Trip Report:
Vegas Vireos - 2010 Edition

Carl Perretta


Vegas Vireos - 2010 Edition

Carl Perretta

Six BCDC members -- myself, Carl Perretta - along with Betty Swan, Emma Chou, Peter Wade, Kris DeBolt and Ed Laufenberg traveled to Las Vegas for four full days of birding from May 13 to May 16. Due to the challenging economic times, Las Vegas's hotels are desperate to bring in tourists, and hence are making very attractive deals. Each of our rooms at the South Point Hotel and Casino cost exactly $252 complete for five nights in what anyone would agree is a very comfortable, spacious, and well-maintained room. Share the room, and your total hotel cost is $126 for five nights! If you'd like to consider going along next year, ask one of this year's participants about the accommodations. I think you'll be impressed.

I decided to drop a few places from the usual itinerary for this trip and add some new ones. Gone would be Zion National Park -- admittedly a gorgeous place, but in our experience, not very birdy. We added Overton WMA (Blue Grosbeak) and Bowman reservoir (Eared Grebe, Cinnamon Teal) in Nevada, made our loop through Bunkerville NV, as usual, then promptly got lost trying to find the spots in Utah that I wanted to add to the trip. But Overton produced an extreme rarity for Nevada -- an immature Harris's Hawk, which we photographed. It has since been accepted as the second record of this bird's occurrence in the state. The spots I wanted to add were Joshua Tree Natural Area, Beaver Dam Slope, and Lytle Ranch Preserve. We did have a wonderful adventure driving over a mountain pass on a dirt road of about twenty miles. This jaunt produced Peregrine Falcon and Pinyon Jay, among others, so all was not wasted. In the end, the maps and directions I was using were so poor, that we never did find our target areas, but had a good time anyway. Bunkerville itself was good for Vermillion Flycatcher, Say's Phoebe, Eurasian Collared Dove, Lesser Goldfinch and Ladder-backed Woodpecker). By far the most interesting and significant birds of the day came just before we stopped for dinner, however. At a stop near Moapa, NV, on the way home, we scanned the meadow of an old dairy farm. We observed a large brown shorebird flying into the grassy field, and I said, "That's a pretty big shorebird," to which Emma replied, "Upland Sandpiper?" As we got the scope on it, we saw that it was indeed, an "Uppie." After losing sight of it in the tall grass after about ten minutes, we all saw another large, brown, unmarked sandpiper fly into the same area from our left. We felt that this was probably a second bird, as it would have been difficult for the first one to sneak around to our left without being observed. Again, the clear views in the scope proved it to be an Upland Sandpiper. At the suggestion of Carolyn Titus, one of our helpful Vegas contacts, I submitted a sightings report to the Great Basin Bird Observatory. Martin Meyers, the secretary of the records committee, informed me that, if accepted, it will be the fourth record of this species in Nevada. The same field also produced great views of Western Meadowlark, but the most impressive sighting was of a hunting White-tailed Kite, hovering and passing directly over our heads. The bird put on a spectacular show. While leaving the restaurant after dinner, we had a fly-by of Lesser Nighthawks.

The next day was reserved for a must-see on these trips, Corn Creek Station at the Desert National Wildlife Refuge. This oasis in the desert probably produces most of the area's rarities, and is usually well-birded. We picked up Crissal Thrasher, Yellow-breasted Chat, Lucy's Warbler, Western Tanager, Phainopepla, Ash-throated Flycatcher, loads of Lazuli Buntings, and Horned Lark, among others. However, we missed LeConte's Thrasher -- one of the real target birds for this area, and always iffy. Traveling up Mt. Charleston from Corn Creek, we added Mountain Bluebird to the trip list. Up on the mountain, things got busy. Our usual productive spot for Grace's Warbler had been severely disrupted by brush clearing, and no warbler appeared, but we did see Green-tailed Towhee. Farther up the mountain, we hit a hot spot and added Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Pine Siskin, Red Crossbill, Pygmy Nuthatch, Cassin's Finch and Black-headed Grosbeak.

