Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Treated Water Music

By Dave Henderson

Way back in 1717, King George of England got a yen to hear a musical concert while floating along on the royal barge down the River Thames. So he commissioned one of the eminent composers of the time – Georg Frideric Handel – to compose some tunes for him. Happily, Handel complied. And the orchestral work he composed for the king’s river voyage became known as Water Music.

And, yes, it’s STILL considered to be a bigger spectacle than the Beatles Live at Hollywood Bowl! Sorry, Ringo…

Segue to today. For several years now, I’ve had the good fortune to conduct monthly five-minute bird point count surveys along a languorous stretch of Las Vegas Wash in Clark County. OK, yes, as a GBBO staff member, I do get paid for this “work,” but that’s all subsumed under the catch-all “good fortune.”

For those unfamiliar with Las Vegas Wash, the site is a riparian wonderland, dotted with willow thickets, cottonwood groves, cattail and common reed patches, and many other plant species of riparian and upland provenance. And it’s all nourished by the most valuable commodity of the desert: a manifestly unending supply of water. So is there a catch? Sure. The water is actually tailwater effluence, released after being treated at the local Vegas water treatment facilities. To push home the point, the river that is Las Vegas Wash may not be exactly “swimmable” to humans, but to the plants and birds of this dry region, this artificial riparian corridor is a rare munificent gift.

As the seasons change, so do many of the bird species I observe. Not surprisingly, the large open-water parts of the Wash attract waterfowl and wading birds. Some are resident, particularly the wading birds such as Great Blue Heron and Black-crowned Night-Heron. Few, however, of the waterfowl are resident beyond the ubiquitous American Coot and Mallard. Most of the waterfowl are seasonal, and their season of choices, like Santa’s, is winter.

To a duck at Las Vegas Wash, winter actually begins in November. Throughout spring, summer, and early autumn, waterfowl sightings are somewhat meager beyond the coot and the mallard. This is the season of the Cinnamon Teal and the Ruddy Duck, though their numbers are never large along Las Vegas Wash. Gadwalls are also present during the warm months, but their numbers are small and I’m of the opinion some of these are becoming resident. The same can be said of the Canada Goose.

In November and December, a new suite (notice the clever Water Music allusion here) of waterfowl invades the Wash. Some are just passing through, or stay for a limited time in small numbers for the winter. Among these avian snowbirds are the Buffleheads, Common Goldeneyes, Lesser Scaups, Ring-necked Ducks, and Redheads. Although all these ducks overwinter here in the south, Las Vegas Wash does not provide the ideal habitat for such ducks that prefer deep water, which seems to be the reason I don’t record these species in large number at the Wash. Other deep-water ducks – such as Canvasback, Greater Scaup, and Barrow’s Goldeneye – are of extremely rare occurrence in the shallow waters here.

Late fall/early winter is also the time of the merganser: specifically the handsome Common Merganser and the well-coiffed Hooded Merganser (though both are infrequently recorded in small numbers). As a birder, there are few things that proffer more pleasure than watching a male Hooded Merganser unveil his eye-popping hood before an impressed (and equally well-coiffed) female. Yes, we birders take our pleasure in the small things.

All said and done, though, the November-to-March season at Las Vegas Wash might aptly be called The Days of the Dabblers. Northern Pintails and Green-winged Teals begin showing up in late fall, but never in large numbers (at least here). Rafts of Northern Shovelers appear too, but again, not in any large enough numbers to inform Grandma.

If you’re looking for “large numbers” of ducks, that distinction goes to what I call The Big Three: The Mallard, The Gadwall, and The American Wigeon. And yes I capped the definite article here because the numbers warrant it. In mid-winter at the shallow water stretches of Las Vegas Wash, these three species are counted in the hundreds, not the dozens. Put another way, a busload of tourists doesn’t have enough fingers and toes to count all the mallards, gadwalls, and American Wigeons at your typical open water site. This requires pocket calculators.

