Birding the Americas Trip Report and Planning Repository
Return to the Main Index

Return to the North America Index
Return to the U.S.A. Index
Return to the Nevada Index

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 JUNE 1999

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 JUNE 1999. 

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 sunshine.

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 VERDIN.

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 JUNE 1999. 

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.

Species                          Count   Status

 1. Swainson's Hawk                2       Po
 2. Red-tailed Hawk                2       Po
 3. Peregrine Falcon               1       Pr
 4. Gambel's Quail                 8       Cf
 5. Common Poorwill                4       Po
 6. Black-chinned Hummingbird      1       Po
 7. Costa's Hummingbird            1       Po
 8. Broad-tailed Hummingbird       4       Pr
    hummingbird sp.                3       --
 9. Ladder-backed Woodpecker       3       Pr
10. Gray Flycatcher                1       Pr
11. Ash-throated Flycatcher       29       Cf
12. Western Kingbird               6       Pr
13. Western Scrub-Jay              6       Po
14. Loggerhead Shrike             18       Pr
15. Horned Lark                   16       Cf
16. Violet-green Swallow           2       Po
17. Gray Vireo                    15       Cf
18. Pinyon Jay                     1       Cf
19. Juniper Titmouse               2       Po
20. Verdin                         1       Po
21. Bushtit                       29       Cf
22. Cactus Wren                   21       Cf
23. Bewick's Wren                  6       Po
24. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher         23       Cf
25. Northern Mockingbird          13       Cf
26. Virginia's Warbler             1       Po
27. Black-throated Gray Warbler    9       Cf
28. Spotted Towhee                18       Pr
29. Black-chinned Sparrow         13       Pr
30. Black-throated Sparrow       104       Cf
31. Western Meadowlark            19       Cf
32. Scott's Oriole                17       Cf
33. Lesser Goldfinch               1       Cf

Possible Breeders   11
Probable Breeders    8
Confirmed Breeders  14

Total Species       33

     *     *     *     *     *