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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.

March 28

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 Conte's Thrasher.

March 29

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 Phoebe.  

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.

March 30

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.

March 31

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.

April 1

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.

April 2

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 disappointed.

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.

Gavin Edmondstone
Oakville, Ontario