Although it makes my job harder, (estimating large numbers of swimming ducks is not easy), I do enjoy the overpowering presence of the waterfowl in mid-winter. But it’s not just a visual spectacle. The sounds emanating from the water are equally pleasing to the ear: the harsh quacks of the Mallards, the soft quacks of the Gadwalls, the whistled wiwhews of the Wigeons, the quehps, the mepps, the warrs…

Some would call it music. Water music. But not me.

I call it Treated Water Music.


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Birds of Nevada's new Basin and Range National Monument

Kirch Wildlife Management Area, just north of Basin & Range N.M.

Thinking about the recently-created Basin and Range National Monument, I pulled up a map to see what bird survey data we had from the area.  Somewhat as a surprise, given we have almost a thousand point count transects across Nevada, we don’t have any transects within the Monument itself.  However, we did have a few breeding bird atlas blocks there, so I thought I’d summarize what we found in them.  

For those who are thinking about exploring Nevada’s most recent National Monument, there are also some great places to look for birds just a bit north of the Monument, at Kirch Wildlife Management Area (shown on the map linked above), and a little bit south of the Monument, at Key Pittman WMA (Hiko) and Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge (Alamo).  

So, below are some of the birds you could find on the Basin and Range National Monument during the breeding season!  (Where we were able to confirm breeding, that has been noted.) 

Turkey Vulture
Northern Harrier
Red-tailed Hawk
Golden Eagle
Mourning Dove (confirmed)
Western Screech-Owl
Burrowing Owl
Short-eared Owl
Common Poorwill
White-throated Swift
Broad-tailed Hummingbird
Prairie Falcon (confirmed)
Olive-sided Flycatcher
Gray Flycatcher
Say’s Phoebe
Ash-throated Flycatcher
Loggerhead Shrike (confirmed)
Gray Vireo
Plumbeous Vireo
Warbling Vireo
Pinyon Jay
Common Raven (confirmed)
Horned Lark (confirmed)
Violet-green Swallow (confirmed)
Cliff Swallow
Barn Swallow
Rock Wren
Canyon Wren
Bewick’s Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (confirmed)
Crissal Thrasher
Sage Thrasher (confirmed)
Northern Mockingbird (confirmed)
Orange-crowned Warbler
MacGillivray’s Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Gray Warbler
Wilson’s Warbler
Spotted Towhee (confirmed)
Brewer’s Sparrow (confirmed)
Vesper Sparrow
Black-throated Sparrow (confirmed)
Sagebrush Sparrow (confirmed)
White-crowned Sparrow
Black-headed Grosbeak
Lazuli Bunting
Western Meadowlark (confirmed)
Brown-headed Cowbird
Bullock’s Oriole
Hooded Oriole
House Finch

Happy November!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Golden Eagle Research Update

GBBO’s Golden Eagle investigations are continuing this year with another successful monitoring season of nest sites in Nevada completed. We are partnering with the Nevada Department of Wildlife, who has tagged several Golden Eagles with satellite transmitters to study their habitat use and home ranges in the Great Basin and Mojave Desert, as well as with UNR graduate student Zachary Ormsby, who is interested in how Golden Eagles fare in the urban-rural transition. As part of our expanded research of Golden Eagles, we are installing nest cams to determine what prey items the parents bring to their nests to feed their young. And in an exciting cross-over with another GBBO project, we have also started to use our Nevada Bird Count crews to collect monitoring data on black-tailed jackrabbits, which is one of the most important prey items of Golden Eagles. During prolonged droughts such as the current one, it is particularly important to know what prey items are used by eagles in order to optimize land management toward these prey species, which ultimately ensures survivorship in the long-lived Golden Eagle.


Monday, September 21, 2015

The Lower Colorado River Project, 2015

On a cool March morning in Lake Havasu City, a trickle of biologists in khaki pants and button-up shirts began very slowly to converge on a hill at the north end of the practice plot for the Lower Colorado River Riparian Bird surveys. The team of 14 had spent the morning in pairs, brushing up on their bird territory mapping, discussing flight calls of Lucy’s Warblers and White-crowned Sparrows, and sharing tips and tricks picked up in past years. Nearly all of the team consisted of returning crew members, and even the “newbies” had worked in the area before. At the little hill at the north end of the plot, an Arizona Bell’s Vireo was singing its burry, rambling song. Pencils scratched on plot maps, and clipboards were exchanged as the surveyors compared their distance estimates for this focal species.

