Last day of March

After catching up on sleep, mostly because some kid in the room next to me in Reno thought flushing the toilet every five minutes until 2.am was a good idea, I was late out today. After three weeks without the dubious pleasures of St-Lazare sand pits I was ready for disappointment. Still frozen but for some reason attractive to Ring-billed Gulls the pits were quite barren but will improve quickly. A stand and scan was the best option for a Northern Shrike for the March list. No shrikes this time but a Golden Eagle soaring over the site was adequate compensation. Add to that my first QC Turkey Vulture of the year and some Snow Geese and it turned out to be a better than expected visit.

On a roll we went to nearby Montee Chenier, now open as the thaw gains pace. On the deck was another Turkey Vulture, snacking on some morsel or other that the nearby American Crows coveted too. All around were lots of Canada Geese, one Cackling Goose and a Rough-legged Hawk.  A drive around the St-Clet area produced a further seven Rough-legged Hawks including a dark form. In one set of fields, Snow Geese were gathering, perhaps 5,000 or so. Snow Buntings were around also with two flocks for total of 150. Common Grackles were in abundance and Red-winged Blackbirds were conspicuous too. I’ll have a better look early tomorrow, it will be interesting to see whether the piebald Red-winged Blackbird shows up again, see posts from March 2012 to see what I mean.

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Out of Nevada

After an excellent three weeks in Nevada, birding  dawn and dusk and for four full weekend days, I headed back Satuday to snowy but improving Quebec. My last few days were limited for time but I still added new sites and new birds. After looking at Google Maps I found that I had a lake not two blocks from the hotel, one I’d never heard mention of before. On investigating I found it nestled between condos and industrial units with an ill-defined access (go north onto Double-R Boulevard off South Meadows Parkway, look for Stark Associates on the left and take the unmarked road on the right. Park on the rough ground and walk the cycle track around). It was a nice lake and a local grounds contractor told me that they got lots of birds there including loons. I saw more Buffleheads there than anywhere else around the area and I got my Nevada tick Hooded Merganser.

Friday afternoon I had a short window of time so headed for Washoe Lake. The first pleasant surprise was a Long-billed Curlew feeding in wet meadows off the old highway 395, Bower’s Mansion Road. Not a typical bird as you can see from the photos, it looks more like an immature would and the darker crown with the suggestion of stripes were rather Whimbrel like, but I’m pretty sure it was just a Long-billed Curlew.

Next I had a walk along Dead man’s Creek and found a Rock Wren, thanks Rob. The creek had displaying Red-tailed Hawks so I took a few snaps of them too. It was an interesting walk, not least because I met a large and very hairy guy with enough yellow teeth for three people who told me that Obama wouldn’t find me up there, I wasn’t even aware that he was looking for me!

So my Nevada adventure came to an end just like my contract. It was a long three weeks away from my wife and cats (in that order) but it was great birding fun. Seeing new places and birds and eating lots of microwave dinners is always stimulating, just like the Burritos I had Friday and I apologise to all on the various planes on the way home, it was me!!!. I added four lifers in White-headed Woodpecker, Pinyon Jay, Western Screech Owl and Northern Pygmy Owl and added 47 new species to my admittedly limited Nevada list. The trip ended on 131 species, 129 of which were all local to Reno, well within two hours’ drive at least.

I might never go back to Nevada, but life is full of twists and turns and I’d rather like to take Sandra out there some time and share all of the places I visited and more. I always rate new places on whether I could live there and yes, I could. Nevada is one of the lesser known states in birding terms but it has a lot to offer and some great wildlife sites. My trip was enhanced by meeting and birding with Rob Lowry and by following up on some of the sightings posted on the NV Audubon listserv, thanks guys. My in car entertainment, when not listening to BBC podcasts, was provided by Bob FM, 80s, 90, Whatever!

