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Sunday, May 29, 2016

Las Vegas - Day 4 - Desert NWR - Corn Creek & Mt Charleston

Evening Grosbeak - Mt Charleston
          Today's birding escapades would see us at Desert NWR, Spring Mountain and Mt Charleston areas. We will cover a range of altitudes from 2400 ft up to 7580 ft. We are hoping for a good variety of birds today and knowing Carl he has the planning down perfectly. Also Susan and John were able to rejoin the trip today as both were feeling much better.
           Our first stop was right in Las Vegas at a private home that Carl had arranged ahead of time with the owners to visit. As we drove up the owners of the house were there to meet us and they were nice enough to invite us inside to view their backyard feeding area. Our target bird was Inca Dove and when we looked outside there were at least 10 doves on the ground and feeders. This small dove has a bright flash of rusty brown in the wings when it flies and is about 2/3 the size of a Mourning Dove.
Inca Doves

           Succeeding at our first goal of the day, we drove north to the Desert National Wildlife Refuge at Corn Creek. Driving on the entrance road to the visitor's center we brake when we spot a small bird perched on top of a sagebrush. We vault from the car and set up the scopes to view a distant but decent view of a Bell's Sparrow (a recent split from Sage Sparrow). I was hoping for a Sagebrush Sparrow which would have been a life bird but no luck. Glancing around to see what else was present I spot a thrasher also perched atop a bush.  It turns out to be a LeConte's Thrasher.
            At the visitor center we immediately discover a few Yellow-headed Blackbirds. It's always fun to hear this bird's raucous call and it's such a good looking bird. Also flying around was an Ash-throated Flycatcher and to our surprise we found a Brown-crested Flycatcher, a rare bird for Nevada.
Brown-crested Flycatcher

Brown-crested Flycatcher (R) and Yellow-headed Blackbird (L) (N Pulcinella)

Ash-throated Flycatcher (NP)

Ash-throated Flycatcher
          Also at the visitor's center it was pointed out to us that the Common Raven on the roof could be considered a separate species in the future due to it small size. However, I haven't heard of any talk about this before so I don't know if the information is factual.  
Suspected smaller version of Common Raven

Another Whiptail Lizard

           We hiked on a few trails around the refuge and found Anna's and Black-chinned Hummingbird, Western Kingbird, Lazuli Bunting, Pine Siskins (which was weird seeing them in the desert), Great-tailed Grackles, Lucy's Warbler and Bullock's Oriole.
Bullock's Oriole (NP)

Anna's Hummingbird (NP)
          Another bird that I thought was strange to see in the desert was a White-throated Swift, the only one we had on the trip. Usually I see them near the mountains. Western Tanagers were present in numbers and we tracked down a Blue Grosbeak and a Phainopepla near the Mulberry trees.
Phainopepla (NP)

Blue Grosbeak (NP)

Western Tanager (NP)

          One more bird that we were able to see and photograph was an Olive-sided Flycatcher.
Olive-sided Flycatcher - notice white behind the wing (NP)
         From here we initiated our travels to the mountains. On the way, we made a quick stop at Cold Creek Rd in search of Pinyon Jays. However, the quick trip turned out to be an hour long ride on a pothole filled dirt road and we found no Pinyon Jays, only four wheelers and dirt bikes.
          Next stop was Spring Mountain National Recreation Area. At the top of the mountain we were able to hear the buzzing w
ings of the Broad-tailed Hummingbirds. At least most of us were able to hear them. I kept pointing out the buzz as the hummers whistled by but John just couldn't pick it up. It must have been the altitude that contributed to the hearing loss. Violet-green Swallows were in good numbers and a few Black-headed Grosbeaks. Nick found two Hairy Woodpeckers and we got a lesson in how the western Hairy appears different than our eastern Hairy. See photo below.
Hairy Woodpecker -no white spots on wings (NP)
          Coming off the top of the mountain we stopped at a location for Green-tailed Towhee. We got out and Carl said it should be here. He was so excited when two towhees showed themselves that he called himself "The Postman" because he delivers.