Wrapping up the practice survey on the hill. Photo by Dawn Fletcher

Once everyone felt good with their practice survey, the group hiked down to the big set of hills by the lake, where wildflowers were abundant with the spring rain, and Ajo lilies were sprouting up like grass. The khaki army lined up at the top of the hill for a group photo, quickly adopting our goofiest poses; this field season was feeling like a reunion that would run for three months, through mosquitos and tamarisk swamps, cottonwood-willow riparian forests, sunrises, snakes, singing coyotes, and of course, birds!

The khaki army.  Photo by Amy Leist
Since we had such an experienced team this year, we were able to cut down somewhat on training and focus more on trail clearing, which would be beneficial since we had some tough plots to cover! Our 80 systemwide plots are selected randomly every year, stretching from Hoover Dam to the international border with Mexico. Our early season trail clearing and scouting efforts ensure that the surveyor will have access to survey each plot. For some areas, this just means driving out on farm roads and writing up directions. Other times, we’ve been known to spend two days on a plot with the entire crew clearing!

Comparing notes after a practice survey on the Bill Williams River.  Photo by Dawn Fletcher
Our days in Lake Havasu City seemed to fly by, except for a select few thick tamarisk plots on Havasu National Wildlife Refuge, and some memorable days clearing and hiking on the Bill Williams River, where we spent most of our clearing effort. We even checked out an area of the latter where GBBO hadn’t ventured in years, a beautiful riparian strip at the end of Johnson Ranch Road. Soon, though, we were headed to Imperial National Wildlife Refuge north of Yuma, where we had more plots than usual, and they tend to be nasty ones. The first day lived up to expectations, with some members of the team wondering if they’d be eaten first by the swamp or by the clouds of mosquitos! With the latter disturbing the peace even at our usually pleasant campsite, there was some will among the crew to push hard and finish up the Yuma plots in two days. To their credit, these rubber-booted pioneers managed to work hard through two days and finished all the plots well ahead of schedule! This left us plenty of time to relax next to the river at our Blythe field house and knock off the last few plots in Blythe, mostly blissfully simple ag fields (but with one very difficult plot reminding us that it couldn’t be that easy!).

Scouting at Imperial NWR. Photo by Dawn Fletcher

Tamarisk forest at Imperial NWR.  Photo by Lauren Harter

Finishing up a day at Imperial with scouting two kayak plots on the Colorado River and Martinez Lake.  Photo by Dawn Fletcher
The Bill Williams River at the end of Johnson Ranch Road. A beautiful day to be scouting plots! Photo by Lauren Harter

With training and trail clearing finished comes the time to divide up into our three field houses, in Havasu, Blythe, and Yuma. This is always a bittersweet time, knowing that we won’t be all together again until the end of season party. At the same time, everyone was eager to start finding birds, and more than a few were ready for their own rooms and beds!
In addition to the usual bird-filled Bill Williams surveys and scattered tamarisk-and-arrowweed surveys elsewhere, the Havasu crew surveyed an area south of Needles that is soon to be restored into a backwater for native fishes by the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR). It’s not much now, mostly sand dunes with pockets of, well, tamarisk and arrowweed, but it will be exciting to see the place transformed into a vibrant marsh lined with native trees.

Lesser Nighthawk chick. Photo by Lauren Harter
The Blythe crew spends most of their time in the cottonwood-willow-mesquite forests that have already been planted by the BOR in that area. While many of those surveys are quieter than native habitats, one benefit of surveying in Blythe is getting to watch the birds go about their breeding season. The Blythe crew diligently studied calls, behaviors, and nests of their breeding birds whenever they could, for their own learning and to share their knowledge with the rest of the team. Many times the other crews will turn to the “Blythers” when they have a question, like this strange squeaking call made by a female Blue Grosbeak, actually a call soliciting copulation! Video by Jarrod Swackhamer.