Below are the last few photos, a nice view of the Moon over the mountains, a Rock Wren, some Red-tail shots and some ‘against the light’ ones of the Long-billed Curlew. I hope you have enjoyed reading about the trip and seeing the shots. Time I got back to birding QC

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Owling at Silver Saddle Ranch

This morning I had little time to bird so I dropped in to Damonte Wetlands for a quick look. The marsh was bouncing with Red-winged Blackbirds, perhaps 50+ all singing at once. I walked west towards the road end intending to check out the open water and found my first Sora for the year, frantically trying to get a call in edgeways but drowned out by the many Virginia Rails and their grunting chorus.

This evening I’d arranged to meet Rob Lowry at his local patch, Silver Saddle Ranch in Carson City. The site is a great patch with a bit of everything about it. Our dusk walk took in a sitting Great Horned Owl, a hiding Bushtit and six Wood Ducks, a new species for my growing Nevada list. The avian noise of the day had quietened down on the way back and we found the Western Screech-Owl sitting out on a branch in virtual darkness. Not knowing the boundaries I pointed the camera at it and it refused to focus but Rob caught the owl briefly in the torch beam and click, I got a record shot. Back at the car park the regular Barn Owl flew over us and went off in a screaming fit although that is how they normally sound.

A great evening’s walk and many thanks to Rob for showing me around. Somehow I don’t think St-Lazare sand pits, my local patch, can stand comparison.

One photo tonight, no flash just the periphery of a torch beam for illumination. Three days left in Nevada and eight days until our 20th wedding aniversary which, according to a recently edited version of Wickedpedia, is characterised by a gift of Swarovski (joking!).

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Woodpecker watching

This morning I had the very great pleasure of watching three White-headed Woodpeckers prat around in a tree. Just over two weeks ago they were semi-mythical, now, whenever I walk the paved trail at Galena Creek, there they are. Admitedly they don’t come close enough for a tonsil shot but I’m not complaining. That first hour or so of the day sets me up for work and the evening birding wraps things up nicely. Home in four days

An email message on NV Audubon prompted me to head south this evening to look for a couple of Sandhill Cranes on the Washoe ‘patch’. They were easy enough, poddling around a pasture by a busy highway with no sense of aesthetics. I also walked a creek in the area and saw a Long-eared Owl but the luck didn’t end there. As I walked back to the road an adult Golden Eagle passed perhaps 50’ directly overhead, I could get used to this!

So the photos are mainly black & white but then so are the birds. To add a splash of colour there is a Spotted Towhee that was 121 paces away from me, I counted. Those little cameras are remarkable and, while National Geographic will not setting out to write a cheque, it’s not a bad record shot. For those of you now hooked on scenery shots, here is part of Washoe Lake taken from just in front of me.

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Oxbow Nature study area – nice

Today I felt like a change of pace. The signs had been coming for a while, I’ve been birding and working for 15 days straight now and there has been a gradual loss of steam. I also have a serious ear-worm, thank you Beach Boys! It all comes down to their homily to the Larophiles of the World, you know the song with the catchy line, “I wish they all could be California Gulls”. Well here they virtually all are and every time I see one, which can be nearly as often as I blink, that line sweeps though my mind.

So today I went to a little local Nature reserve in west Reno and it was quite charming apart from one piece of lousy planning regarding the trail that runs alongside the railway track and no entry back to the car park. The reserve is located along the banks of the Truckee River and is just a patch of marsh and scrub but it was pretty birdy.

The place heaves with California Quail, the scamper in front of you, they drop out of the trees around you and they burst from underfoot. There were also Hermit Thrushes, seven to be exact, and Red-shouldered Hawks and I got the chance to point the camera at Golden-crowned Sparrows, it was a good two hours of gentle birding.

As I was in that part of the World I decided to head to the Lemmon Valley area, checking out the water treatment lagoons and Swan Lake. Again the place was full of birds, 250+ American Avocets, 45 Eared Grebes, three Dunlin, Least Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitchers, and all of the ducks except the one I was looking for, Wood! I could go on but you get the picture. This took me around to 11:30, too early to declare so I decided to go and try for Clark’s Nutcracker.