At other spots on the mountain, Dark-eyed Junco, Virginia's Warbler, and Western Wood-pewee joined the trip list. Then we went down the mountain to pick up a well-documented Burrowing Owl near Floyd Lamb State Park. The park itself held lots of Bullock's Orioles in the trees, and Kris spotted a Rose-breasted Grosbeak. The ponds held Clark's Grebe, Great Egret, and an extremely accommodating Black-crowned Night-Heron. Off to dinner after a busy day.

Saturday is Arizona day, and again, I wanted to mix it up a little from previous years. We went to Hualapai Mountain Park, as we usually do, and on the way, saw Curve-billed Thrasher, Cactus Wren, and Loggerhead Shrike. In the park itself, we got White-breasted Nuthatch, Acorn Woodpecker, Plumbeous Vireo, Black-chinned Sparrow, Painted Redstart, and one of our targets, Zone-tailed Hawk. A Virginia's Warbler practically insisted on eating lunch at our table! We also got just a quick look at a Hooded Oriole. We traveled back toward Nevada via a historic remnant of old Route 66, (adding a Greater Roadrunner) and passed through the town of Oatman, basically a collection of T-shirt shops, and notable for being the town where Clark Gable and Carole Lombard spent the first night of their marriage. The new addition to this leg of the trip was a stop at the Wee Thump Wilderness Area, near Searchlight, NV. This is the only place in Nevada known to have Bendire's Thrasher. We played a tape, and got a thrasher to come in. We had less luck, though, with the other bird known to be in the area -- Gilded Flicker.

On Sunday, our last full day of birding, we went to Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve, one of the most productive sites in the area. There we me docent JeAnne Branca, and Kyle Burt, a sixth-grader whom we met three years ago at this location, and who is an enthusiastic and capable birder. Indeed, Kyle picked out a skulking immature Least Bittern on a bed of reeds that were the same color as the bird, and we still don't know how he did it. He also got us a Bewick's Wren and picked out a female American Wigeon at a distance. Look for Kyle to come to our area some day and win the World Series of Birding. At Henderson, loads of birds were added to the record -- American Avocet, Black-necked Stilt, White-faced Ibis, Redhead, Franklin's Gull, Marsh Wren, and many other ducks. Continuing to the new Wetlands Park of the city of Henderson, we saw Forster's Tern, Western Grebe and Double-crested Cormorant. Crossing Las Vegas (and getting a flat in the process -- kudos to Peter Wade, the calmest, most capable flat-changing companion in history), we arrived at the beautiful Red Rock Canyon. Didn't get Chukar, but did get Gray Vireo, always a treat. After Red Rock, we continued up the road to Spring Mountain State Park, a well-irrigated (and therefore, birdy) spot. We ran into Kyle again here -- he had told us he'd be picnicking with his family, and again he put us on some birds. Juniper Titmouse, Anna's Hummingbird, and a lifer for me -- Brown- crested Flycatcher. A local birder put us on a very close Cooper's Hawk, sitting on a nest. Peter and Kris spotted another Greater Roadrunner, which disappeared just as I arrived. This was a very good day's birding, and one which really filled out the trip list.

The other members of the group flew home early Monday, but since I didn't leave until three in the afternoon, I decided to return to Spring Mountain, and I hoped, get better looks at the Brown-crested Flys. I did so, getting them to respond to a recording, and also got better looks at the Anna's in the morning light. Then, I got my eyes on a Black-throated Magpie- jay, which the park ranger had told us about on Sunday, and which has to be one of the most impressive birds I have ever seen. This northwestern Mexican species has been hanging around the area for a couple of years, but is of unknown origin, and thus uncountable. It is an eyeful nonetheless. We finished the trip with 123 species, not too shabby for out-of-state birders.

If what you've read here has whetted your appetite for a little desert birding, come along next year.