ted Floyd
Chuck Rumsey, Bruce Lund, and I did a quick survey of the breeding
birds of the east slope of the Mormon Mountains in southern Lincoln
County Nevada. We arrived around 7:00 P.M. on 27 June and
we wrapped things up around 8:00 A.M. on 29 June. Nearly
all our work was done on 28 June, and I shall confine this narrative
primarily to that one long hot day of bird counting.
DAY 1. 27
We arrived pretty late in the day and basically just explored a little
by foot and by car, to get a feel for the general area. A
highlight (for me, anyhow) was a post-nightfall survey for creosotebush
insects. Several of the highly specialized creosotebush
herbivores were present in excellent numbers; especially common were
the beautiful creosotebush grasshopper (Bootettix argentatus) and the
chameleon-like creosotebush caterpiller (Semiothisa colorata) that
changes its color depending on what part of the plant it is feeding on.
DAY 2. 28
We started at 4:45 A.M. at an elevation a little lower than 3000
feet. We were in an area dominated by creosotebush, bursage, and
joshua trees. At first light Bruce checked on his rodent traps,
which contained numerous mice and kanagaroo rats. The most common
bird species in this area was the BLACK-THROATED SPARROW. Other
numerous species included: ASH-THROATED FLYCATCHER, CACTUS WREN,
NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD, SCOTT'S ORIOLE, and LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE.
We decided to walk through a fairly deep wash, which produced all of
the preceding species, plus low numbers of: COSTA'S HUMMINGBIRD,
LADDER-BACKED WOODPECKER, and WESTERN KINGBIRD. The wash was full
of chollas, prickly pears, barrel cacti, and other succulents -- plus
the bleached carapaces of several long-dead desert tortoises. Our
lowest elevation was around 2500 feet, where we found low numbers of
the preceding species, plus 2 each of SWAINSON'S HAWK and RED-TAILED
HAWK. Here it was mainly creosotebush, bursage, and blazing
It was really hot here, and it's not surprising that we found so few
birds. Still, the few that we did see were surprisingly showy and
conspicuous. At no point was there a real lull: Scott's Orioles
and Ash-throated Flycatchers were noisy denizens of the joshua trees,
family groups of Cactus Wrens chortled mockingly from the chollas, and
we were never out of earshot of a Black-throated Sparrow or two.
Other creatures were out and about too, and I was especially impressed
by the abundance and activity level of the desert whiptails (a kind of
lizard), plus all the desert cottontails and black-tailed
jackrabbits. We saw an enormous tan spider that was easily the
size of all but the largest tarantulas I have ever seen; it crawled
into the door of the truck, never to be seen again. We also saw
several horned lizards. The plant community was surprisingly
diverse and colorful: many of the creosotebushes and cacti were in
flower, and so were a few of the yuccas, and we also saw a pretty
flowering shrub called rateny.
We were impressed by all the biological activity down on the flats, but
it was just too hot to linger! So we headed up into the dry hills
on the east slope of the Mormon Mountains. The creosotebush gave
way to sagebrush, the joshua trees to century plants, and the bursage
to blackbrush. We passed through a large burn area, "dominated"
(as it were) by sparse grasses, and eventually made our way up into the
pinyon-juniper association around 4500 feet. Along the way, we
noted: a few GAMBEL'S QUAILS, a number of HORNED LARKS, and a lone
The road ended around 5200 feet, so we got out here to look
around. The most common birds were: BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER,
BUSHTIT, GRAY VIREO, SPOTTED TOWHEE, and BLACK-CHINNED SPARROW.
The gnatcatchers, bushtits, and vireos roamed about in small flocks
comprised of adults as well as recently fledged young, while the
sparrows and towhees sang from the distance. Less common species
included: PEREGRINE FALCON (1 in flight near a cliff), BLACK-CHINNED
HUMMINGBIRD (1 near the end of the road), WESTERN SCRUB-JAY (a few),
and JUNIPER TITMOUSE (2 singing birds). Among the many insects up
here, an especially impressive site was a large gathering of
black-and-yellow assassin bugs on a barrel cactus.
Next we decided to hike up to the ridge, to see if we could see to the
other side (and to see what birds were up there). Even at the
very top (elevation 7200 feet) it was still a pinyon-juniper
assemblage, with no hint of ponderosa pine or other high-elevation
species. The scenery up here was breathtaking, and we saw 2
VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOWS up here too.
On the way back down we added a few more birds: a single GRAY
FLYCATCHER, several BEWICK'S WRENS, and a family group of
BLACK-THROATED GRAY WARBLERS. When we got back to the vehicles,
Bruce had to leave. But Chuck and I spent the night here.
Birds around our camp site included: at least 4 different BROAD-TAILED
HUMMINGBIRDS and a LESSER GOLDFINCH. As darkness fell, we heard
at least 4 COMMON POORWILLS singing from the canyon just above us.
DAY 3. 29
We didn't have much time this morning. We started out just below
our campsite, where we added a singing VIRGINIA'S WARBLER and a lone
PINYON JAY. On the way down, we stopped off at several locations
along the desert-forest transition. A recently-burned grassy area
was especially good for WESTERN MEADOWLARKS.
From a birding perspective, there was nothing particularly striking
about our route. Our objective was to make a quick assessment of
the avifauna along an altitudinal gradient in an area that is being
inventoried as part of a Nature Conservancy "Site Conservation Plan".
But there was something about our approach that was rather
appealing. We weren't working from a bird-finding guide or
following any well-known routes. And we certainly weren't out at
a prime time of the year. Instead, we were just out
exploring. Yet we found certain bird species that I rarely see,
in abundance; particularly noteworthy, for me, were all the Gray Vireos
and Black-chinned Sparrows.
All of our records will become a part of the data base for the Nevada
Breeding Bird Atlas. If you would like to help with, or learn
more about, the Nevada Breeding Bird Atlas, please visit this web site:
Here's the complete list. The entries in the first two columns
require no explanation. The entries in the third column refer to
breeding bird atlas codes: Po = Possible Breeder; Pr = Probable
Breeder; Cf = Confirmed Breeder.
Black-throated Gray Warbler
Possible Breeders 11
Probable Breeders 8
Confirmed Breeders 14
Total Species 33