My trip took me up over the Mount Rose summit and down through Incline Village before parking up and watching a large meadow with trees near Spooner Lake. Within ten minutes a Clark’s Nutcracker flew in, landed for scope views and moved off slowly, job done.

I meandered back and decided to finish a few hours before it got dark today, tomorrow may well be different but for now I’m enjoying a rest, no California Gulls and no need to shout Maggie, Maggie, Maggie when I see an American Magpie but that is less of an ear-worm and more of a temporary infliction.

Below some snaps which are not too bad and all with the cheap camera. The Golden-crowned Sparrows seemed to have evolved into a shadow hugging species so I was pleased to get these after 20 minutes of patient stalking and waiting. The rest are Northern Flicker, American Robin, Hermit Thrush, Western Scrub Jay, the inevitable California Quail and a view of Lake Tahoe. Four scenery shots in two days, told you I needed a rest!

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Cloud of jays

I had planned to head north to Pyramid Lake today but it was a bitter cold wind that I awoke to so I decided to retrace my steps, more or less, from last week.

Stop one was at Washoe Lake where the first Bald Eagle of the day gave the ducks a hard time. Moving one I went back to Silver Springs Ranch river trail but this time I drove the road on the south bank hoping to get some ‘sun behind me’ views of Pinyon Jays, I wasn’t disappointed. I’d been there twenty minutes when the first appeared, inside five minutes there were 150+ all calling and heading down to the river to drink. Below are a few photos, a couple of single birds and a few of part of the mass.

I then drove to Fallon, passing a flying Golden Eagle and two more Bald Eagles (I’d end up seeing 11 for the day) and the only pausing to say hello to the Western Screech Owl before heading to Carson Lake wetlands. The site was really buzzing and both towers kept me occupied for some time. I’ll not list what I saw but it did include several trip ticks including Barn and Cliff Swallow, Dunlin, Wilson’s Snipe and my Nevada tick Sandhill Crane and Ross’s Goose.

After a good few hours I headed back the same way and dropped into Washoe Lake again, seeing a first of the year Caspian Tern and a tight bunch of American White Pelicans. I also managed to photograph a Bewick’s Wren that I’d chased several times previously.

Last off I went to Callahan Park looking for a Northern Pygmy Owl. The owl was a bust but I did see some nice bird such as Townsend’s Solitaire, Great Horned Owl (I never tire of them) and the last bird of the day was a Red-naped Sapsucker. I managed 93 species for the day; I suppose I could have found a few more but no complaints from an excellent day of birding in Nevada.

Below the photos and, for a change, some scenery. The mountain view is from Silver Saddle Ranch trail and the wetlands are from Carson Lake Wetlands site. The big trees are on the trail at Callahan Park. Finally, I couldn’t resist the road sign, what a great address.

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Better views

I was at Galena Creek SP this morning as the sun rose. The car was frosty and the wind chill made itself felt but there were a few birds on view. Yesterday there had been a report of Black-headed Grosbeaks in Carson City so I hoped they might have made it up here but no, not just yet. As I walked one of the trails a movement caught my eye and a White-headed Woodpecker shinned up a bare spike and began to sun itself. It was some way off the trail but I got a better shot than last time, I even got a record shot as it hit a lower trunk and began tapping. It may be that it was excavating, I saw another bird nearby, a pair, so I’ll keep an eye on that spot next week.

This evening it had become windy and cold but clear so I checked out the Carot Lane pools near the hotel. One Yellow-headed Blackbird, 40 Cinnamon Teal (I bet they taste of Chicken though) and 10 American Avocets were the highlights in a brief foray. Tomorrow, who knows where I’ll wash up, watch this space. Below two shots of the pecker, not briliant but certainly an improvement on last time.

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