As for the two-person Yuma crew, they surveyed a wide variety of plots, from created habitat at Yuma East Wetlands, to desert washes and quiet agricultural fields, to those impossible flooded tamarisk forests at Imperial NWR (which were also full of birds!). That area also had a good number of kayak plots this season. Kayak plots are often difficult but very rewarding, a morning’s adventure out on the water with the air full of the chatter of Marsh Wrens and the clacks and hoots of Least Bitterns. One morning in the marsh, Andrew was watching a few migrant Wilson’s Warblers foraging on a floating weed mat. Suddenly a huge carp burst out of the water, and a warbler at the edge of the mat disappeared, swallowed by the big fish!

Wilson's Warbler.  Photo by David Vander Pluym
A Great Horned Owl seen on a kayak survey. Photo by Lauren Harter

A Yuma-area plot at Picacho State Recreation Area.  Photo by Lauren Harter
Once surveys get started, everything turns into a blur of birds, maps, colored pencils, and computer screens. Long days of data cause more fatigue than 2:30 a.m. alarm clocks, and occasionally the well-oiled machine gets caught up on a flat tire, a forgotten gate key, or a stick in the road managing to break the truck. But when the sun is rising at 5:45, the cool breeze is playing in the cottonwood leaves, and you’re all alone with the trees, the water, the desert, and your birds, nothing else seems to matter. We’d like to express our appreciation and admiration to our surveyors who have faced these challenges year after year and keep coming back, because where would the LCR Project be without its amazing crew members?

- Lauren

The Crew.  Photo by Amy Leist.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Nevada Bird Count 2015, The Wrap-Up, Part 3

I wrote up some of the crews’ highlights in Part 1 and Part 2 – here’s the final installment!

Ned wrote:

I had an amazing time this summer doing the NBC.  My first impression was great; it was awesome to have a solid crew of smart, friendly birders.  All season long I felt that there was great comradery and we all had a great time sharing adventure stories.  It still feels like just a few days ago when we first pulled up to the Mormon Mesa and Moapa.  That place was unlike anything I had seen before and really struck me. All season long I was seeing new places and being blown away by the variety of landscapes Nevada has to offer.  Time flew by and I was a little sad when it was over.  My favorite moments were definitely during our group camp in the Toiyabe.  There was just something intangible and incredibly special about that place. Having everyone together for a campfire really brought everything in.  Then in the morning when we all set off on our birding missions, I felt like we were a birding army, taking the Toiyabe by force, each with our own personal mission.  

Jeff wrote:

Anaho Island National Wildlife Refuge on Pyramid Lake stands out as one of my favorite places visited on the Nevada Bird Count this season.   Approaching the lake provides a view of the conspicuous, pointed cone or pyramid shaped tufa mound, for which the lake is named.  Anaho Island and much of the surrounding landscape is composed of these tufa formations, a type of limestone that was created underwater over thousands of years.  Due to permit regulations, few people are allowed to set foot on the island in an attempt to protect colonies of breeding birds that call this place home.  Without a fear of humans or predators, many of the birds are extremely inquisitive hopping within a few feet for a closer look at the intruders.  Access is possible only by boat and conducting surveys while hiking across the island yielded a variety of grebes, terns, herons, wrens, and one of the two largest America white pelicans colonies in the west.  Large numbers of spiders litter the rocks and due to the remote habitat and lack of predators a high concentration of rattlesnakes slither about.  Exploring Anaho Island and observing its inhabitants was only one of many unique and memorable experiences this summer.

And Bobby’s highlight was one of mine as well – but his take is much more fun!

Four Birds in a Hollow House

When camping in the Toiyabes
I came across a single tree.
All bark of white and spindled stem
An aspen quaking in the wind.

Upon first glance 
It did withhold
A secret which would soon unfold.

