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June 1995

by Martin Meyers

Spring sprung with a vengeance in southern Nevada this week.  I've never seen so many migrant passerines in the west.  In the desert migrant traps, every tree was filled with warblers, flycatchers, orioles, thrushes, and tanagers.  I didn't find anything "rare" (some birders did), but I sure enjoyed myself.

Overwhelmingly, the warblers were Wilsons and Yellows, the tanagers were Western, and the orioles were Bullocks.  The flycatchers were mostly Western Wood Peewees (lots of Western Kingbirds, too).  There were quite a few Olive Sideds and Empids, too.  And every thrush I saw was Swainsons -- and I saw hundreds of them.

Here's a day-by-day report.

After leaving Fallon (reference the separate report on "Lesser" Golden Plover), I headed for Tonopah, and the Miller's Rest Stop.  This small rest area has been one of the best migrant spots in the state, and it certainly lived up to that reputation this week.  I arrived just before dark, and the wind was blowing pretty hard (a condition that continued throughout the visit), so I didn't see much until the next morning.  (Nevada rest stops typically permit camping.)


At dawn on Thursday, I was greeted by hundreds of WILSON'S and YELLOW WARBLERS.  There were a couple of COMMON YELLOWTHROATS mixed in, along with a few TOWNSEND'S WARBLERS.  Four BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAKS were present, along with numerous WESTERN WOOD PEEWEES, BARN SWALLOWS, a WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW (dark lores), a LINCOLN'S SPARROW, and a couple of SONG SPARROWS.  There were five SWAINSON'S THRUSHES, a few BULLOCK'S ORIOLES, several WESTERN TANAGERS, two CEDAR WAXWINGS, numerous SAY'S PHOEBES, some GREAT-TAILED GRACKLES, a NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD, and the ever-present HOUSE SPARROWS and STARLINGS.

I spent two and a half hours in this little rest stop.  But by about eight a.m., the wind had picked up, and within the next hour or so, it became really obnoxious, with gusts to forty m.p.h.  Rather than continue to bird around Tonopah, I let the wind drive me away.  Bad mistake!  A local birder reported YELLOW-BELLIED FLYCATCHER and GREATER PEEWEE at an apartment complex in town.  I did not see either of these birds and make no claim as to the correctness of the reports.  There was also a report of LARK BUNTING.

My next stop was the Indian Springs Sewage Ponds, where I found a nice male BLUE-WINGED TEAL (somewhat rare in southern Nevada), CINNAMON TEAL, RUDDY DUCK, EARED GREBE, AMERICAN COOT, and MALLARD.  Other new birds for the trip included VIOLET GREEN SWALLOW, BANK SWALLOW, and WHITE-THROATED SWIFT.  I spooked a nice PRAIRIE FALCON.  There were numerous SPOTTED SANDPIPERS (as there have been all over Nevada this year), some BONOPARTE'S GULLS, and a BLACK PHOEBE.

My next stop was on Mt. Charleston (one of my favorite birding areas in southern Nevada.) The wind was blowing even more vigorously up on the mountain, and my quest for GRACE'S WARBLER seemed doomed.  Grace's are found around the corner where the northern road onto the mountain meets the road that crosses over to the southern road.  (I don't have a map here, but if you look at a Nevada map, the roads I'm describing are obvious.) I really felt stupid standing in a gale, worried that trees were going to topple onto my car (or me, for that matter), looking for a warbler in a tree top.  Not surprisingly, I didn't find one at that corner.  I drove a half mile or so along the crossover road and pulled off into a paved parking area (the first one on the eastern side of the road.) I only stopped to glance at my map, so that I wouldn't have to look again as I entered the Las Vegas area.  As I looked at the map, what should I hear but a Grace's Warbler!  A few minutes of searching, and I actually got a very nice look at this beautiful warbler.  There were also MACGILLIVRAY'S WARBLERS on the way down the southern road.

I ended the day at an area west of Las Vegas known as Potosi.  Potosi is an area of Pinyon/Juniper, with Joshua Trees, steep hillsides and arroyos.  It is a "must visit" area if you are heading toward southern Nevada.  Bracing myself against the wind, I was able to add a few BLACK-CHINNED SPARROWS, BLUE-GREY GNATCATCHERS, and BUSHTITS to the trip-list.  Townsend's Warblers were particularly abundant here, along with lots of Wilsons and Yellows and, well, you know, all those migrants again.  (The next day, a GREY VIREO was reported.  I didn't hear it or see it, but I have seen them there on previous trips, and it is known as one of the most reliable areas in the state for that bird.)

I spent the night in a motel, and called the Cressman household for some advice.  The Cressmans handle the southern Nevada R.B.A., and they provide their home phone number on the R.B.A.  for people who need advice as to locations or whatever.  They are also the top listers in Nevada, and they know the area like the back of their hands.  My next day of birding was mostly following advice from Jim Cressman.


Friday was not quite as windy as Thursday, although by afternoon, it was pretty breezy.  I started the day near the Blue Diamond Sewage Ponds.  There is a great area of scrub north of the ponds.  Much of it is marked "No trespassing", but there is plenty of birding without entering the marked area.  Here I heard several BELL'S VIREOS.  I managed to get brief glimpses of two of them, both very grey.  Other new birds for the trip included GREAT BLUE HERON, KILLDEER, ANNA'S HUMMINGBIRD (2), ASH-THROATED FLYCATCHER, NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOW, VERDIN, SOLITARY VIREO (Pacific coast form), ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER, YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT (3), GREEN-TAILED TOWHEE, BLACK-THROATED SPARROW, BREWER'S SPARROW, RED-WINGED and YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRDS, a gorgeous male HOODED ORIOLE, LESSER GOLDFINCH, and HOUSE FINCH.  Many of the migrants already mentioned were present as well.  (I saw 28 species in this patch of scrub.)

