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,


Thursday, May 7, 2015

Birding at Mason Valley Wildlife Management Area, May 4

On May 4, the Nevada Bird Count crew got in some more practice point counts at Mason Valley Wildlife Management Area, north of Yerington.  There along the river (they didn’t go into the wetlands areas), they found 45 species.  A fun morning!

  1. American Avocet
  2. American Kestrel
  3. American Robin (carrying food)
  4. Ash-throated Flycatcher
  5. Bewick’sWren
  6. Black-headed Grosbeak
  7. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  8. Brown-headed Cowbird
  9. Bullock’s Oriole
  10. Bushtit
  11. California Quail
  12. Canada Goose
  13. Double-crested Cormorant
  14. Downy Woodpecker
  15. Eurasian Collared-Dove
  16. European Starling
  17. Gadwall
  18. Golden-crowned Sparrow
  19. Great Blue Heron
  20. Hairy Woodpecker
  21. House Wren
  22. Lark Sparrow
  23. Mallard
  24. Marsh Wren
  25. Mourning Dove
  26. Northern Flicker
  27. Northern Mockingbird
  28. Northern Rough-winged Swallow
  29. Pine Siskin
  30. Red-tailed Hawk
  31. Red-winged Blackbird
  32. Snowy Egret
  33. Song Sparrow
  34. Spotted Towhee
  35. Tree Swallow (nest-building)
  36. Turkey Vulture
  37. Violet-green Swallow
  38. Western Bluebird
  39. Western Kingbird
  40. Western Meadowlark
  41. Western Tanager
  42. White-faced Ibis
  43. Wood Duck
  44. Yellow Warbler
  45. Yellow-headed Blackbird
Happy birding!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015


A typical LCR trail through tamarisk
It’s the first month of my spring bird surveying job with the Great Basin Bird Observatory.  This first month is always slated for training and for scouting all 80 plots that are selected for surveys.  Our job in scouting is to make sure that directions are written so the surveyor knows how to reach the plot, that the plot is safe and accessible, and that the surveyor can get within 50 meters of every point in the plot.  Unless the plot is open, this means clearing, mapping and flagging (with biodegradable flagging) trails.  After finishing our plots in the Havasu area, we were on our first scouting day in Yuma, at a place called Martinez Lake.  I was on a team with two other crew members, Eric and Michael.  We were assigned two plots to complete and, as I always was this trail clearing season, I was the navigator.

Our first plot ended up being incredibly easy.  A road went right in to it and it consisted primarily of desert pavement.  All we had to do was look around to conclude it was as open as it looked on the overview map.  “Onward to hell” I joked as we forced ourselves to leave this pleasant area.  It’s true that Yuma is the home of all the most challenging plots I have known throughout my previous three years of working with GBBO, and our second plot was not expected to be particularly easy, but I was mainly referring to the expected mosquitoes when I made the joke.  I had no idea of the difficulties in my very near future.

We turned at the location suggested by Michael, who had had a plot in the same area the year before.  While doing so, we ran into another of our teams, who had a plot near ours and were looking for a way in to it.  “Your plot might be flooded,” they told us from the car window.  We had already come to that same conclusion, as before us stretched marsh and little lakes and nothing that looked dry.  The situation was not at all encouraging, but scout the plot we must.  Michael remembered how to get across a narrow channel of running water and follow a path (once a bulldozed type of road) through arrowweed until we reached the end near the river.  Our plot was still 100m or more from us.  To get to it, we had to slither and push through a channel filled with arundo.  It was like walking through a corn field, only more dense, and the water went mid-way up our shins.

In order to meet the 50 meter rule, we had to clear and flag 3 trails, 100m apart, for the surveyor.  The first trail had to be about 150 m long, the second about 100 m, and the 3rd 50-75 m.  I navigated us to the line of the first trail, the longest one.  Dense tamarisk.  I had helped clear trails through denser vegetation, yes, but I had never, ever, helped clear trails through water.  This was going to be interesting.

The mosquitoes were bad, as expected, so I had my mosquito net over my head, multiple bandanas wrapped around my neck and face, and was wearing my jacket over my long sleeved top and my thickest pair of field jeans.  I also wore a leather glove on my left hand for protection against mosquitoes and scratches.  I kept my right hand gloveless so that I could easily use the GPS and write the trails on the overview map.  Yes it was hot with all the layers, but it was better than getting bit, and I wasn’t expecting to get wet when I dressed that morning.