Creeping closer, what caught my eye
A cavity not six feet high. 
And from within the tireless bleet
Of nestlings with a need to eat.

Then from behind as I did gape, 
A sapsucker with bright red nape,
Alit upon the holed trunk,
And filled their gullets up with gunk.

Looking down and to the right
My eyes met with a troglodyte,
A brown and striped little wren
Conveying bugs into its den.

Two birds, one tree
How could it be?!
Surely there cannot be three!

But as I swiveled round the side,
Into a cleft a bird did glide!
What graceful flyer had I seen?
A swallow cast in violet green!

I stood in wonder marveling
At all the birds within the rings,
That this one tree of frosty white
Could be the home to so much life.

And as my mind began to drift,
I noticed yet another rift,
A largish hole at height of chest, 
Yet seemingly an empty nest.

Ah! But of course a head did rise 
To my now dwindling surprise,
All grayish brown and pink gaped frown
A baby Flicker stared me down.

All this action certainly 
Had roused its curiosity. 
Its showing made a full account 
Of four birds in a hollow house. 

So if you're tromping through the trees 
By foot, by bike or even skis,  
Be mindful of each darkened niche  
And what its tenant has to teach.

Thanks again to all of my crew this year – I so appreciate all your hard work and great attitudes!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Nevada Bird Count 2015, the Wrap-Up, Part 2


Continuing with crew highlights from their season, Dan wrote:

While Ned and I were in Tahoe our first weekend, I hiked around an area of upper Truckee river road near south lake Tahoe. It was chilly, early in the morning, so decided to scope out some trees and see what birds were around.  While walking through a small patch of aspen trees, I spotted a tiny lump on a branch. Upon closer inspection I found it to be a northern pygmy owl tearing the head off a lizard almost twice the length of itself! I was able to watch it for almost a good hour while it sat and stared at me, gnawing occasionally on the dismembered lizard.   To top it off, it also was a life bird for me, so it was really neat to have seen it up close.

Looking back on it, I suppose I should have woken Ned up to see it, but he just looked too comfy sleeping in his hammock. Oh well. You snooze, you lose!

Alan shared:

For me one of the distinctive feature of this field season was being in an area with so many of the "classic" breeding birds of North America. In Florida we don't have many of the most iconic North American species staying to breed. Some of these species include Song Sparrows, Yellow Warblers, Chipping Sparrows and American Robins. Most of my other field jobs have also been fairly far south and have lacked these species as breeders or only had them in small numbers. I enjoyed finally being able to see so many of these "normal" birds on their breeding grounds. 

Mark finished:

One thing that has always been on my birding bucket list was to find an active Northern Goshawk nest. While most raptors don’t like it when people wander too close to their nest, goshawks are known to be particularly aggressive, causing the interloper to duck to avoid getting a pair of talons to the scalp. Whether a wise wish or not, I got to check off this experience in the Toiyabes at the end of the field season.     
I was finishing my loop of scouting an atlas square for the next morning’s survey, making my way down the hillside towards the woods, when I heard the unmistakable, loud, “keek keek keek” of a goshawk. Scanning around I then saw the bird, an adult, flying out of the trees and coming straight for me! It passed over fairly high and landed in the trees behind me, still screaming. I had only seen adult goshawks a few times before and was really excited to get such a great view! But even better, with this one so agitated I knew immediately what it meant and started exploring the woods for their nest. During my search the bird, a male, continued to make passes at me. Most of which were high enough to avoid too much worry (but still enough to keep me on my toes), but one was too close for comfort and I ducked to avoid him. I eventually found a nest with the larger female perched nearby, but could not see anything in the nest. Since it was late in the season it seemed likely the young had fledged, but I was surprised that the adults were still defending the area.

Upon returning to camp I discovered that other members of the crew had seen a young goshawk near 2 empty nests on either side of a trail nearby. So the goshawks had been successful, and must have been defending the area where their young were hanging out. 

