A few weekends ago, ten of us from GBBO, plus some friends, ventured out to Great Basin National Park for the 2016 BioBlitz where we engaged in a weekend of interesting talks, great people, and some fantastic birding. Most of us, even a few that have lived or worked in Nevada for years, have never actually visited the park, which is crazy because it is absolutely stunning! Mountains that spring out of the valley floor, low light pollution accentuating the starry sky, and the ability to escape into incredible, breathtaking landscapes and solitude. Even during a busy BioBlitz weekend, there were times I couldn’t hear the sound of another human being. I was told there are areas in the southern portion of the park where you can go and not see another person for days, even in the peak visiting season. The busiest area was probably Lehman Caves, and for good reason! It felt as though we were walking through King Triton’s castle (pardon the Little Mermaid reference) or some other subaquatic world. The tour guides were entertaining and kept the hour and a half tour interactive the entire time. The only negative was not getting a chance to see the endemic cave pseudoscorpion (Microcreagris grandis) rumored to be seen that day. The park hosts a BioBlitz every year, and previously had focused on invertebrates. This year, they decided to join other National Parks in a national birding BioBlitz to celebrate the centennial of the National Park Service. The park service chose this particular weekend, May 20-22, because it coincided with the week of International Migratory Bird Day, National Citizen Scientist Day, Endangered Species Day, and the International Day for Biological Diversity. Busy week! This is just one of many things the National Park Service is doing to celebrate their 100 year birthday. If you want to find out more about it, you can check out their website: https://www.nps.gov/subjects/centennial/index.htm
Great Basin National Park happens to be a great place to have a birding BioBlitz with such a variety of habitats, ranging from the valley’s salt deserts, to dense sagebrush, bustling riparian zones, pinyon-juniper, coniferous forest, up to the alpine zone on Wheeler Peak! The park also lays claim to some of the oldest living trees in its three bristlecone pine groves. Elisabeth gave an informative talk the first night on the different birds that might be seen in the different habitats, and ways to identify them. Hers was the one of over a dozen engaging talks given over the weekend directed at birders of all skill levels, including live demonstrations of birds and reptiles. Participants had the opportunity to hone their bird whistling skills, learn the basics of identification, and practice avian illustration.
Of course the main activity of the weekend, at least for GBBO folks, was birding. The first night at camp we tracked down the singing Spotted and Green-tailed Towhees, and stood in awe at a Cassin’s Finch’s impressive mimicry. Also at camp were Black-headed Grosbeaks, MacGillivray’s Warblers, Warbling Vireos, American Dippers, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Western Tanagers, Chipping Sparrows, White-breasted and Red-breasted Nuthatches, and a rafter of Wild Turkeys with poults. We listened for owls and Common Nighthawks, but the wind and rain made that difficult. There were scheduled birding tours in the mornings, and a few of us from GBBO led some of the groups. It was a great opportunity to explore the park and engage with other birders. The tours we led were beautiful; winding through aspen and coniferous forest with elements of sagebrush and pinyon-juniper communities. The first morning we had a layer of fresh snow that complemented the bright white trunks of aspen and accentuated their fresh green leaves. Mark Dorriesfield mentioned the snow was probably the highlight of his first tour, even with singing Virginia’s Warblers.
Tour leaders recorded all the birds seen and heard on their routes by all participants in an attempt to record as many of the species that occur in the park as possible. Some tours were more education-based, teaching the basics of bird identification and pointing out the different songs and calls of common species, while others were focused on data collection using point counts. Throughout the course of the weekend 1843 birds were recorded of 73 different species. The most common species included Mountain Chickadees, Cassin’s Finches, Pine Siskins, American Robins, and Clark’s Nutcrackers. These were seen or heard on nearly all the scheduled tours. There were a few species that really needed to be sought out, including Black-capped Chickadees, Northern Goshawk, Gray Flycatcher, Common Poorwill, and American Dippers. A full species list is included at the bottom, including order of abundance.
One of the greatest things about the BioBlitz was the variety of people that came out to participate. There were professional birders, beginning birders, birding photographers, and folks that knew nothing about birds, but were interesting in learning and interacting with their natural environment. It was impressive the number of young kids in attendance that had fantastic identification skills for their age and were excited to share that knowledge. I think everyone in attendance probably learned something new over the weekend, and got to enjoy the beauty of Great Basin National Park in the process. Thanks to Gretchen Baker and all the staff and volunteers at the park that put the event together. Here are some of the things GBBO folks enjoyed most about the weekend:
As mentioned, Mark said his highlights would include “seeing the Snake Creek Valley covered in freshly fallen snow on Saturday morning, getting amazing looks at a gorgeous adult dark morph Ferruginous Hawk on the drive in to Snake Creek Sunday morning, and seeing a young goshawk pursuing a Dusky Grouse along a ridgeline later that morning”.
Noah must have been on the same tour- “I loved the hikes with expert birders as well as meeting local people interested in birds and conservation. The variety of attendees made it a fun and educational experience. My favorite birds were the Goshawk and dark morph Ferruginous Hawk I was fortunate to see. A great weekend in an amazing landscape.”
And Grace added “I was so impressed by all the bird enthusiasm and knowledge of everyone there. That's the most bird talk I've ever experienced in one weekend!”
You can find pictures of the event on the national park website and on our facebook. Below is the list of birds we recorded, along with their abundance rank.
American Three-toed Woodpecker
Black-throated Gray Warbler