The trail started off pretty rough, requiring some climbing over tamarisk.  Then it got worse.  Not in the sense of the tamarisk getting denser.  Nope.  The water got deeper.  The murky, red tamarisk water that was only shin deep grew to mid-hip deep, then waist deep.  How happy I was to have taken anything and everything I didn’t need, including my camera and phone, out of my pack and left them in the jeep.  My radio, which we used for communication between nearby teams because cell phones aren’t always reliable, we put in the top of Eric’s backpack.  As it was, I spent the entire time worrying about the GPS and map, which I could not put away because the whole point of us being out there was to create trails and a map for the surveyor.  It was my job to keep us on line and write down our position every so often.  The map was on a clipboard attached to a string around my neck and the GPS attached to a string that was clipped to my waist.  My years of field work have taught me that the field eats gear, so everything I survey with is attached somehow to my body.  Nothing could drop and get lost for good in the murky depths, but things could still fall in the water and be destroyed.

Though I continued to snap little eye poker twigs, my job of helping with cleaning up the trails was sadly lacking compared to my normal standards.  We like to make the trails as safe as possible.  While the trails are still narrow little animal trails, we want them to be relatively free of anything that might easily poke, trip, or hit the surveyor in the head while he or she is focusing on birds.  This plot seemed bent on mocking our standards.  We couldn’t see what was at our feet, and couldn’t snap it or cut it with the ax.  Indeed, use of the ax only resulted in a most unsatisfactory spraying of tam water and the trail clearer’s sincere hope that no parasites lurked in the water that was now in his eyes or mouth.  Even if we moved a submerged trunk or branch, it might float back.  The progress was almost excruciatingly slow, as every step required a very careful evaluation of all things below water before it was taken.  We climbed up over one branch only to sink into a hole as we lowered ourselves back to the ground.  Then there were areas of “peanut butter mud,” where the ground was sticky, slippery mud with no firm bottom.

We were wondering at what point we could call the trail too flooded to survey and whether or not the plot should be dropped, especially since the water might get higher during the season.  We had spent several hours and only gone about 50-75 m when we reached an area of open water, like a small lake, that got even higher, and our line would go right through it.  We were already in tricky survey conditions, but any deeper would be pretty ridiculous to try and survey through.  It was all I could do to keep the GPS and map from the water as I climbed, stumbled and slipped over the hidden obstacle course, forget trying to look for and map birds.  Surely this was reason to drop the plot?

We headed back all the way down our trail to the arundo channel, but none of us felt right about giving up without checking out the other lines.  We couldn’t let a little water defeat us.  If it was possible to conquer this plot, we would.  So we went down to the farthest, and shortest, line, curious to know whether or not the water got deeper farther down.  No, only about knee to hip deep.  We waded carefully through the reddish water and managed to complete the trail.  Feeling somewhat more accomplished, we headed back up to the middle line.  While longer than the 75 m short trail we had just made and still as difficult to maneuver through as the other two lines, we managed to get that done as well.  There only remained the longest trail to finish, and we were sure the others would wonder why we hadn’t completed it by simply going around the deeper water.  We had to try.  So we went back to where we had stopped and cut up.  While still waist deep, we managed to avoid the worst and, as the overview map promised, the deep water continued to slant off our line and we were able to end near the point we wanted.  Oh joyous time!  We had finished!

It was after 4 pm when we got back to the campsite.  Thoroughly drenched with water, I indulged in a two quarter shower at the Martinez Lake campground to try and feel clean again.  Each quarter gives you several minutes of sometimes warm/hot water.  Then the three of us and two other crew members went to the little restaurant down the road, because the food we had brought just wasn’t going to cut it.  It had been a hard day for all.  Despite the occasional trials that come with it, though, I still love my job.  Not only do I get to face the hard times with some of the nicest people I’ve known, laughing and joking our troubles away, but I’ve accomplished far more than my younger self would have imagined I could.  Every day brings a new challenge, whether clearing trails through unforeseen obstacles or deciphering the drama of the bird world.  When I think back on this season, I will remember that flooded day with a smile.

- Jen Tobin