The next morning I headed back to the square for my survey, and followed the trail carefully towards the nests. Once I got close, the male immediately started calling again and made a few passes over me. Like the day before, the female was sitting near one of the nests, and as I got close she flew towards me as well. It was the only time she did, but she made it a good one, and I had to drop to my knees to avoid her. The male then escorted me on my way, screaming the whole time, until he felt I was more than far enough from their territory. The rest of the morning was very productive, and I found many other confirmed breeders as I wandered back and forth across the square. But any time those wanderings brought me within about 150m of the nest site, it wasn’t long before I would hear the screams of the male as he came to let me know my presence was unwanted.

It was a real privilege to such a close encounter with these incredible predators, and definitely one of the highlights of my season with the NBC.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Nevada Bird Count 2015, the Wrap-Up, Part 1

Last month, the crew finished their final day, turned in their equipment, and headed off for new adventures.   A fantastic group of hard-working bird-crazy folks – thanks guys!  The season went well, with bird surveys scattered across the southern and western portions of the state, primarily Warm Springs Natural Area, Las Vegas Wash, Ash Meadows Natural Wildlife Refuge, the Pine Nut Range, Anaho Island, Walker River, and Truckee River – with a few forays into the Stillwater Range and the Winnemucca and Vya areas, as well.  Most of our transects were old friends, but we added several new ones on Walker Basin Conservancy’s Pitchfork and Rafter7 ranches and at Ash Meadows NWR, along with the transects in the Stillwaters and near Winnemucca and Vya.

Some of the crew sent me some of the highlights of their season, which I’ll share over the next week or so.  While it's a tough call, my highlight was probably at the beginning of the season, continuing the surveys at Warm Springs Natural Area, following the breeding territories there, and documenting the progression of changes within the vegetation and bird communities there post-fire.  I continue to boggle at how rapidly vegetation grows within riparian areas in the Mojave Desert!  For the first time, I was able to witness a Vermilion Flycatcher male engaged in a nest-site display, where he wedged himself into the fork of a branch, and fluttered, until his mate flew over to join him.  He displayed in the exact location that he had nested last year - though this time around, the pair chose to build the nest elsewhere.  

It was also extremely interesting to compare the vegetation/bird phenology this year with past years – presumably because of our warm and dry winter and spring, many species appeared to be about 2 weeks ahead of my perception of “their regular schedule.”  I’m looking forward to diving into more of our data to determine whether that perception holds up!

But on to our crew!  Kaitlin joined the NBC for the latter part of our season, after finishing up work on our Lower Colorado River project.  She shared:

Most everyone who regularly spends the evening outdoors in the west could recognize the sweet springtime song of the Common Poorwill announcing the arrival of night. Common though they may be, a sighting of these mysterious night ghosts is rare, exciting, and generally relegated to late night drives on lonely gravel roads, catching the pumpkin reflection of headlights in their eyes before a flash of whirring wings disappears out of the beam. Photographs and illustrations seem to always depict them in the same pose - crouched on the ground, staring with eyes so big and vacant it's as if they see more from the spirit world than our own. Description of behavior in field guides suggests little: "Active at night, fly-catches from the ground". Based on these limited sources, poorwills existed in my mind's eye as intricately painted, stoic semi-statues possessing huge mouths that might be used to lazily vacuum insects from the air like a whale shark filters plankton from warm seas. My first intimate encounter with a poorwill, which occurred as a field technician for GBBO's Nevada Bird Count project, blew that vision away like air rushing from a popped balloon.
Common Poorwill: The Action Shot (Bobby Wilcox)
While enjoying a camp-side nightcap as the sun seeped out of sagebrush slopes and slipped from branches of a small aspen stand, my partner and I suddenly became aware of a presence in a small footpath straddling these two habitats. There, hunched in perfect dusky camo, was a Common Poorwill. But he was not poised, waiting patiently for his breakfast. He was startlingly animated, eyes shining bright with vitality, head darting up, down, back and forth with frenetic attention on prey completely invisible to us, scurrying a few inches to the left, hopping a few inches to the right. Then he leaped into the air faster than I could follow with my binoculars, or even my eyes in the diminishing light, presumably snapping his enormous mouth over his quarry then returning to earth - all before I could blink. The second I could regain focus on him, he sallied up again, and again, and again, each time practically disappearing into another dimension before materializing again at his perch. Even more amazingly, this rapid action sequence was conducted in utter silence. Poorwill wing beats, like owls, don't seem to ruffle a single atom of the air - in stark contrast to the whistling skip of uplifting doves or the lisping trill of round little sparrow wings. Which means, any time you're hanging outside after dusk, enjoying an evening brew on the porch or waiting for the stars to blink into view, there could be a poorwill excitedly gulping down armies of your insect enemies mere meters away without even rippling the fringes of your awareness! Unless, of course, he opens his gaping mouth to sing out his name, softly and sweetly, behind the black curtain of night.