From Blue Diamond, I returned to nearby Potosi in the hopes of finding SCOTT'S ORIOLE.  After about an hour and a half of searching, I finally heard an Oriole and was able to get a fair look.  The bird was quite drab, dull yellow with a greyish head and back, probably a first spring bird.  Scott's is a beautiful bird -- I've seen many in Arizona and a few in California.  The bird I saw Friday was not particularly beautiful, but I'll take it.  A large flock of PINION JAYS flew around noisily, and a CASSIN'S KINGBIRD was carrying nesting material to a tree on the hillside.  I also found my first WARBLING VIREOS of the trip, along with several BROAD-TAILED HUMMINGBIRDS.  Numerous warblers and flycatchers made the stay even more pleasant.  (I did mention that there were a number of migrants around, didn't I?)

My next stop was an attempt to find a ROADRUNNER.  Somehow, that's a bird I've missed in Nevada up until now.  Jim sent me to an area next to the Tropicana Palms Mobile Home Park which features nice desert habitat as well as some wetlands.  This was around 1:00 in the afternoon, not exactly prime birding time in the desert, but I had a really nice walk.  GAMBEL'S QUAIL, ABERT'S TOWHEES, BLACK-TAILED GNATCATCHERS, and a few CACTUS WRENS kept things interesting while I listened in vain for a bird going "meep meep" :-).  At the wetlands, there was one WHITE-FACED IBIS, SNOWY and GREAT EGRETS, and MARSH WRENS.  Lots of warblers (surprise).  I heard a WHITE-WINGED DOVE mixed in with all the MOURNING DOVES, but didn't see it.  I walked all the way to the end of the path, then turned around and walked all the way back.  This took around two hours.  And there, twenty feet from my car, was a Roadrunner!

Next, I headed north to Corn Creek, another of my favorite southern Nevada birding locations.  It was now about 4:30, breezy, hot, humid.  Perfect time for another walk in the desert.  And within a short time, up popped two LECONTE'S THRASHERS!  Lots of SAGE SPARROWS around, too.

I returned to my car and drove on into the Corn Creek research area, a lush oasis that welcomes birders as long as you stay on the trails and don't look in the residents' windows with binoculars.  Here I found WILLOW FLYCATCHER, a few silent "WESTERN" FLYCATCHERS, an interesting family group(?) of one adult INDIGO BUNTING, one adult LAZULI BUNTING, and several immature whatevers.  A large (and somewhat unexpected) flock of CASSIN'S FINCHES and several LARK SPARROWS added to the fun.  Oh, did I mention there were tons of warblers, tanagers, .., oh yeah, I guess I did mention that.  I followed the "Western" Flycatchers until sunset hoping for a call.  Unsuccessful.  As evening arrived, LESSER NIGHTHAWKS appeared.


I headed over to Lida, where a SUMMER TANAGER had been reported.  I was able to find that gorgeous bird (singing vigorously), as well as numerous warb.., uh, never mind.  ROCK WRENS were all over.  A SHARP-SHINNED HAWK flew by.  And one of the biggest surprises of the trip, a single VAUX SWIFT flew overhead.  And I finally caught up with another of my Nevada nemesis birds, CHUKAR.  I've stumbled over Chukar in California, Utah, Montana, and Wyoming, but try as I might, I had never managed to find one in Nevada.  But at Lida, there was a very attractive hillside, and I spent about fifteen minutes searching it carefully, And, sure enough, one lone Chukar came into view!

My next stop (and last stop for the southland) was Dyer, Nevada.  This is an area that many California birders visit when they "do the desert" at Memorial Day, and it is often excellent for vagrants at that time.  (You'll note that I have not mentioned any eastern warblers or vireos, etc.  If the migration continues as dramatically as it was this week, I really envy the migrant chasers who show up in a couple of weeks.  But it was too early, I guess, for the lost eastern birds.)

At Dyer, I added DUSKY FLYCATCHER, GREY FLYCATCHER, an unexpected WHITE-THROATED SPARROW, SWAINSON'S HAWK, and LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE to the trip list.  And, yes, the trees were full of migrants.  One fence had over 40 Western Tanagers lined up on it!  But by now, the wind had really picked up again.  I had planned to spend another day or two, but the predictions were for more wind, and I decided I'd had enough.  I called the Cressmans to report on my successes, thanked them again, and headed north.

I did make one more interesting stop, by the way.  At a marsh just south of Gardnerville, Nevada (that's up near Carson City), I went and saw the large flock of TRICOLORED BLACKBIRDS that had been discovered a few days before.

Finally, a note about flycatchers.  I found myself really confused this week by Peewees, Olive-Sideds, Dusky/Hammond types, and Willows.  There were many birds that were obviously Western Wood Peewees, some that were obvious Ash-throateds, and some that were obvious Empids.  But there were an awful lot of birds that were, well, not so obvious.  I guess I didn't realize how dependent I have been on calls and behavior.  Many a small dark flycatcher, sitting quietly (both in terms of sound and movement) really made me humble.  (I'm not talking about trying to differentiate Duskies and Hammonds, or anything like that.  I'm talking about trying to decide if that flycatcher is an Empid, a Peewee, or an Olive-Sided.)

Martin Meyers
Reno, NV