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26 - 28 February 2000

by Gavin Edmondstone

A conference took me to Reno (actually Sparks), Nevada.  Afterwards I stayed on for a long weekend of birding.  My primary birding goals were to see White-headed Woodpecker and Mountain Quail.  Ted Floyd gave me helpful suggestions.  The Great Basin Bird Observatory site at has useful information.  Directions to the places mentioned here can be found there.  As usual my report is biased towards birds of interest to this birder from Ontario.

Saturday morning after checking out of the conference hotel I picked up a rental car at the airport and headed south to Davis Creek County Park.  Clark's Nutcrackers, Stellar's Jays, "Oregon" Juncos, Black-billed Magpies and Mountain Chickadees were abundant.  There were also a few Spotted Towhees around.  Within an hour of birding around the parking area I found a pair of White-headed Woodpeckers.  The male was very cooperative allowing several minutes of close observation.  The next lifer would not be so easy.  Ted had indicated that I should go to higher elevation to try for the quail.  As I climbed bird activity dropped off quickly and so I decided to head back down.  Another hiker was ahead of me on the trail and I figured his presence would not enhance my chance of success.

A juvenile Golden Eagle was the highlight of the many raptors seen on a drive around Washoe Lake.  A variety of ducks were also seen.  A Say's Phoebe was feeding at the NDOT wetland viewing area.  The song of a Bewick's Wren confused me until I tracked down the source.  A California Quail was in a residential area.  After circumnavigating the lake, I decided to have a look at Galena Creek County Park.  Up there I found much snow and few birds so I decided to go sightseeing at Lake Tahoe.  Probably not the smartest thing I have ever done since I had no chains available but luckily the weather cooperated with me.  After checking into a Reno Motel I walked around Virginia Lake seeing many California Gulls, lots of ducks and a Merlin.

Sunday was rainy/snowy depending on elevation.  I went to Hunter Creek on the west side of Reno and found the trails to be rather muddy.  A few Western Bluebirds and Western Scrub-Jays were seen.  A check of the University Farm produced a Prairie Falcon.  At this time I decided I should go east and see some of the Great Basin.  This added a few more birds to my list but nothing of great interest except a Great Horned Owl in a small roadside tree.

Monday was a glorious sunny day and decided to try my luck with the quail again at Davis Creek.  Luck was mine as I arrived 7:30 to find the gate being opened a half hour before the posted time.  The varied vocalizations of the nutcrackers and jays accompanied me as I climbed higher.  After about 50 minutes a Mountain Quail flushed from cover near the trail.  I froze and carefully looked for others.  Seeing none I took a step and two more flushed and then yet two more.  After a while I contented myself with the fleeting glimpses that I had and gave up trying to get a better look.  I continued upward into a quiet, snow covered valley before heading back down.  After a rest and a snack I birded near the car for finding a Juniper Titmouse and Pine Siskins besides birds seen previously.  No White-headed Woodpeckers today.

In the afternoon I visited the Lemmon Valley Marsh.  I was a bit surprised to see a Greater Yellowlegs.  A large congregation of sometimes vocal Tundra Swans was good to see as was an adult Bald Eagle perched on a utility poll.  Seeing the eagle caused me to reverse out of the cul- de-sac so as not to flush the bird.  My unusual behaviour attracted the attention of a local teenager on a dirt bike who asked if I was a cop as I scoped the many water birds.

The puzzling x-ray image of the scope flagged airport security in Reno so I demonstrated it to the curious agents.  One thought that it was for hunting.  After explaining that I was a bird watcher the other replied: "I like that better." Tuesday the Reno-San Francisco route was delayed again.  Not only did I not have time to bird near the San Francisco airport this time but I missed my flight to Toronto and had to be quick to catch the next one.  My luggage was not so quick and didn't catch up with me until the next day.  A permanent loss would have been very embarrassing since my birding notes were safe in my carry-on but the conference notes were checked!

Gavin Edmondstone
Oakville, Ontario