That’s it for this installment!  Happy birding,

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Birding Arc Dome & the Toiyabes

Last tour, the Nevada Bird Count crew finished up the birding portion of the season with a few days in the Toiyabe Range, camping at Columbine Campground.  So beautiful!  A little stormy, though – lightning storms chased downhill our highest-elevation surveyors on both afternoons.  We explored the gamut from mid-elevation sagebrush and pinyon-juniper, mountain mahogany, up through aspen riparian areas to high-elevation pines, sagebrush and meadows. 

It was several days of highlights: getting attacked by protective Goshawk parents, getting attacked by protective Cooper’s Hawk parents, fledglings everywhere, mule deer creeping up to be startled at our presence, spectacular views, and cooking over campfires.  One of my personal highlights was right there in camp: one aspen snag with four active cavities, supporting House Wren, Red-naped Sapsucker, and Northern Flicker nestlings, as well as Violet-green Swallows.  The Violet-green Swallows appeared to be nest-building – Kaitlin watched one of them “manhandling” a feather into the nest cavity.

We found 64 species, and confirmed breeding for 31 of them.  To me, the biggest surprises were the presence of the Night-Heron and the absence of Mourning Doves!  Here’s our species list, with confirmed breeding noted where applicable.

Greater Sage-Grouse
Dusky Grouse
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Northern Harrier
Cooper’s Hawk (confirmed)
Northern Goshawk (confirmed)
Red-tailed Hawk (confirmed)
Golden Eagle
American Kestrel
Prairie Falcon
Long-eared Owl
Common Nighthawk
Common Poorwill
Broad-tailed Hummingbird
Rufous Hummingbird
Red-naped Sapsucker (confirmed)
Hairy Woodpecker (confirmed)
Northern Flicker (confirmed)
Western Wood-Pewee (confirmed)
Hammond’s Flycatcher
Gray Flycatcher
Dusky Flycatcher
Plumbeous Vireo
Warbling Vireo (confirmed)
Western Scrub-Jay
Pinyon Jay
Clark’s Nutcracker (confirmed)
Common Raven
Horned Lark (confirmed)
Violet-green Swallow (confirmed)
Mountain Chickadee (confirmed)
Red-breasted Nuthatch (confirmed)
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper (confirmed)
Rock Wren (confirmed)
House Wren (confirmed)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Mountain Bluebird (confirmed)
Hermit Thrush (confirmed)
American Robin (confirmed)
Sage Thrasher
Orange-crowned Warbler
Virginia’s Warbler
MacGillivray’s Warbler (confirmed)
Yellow Warbler (confirmed)
Yellow-rumped Warbler (confirmed)
Black-throated Gray Warbler
Green-tailed Towhee (confirmed)
Spotted Towhee
Chipping Sparrow (confirmed)
Brewer’s Sparrow (confirmed)
Vesper Sparrow (confirmed)
Fox Sparrow (confirmed)
Song Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow (confirmed)
Dark-eyed Junco (confirmed)
Western Tanager
Lazuli Bunting
Brown-headed Cowbird
Cassin’s Finch (confirmed)
House Finch
Pine Siskin