Green-tailed Towhee
          At the same spot we also found more Cassin's Finch. 
Cassin's Finch (NP)
          At the Deer Creek Picnic Area in Spring Mt NRA we walked on the trail a little ways and found Spotted Towhees, Western Wood-Pewees, Mountain Chickadees (new for trip) and then Nick yells out Red Crossbill. Way at the top of a pine Nick found a Red Crossbill and than another flew into the tree. I always think of crossbills as winter birds but this is what they call home during breeding season in this high elevation pine forest.
          Walking along the trail a little farther we hear Ruby-crowned Kinglets singing but then Nick yells again. This time he finds a gorgeous male Evening Grosbeak. Then there were three of them and they came down to the creek to bathe in the stream about 20 feet away. Awesome. This had to be the bird of the trip for some folks.
Evening Grosbeak
          Moving on we pull over at an intersection and find a Virginia's Warbler and soaring over the mountaintop were two Golden Eagles. At Mt Charleston we reach the highest elevation of the trip. 
Gary Becker showing Susan something while John studies the dirt

          When we arrived at the parking area near the restaurant there were cop cars everywhere. We never found out what the problem was, but we just continued birding. At this elevation we finally got one of my favorite birds, Stellar Jay. The black head and breast and the gorgeous blue body makes this such a striking bird for me. Walking around the area a little more we find lots of Yellow-rumped Warblers (Audubon's race), Wilson's Warbler and then we found a fairly cooperative Townsend's Warbler but not cooperative enough for a picture. Then five Banded-tailed Pigeons fly over our heads. We would find them a few minutes later at a feeder.

Band-tailed Pigeon - another mountain species
          In Old Town on Mt Charleston we came across this creature.

          So after seeing this machine we decided to head home so that I could lose a little more money in the casino. One more day of birding tomorrow. We will visit Henderson Bird Viewing Area, Duck Creek, Calico Basin and Willow Springs in Red Rock Canyon, and finally Spring Mountain Ranch. Stay tuned.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Las Vegas - Day 3 - Northern Arizona

Taking in the view at Hualapai Mountain Park, AZ
         Our third day would take this intrepid group of eccentric birders to northern Arizona. However, this morning we found out that Susan was sick all night and was not going to make the trip today. John also stayed at the hotel to watch after Susan, so there were only six club members today. Carl had made arrangements to pick up a family in Henderson that he met on a previous trip, so we would have a third car in the caravan. Carl was impressed with this young boy's birding skills years ago from an earlier trip to Vegas and wanted to have him along for the day. 
         After we rendezvoused with Kyle and his parents, we drove south across the Hoover Dam and Lake Mead into Arizona. I always wanted to see Hoover Dam but the new bridge they erected across the Colorado River prohibited viewing the DAM site. 
       Our first stop was at W Agua Fria Dr near Kingsman, AZ. It was a cursory stop but produced Eurasian Collared-Dove, Verdin, Cactus Wren, Phainopepla and our target Curve-billed Thrasher. See eBird checklist at
Curve-billed Thrasher (photo by Nick Pulcinella)

Eurasian Collared-Dove - Nick Pulcinella
          Pressing onward through Kingsman we started to ascend the mountain toward Hualapui Mountain Park. On this odyssey we were impeded by the sightings of more birds. What a drag. We made a stop along DW Ranch Rd and were compensated with Gambel's Quail, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Western Kingbird, Western Scrub-Jay, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher (a lifer for many), and the magnificent looking Black-throated Sparrow. 
Black-throated Sparrow

Ash-throated Flycatcher - Nick Pulcinella

Black-tailed Gnatcatcher - Nick Pulcinella

          DW Ranch Rd was a desert habitat but traveling up the mountain we came to juniper forests. We stopped again and were able to find a somewhat cooperative Juniper Titmouse. 
Juniper Titmouse- Nick Pulcinella

          After fighting to get the titmouse we climbed further in elevation and once again pulled off to the side of the road. We all exited the vans and found Black-headed Grosbeak, Anna's Hummingbird, Warbling Vireo, Western Scrub-Jays and looking skyward above the mountains we spotted a Zone-tailed Hawk. This was the first of three Zone-tails that we would observe today.
Black-headed Grosbeak - Nick Pulcinella

Western Scrub-Jay - Nick Pulcinella
          A surprise bird for me was a Scott's Oriole which flew in and landed on the top of a tree and allowed us to get an excellent view.
Scott's Oriole
          We also added Black-chinned Sparrow and Spotted Towhee. Continuing on we reached Hualapai Mountain Park.