Happy birding!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Birds at Rosaschi, East Walker River

Hey all, it was a beautiful morning yesterday at Rosaschi Ranch, East Walker River (Lyon County), and we had some great birds – first and foremost, several Black-chinned Sparrows singing from the sagebrush uplands!  Hat tip to my crew, Mark and Alan, telling me on my arrival the night before:  BLACK-CHINNED SPARROWS!  I’ve never had them this far north before, so I was pretty excited.  Birds I noted included:

American Crow
American Robin
Belted Kingfisher
Bewick’s Wren
Black-billed Magpie
Black-chinned Sparrow
Black-headed Grosbeak
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Brewer’s Blackbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
Bullock’s Oriole
California Quail
Cliff Swallow
Dusky Flycatcher
Gray Flycatcher
Green-tailed Towhee
House Wren
Mountain Bluebird
Mourning Dove
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Orange-crowned Warbler
Red-tailed Hawk
Red-winged Blackbird
Song Sparrow
Spotted Towhee
Turkey Vulture
Vesper Sparrow
Warbling Vireo
Western Kingbird
Western Meadowlark
Western Wood-Pewee
Wilson’s Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Yellow-breasted Chat
Yellow-rumped Warbler

I also flew past the Elbow, just downriver, and found

American Robin
Bewick’s Wren
Black-headed Grosbeak
Bullock’s Oriole
Red-winged Blackbird
Song Sparrow
Spotted Sandpiper
Spotted Towhee
Violet-green Swallow
Western Wood-Pewee
Wilson’s Warbler
Yellow Warbler

That great morning was followed up by an afternoon impressively similar to underneath a waterfall – not to mention scattered hail.  A fun May day in Nevada!

Happy birding,

Monday, May 18, 2015

International Migratory Bird Day, May 9

International Migratory Bird Day (in the northern hemisphere) is typically the second Saturday in May.  This year, the Nevada Bird Count crew was surveying at Warm Springs Natural Area, Moapa, Nevada.  Here’s an incomplete list of the birds we recorded today:

  1. Abert’s Towhee
  2. American Kestrel
  3. Bell’s Vireo
  4. Bewick’s Wren (including nestlings)
  5. Black Phoebe
  6. Black-headed Grosbeak
  7. Black-tailed Gnatcatcher
  8. Blue Grosbeak
  9. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  10. Brewer’s Sparrow
  11. Brown-crested Flycatcher
  12. Brown-headed Cowbird
  13. Bullock’s Oriole
  14. Common Raven
  15. Common Yellowthroat
  16. Crissal Thrasher
  17. Eurasian Collared-Dove
  18. Gambel’s Quail
  19. Gray Flycatcher
  20. Great-tailed Grackle
  21. Greater Roadrunner
  22. Green-tailed Towhee
  23. Hammond’s Flycatcher
  24. House Finch (including fledglings)
  25. Ladder-backed Woodpecker (including fledglings)
  26. Lazuli Bunting
  27. Lesser Goldfinch
  28. Lucy’s Warbler (including fledglings)
  29. MacGillivray’s Warbler
  30. Mourning Dove
  31. Northern Mockingbird
  32. Northern Rough-winged Swallow
  33. Orange-crowned Warbler
  34. Pacific-slope Flycatcher
  35. Phainopepla (including nestlings)
  36. Red-tailed Hawk
  37. Red-winged Blackbird
  38. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  39. Song Sparrow
  40. Summer Tanager
  41. Turkey Vulture
  42. Townsend’s Warbler
  43. Verdin (including fledglings)
  44. Vermilion Flycatcher
  45. Violet-green Swallow
  46. Warbling Vireo
  47. Western Kingbird
  48. Western Wood-Pewee
  49. White-crowned Sparrow (all of the ones that I saw were dark-lored).
  50. Wilson’s Warbler
  51. Yellow Warbler
  52. Yellow-breasted Chat
  53. Yellow-headed Blackbird
  54. Yellow-rumped Warbler

A great day!  Happy birding,