Some of the group enjoying the scenery

           Once we entered the park we immediately lured to a large group of evergreens and were treated to four Acorn Woodpeckers hoarding their acorns in the large pines.
Acorn Woodpeckers (NP)

               In the same environs we also found two Plumbeous Vireos. Positioning myself on the rock in the photo  below I could see a Western Wood-Pewee and a Black-tailed Gnatcatcher below.

              Migrating higher in elevation we saw more Juniper Titmouse, some Northern (Red-shafted) Flickers and a couple Common Ravens and the western subspecies of White-breasted Nuthatch which I believe will become a full species soon. The voice of this nuthatch sounds quite different from the eastern counterpart and the plumage is slightly different.  The western nuthatches show a much narrower black crown and much darker tertials. Unfortunately we didn't get a photo of one.
             Still on the higher slopes we encountered the pine and oak forests.  We pulled into a little parking area where we thought we might enjoy lunch and I noticed a red bird fly into a tree. It started to sing and it sounded like a tanager. We were finally able to get on the bird and what we thought was going to be a Summer Tanager turned out to be a Hepatic Tanager (after reviewing Nick's Photos). Great bird and a lifer for most of the group. 
Hepatic Tanager - Nick Pulcinella
               We decided this spot was to hot and sunny for lunch so we proceeded to a shady area. While we were unpacking the vans I saw a little flycatcher moving around in the woods. I quickly ran after it and we were able to catch up with it. We started to play some tapes since we couldn't be sure of the ID of this little empid. We suspected it was a Hammond's and it finally answered to the tape which confirmed the ID.

Hammond's Flycatcher (NP)
                  As we were eating, Kyle yelled out that there was a Grace's Warbler high in the pines. The bird eventually worked its way over to our picnic table and lingered above us for several minutes. Again, a lifer for many in the group. So we had two great birds while enjoying a nice lunch on a beautiful day in a lovely mountain setting.  
Grace's Warbler (NP)
               After lunch we stopped at another pull off on our mountain decent. I heard a bird that sounded like a Black-throated Blue Warbler but the song was off a little. We caught up with the bird and it proved to be a Black-throated Gray Warbler.
Black-throated Gray Warbler

Black-throated Gray Warbler
          While we were looking for the warbler, Carl was looking around back at the van and yelled out that he just had a Zone-tailed Hawk but no one else could find the bird. At this particular spot there was a report of a Painted Redstart but we had no luck finding it. So we were ready to leave the park but the third car in the caravan had trouble starting and finally caught up with us at the entrance gate. We then found out that Kyle had seen the Painted Redstart so we decided to drive back in for a second look. As we arrived, Bob Kelly looked up in the sky and yelled out that there were two Zone-tailed Hawks flying over head. So Carl was apparently correct about the hawk before. We didn't find the redstart but the two Zone-tailed Hawks sure made up for that.

Zone-tailed Hawk - Nick Pulcinella

One of two Zone-tailed Hawks - third one of the day
          Other birds seen on the mountain were three Pygmy Nuthatches, Black-chinned Sparrow, Bullock's Orioles, Violet-green Swallows and Virginia Warbler. You can view the eBird list at
Virginia's Warbler (NP)

             Next stop was a good distance away and we were back in the desert. It was called Walking Box Ranch Rd. It was late in the day and we were getting tired but once we got out of the car we got our second wind. We were here for the Bendire's Thrasher, always a hard bird to find. We set up the scope and spotted a Loggerhead Shrike, a distant Ladder-backed Woodpecker and a Cactus Wren. Finally the Bendire's Thrasher made an appearance and performed for us by flying circles around the group and then landing on top of a Joshua Tree. Bendire's can be confused with Curve-billed Thrasher but the bill isn't as curved and the breast isn't as spotted as the Curved-billed's. See the eBird checklist at
Bendire's Thrasher
Bendire's Thrasher in flight (NP)

          So after this we headed back to the hotel, had dinner and went to bed in anticipation of tomorrow's adventures.