Monday, 9 May 2016

Nevada Bird Count - 2nd Tour: Warm Springs Transects

Our second tour began Monday April 25 with some point count practice up at Mason Valley, which was winded out after a few points. But by Tuesday the weather had cleared and we were on our way back south to Warm Springs. Twenty minutes after our departure we stopped in some salt desert hills to practice our raptor-raven surveys, which we will be conducting for the USGS at Greater Sage-grouse telemetry and nest locations to monitor these possible nest predators. Only spotted a couple ravens and a lot of empty sky, but hopefully we’ll get some fun stuff when we start up the surveys for real next week.

Long straight roads in Nevada

We continued on to the half-way point of Tonopah, a mountain town in the middle of Nevada and home of the Clown Motel. I never stopped for a photo last year so we spent a few minutes for get some shots. I’ve never been terribly afraid of clowns but I have to admit the place seems a little creepy. Especially considering the fact it is right next to an old graveyard containing victims of a couple mine fires and the Tonopah plague back in the early 1900s.

Tonopah Clown Motel

Adjacent Cemetary

We’re always on the lookout for Pronghorn on the flats outside of Tonopah and down the ET highway, and we lucked into a group of 3 adult females and a very young fawn out in the scrub. Super cute, and it was still able to keep up with the adults. No photos unfortunately, because as soon as you stop these keen-eyed mammals sprint off to safety.

Along the ET highway we made our regular stop at the muddy lake at Twin Springs. Highlights were a couple Black-crowned Night Herons, Kayla’s lifer Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, and a gorgeous blue and yellow spotted Side-blotched Lizard. A few cool cacti were about as well.

Side-blotched Lizard

Old Man Prickly Pear

Silver Cholla

Also, a quick stop to hydrate some vegetation in the juniper-joshua tree transition zone was pretty gorgeous.

Joshua Tree-juniper transition

Our first morning back at Warm Springs the crew minus the boss double-observered our first transect. On the first point we had 2 adult and one fluffy ‘Junior Bob’ Great Horned Owls which were a treat. More exciting were some deep rhythmic notes coming from the nearby marsh.  I’d heard them one afternoon on the last tour but too briefly to be confident, but with this second detection we were able to confirm my suspicions of it being a Least Bittern! It was a different vocalization than the cooing song I’m used to, but it was spot on for one of the calls on Dave’s phone. Didn’t get to see the bird, but it called regularly for us, and this uncommon bird was a great find.

The rest of the transect was mostly the typical Mojave fare, with some nice pairs of Vermilion Flycatchers and more Hooded Orioles around than last year. Migrants were also really starting to come through and we picked up stuff like Plumbeous and possible Cassin’s Vireos, Ruby-crowned Kinglets and a Gray Flycatcher.

Dead Palm and Quailbush thicket along the Muddy River

During veg that afternoon my partner and I had to run a line of intensive veg through some 30m of phragmities, which also lead to my adoption of the catchphrase “at least it’s not spiny.” The phrase came up repeatedly in the following days since quailbush and tumbleweeds, while tough to walk through, do not try to puncture your skin in the process. The mesquites, catclaws, and wolfberries aren’t so kind.

And while the phrag didn’t stab us, it did swallow up Kayla’s phone. We’re hoping that offering the phone to the marsh early on in the season might appease the gods of the wilderness and ensure the weather is a little kinder to us this season. However, 2 tents were already offered to the wind gods on the mesa a couple days before my arrival so maybe the gods are just hungry…

The next morning’s transect with the whole crew went though some thick mesquite stands, with the highlights being the Bell’s Vireos and Yellow-breasted Chats that had moved in since last tour. Didn’t get to see either of these skulkers this time but it’s nice to hear them back (and get our ears on for chat vs. mocker song). A number of flocks of ibis also flew over which are less usual down here than up at Mason Valley, and one had a white leg band which was interesting.

Mesquite thicket habitat

The end of the transect went through a lush field of Yerba Mansa and bordered by palms, a pretty lush scene for the desert.

Palms and Yerba Mansa

On Friday the 29th we split into pairs to finish off the transects at the site. While point-counting as a group is great for training purposes to get everyone’s ears and distance estimation on par, it was refreshing to get out without the whole crew tromping around with you. Kayla and I had a transect on the north end of the property began bordering a marsh where we had Virginia Rails, Sora, and Western Marsh Wrens (which I discovered have a different call note than our eastern birds: they sound like a quiet blackbird chuck as opposed to a yellowthroat call note). A few Great-tailed Grackles also sang their loud random from snags near the marsh, and a squawking coot was entertaining.

Also near the marsh I finally got to see my first California Treefrog. We hear them lots at Warm Springs and some nights their ‘ribbit’ calls carry all the way up to the mesa, but it was my first time actually seeing one of these tiny little guys.

California Tree Frog

Further on we got into more upland dry mesquite. We put in a fair bit of work nailing down our Blue-gray vs. Black-tailed Gnatcatcher vocalizations, and there were many of both around to help us. Counter-singing Gray Flycatchers and a single Dusky Flycatcher were some fun migrants. Another treat was the local peregrine that had been hanging around the site since before I got there. This was a bird I missed entirely last season, so it was great to see this adult soaring around and get a feel for their more pointed-winged look than the Prairies that are more widespread across the state.

That evening back on the mesa before heading to bed Sue, Kayla and I spent some time watching a wonderful desert lightning storm passing by to the north of us. Over an hour or so it escalated from just flashes in the clouds to sporadic bolts to multiple bolts at a time, and all the while we stated dry as we watched them pass by. After a while the rain did finally hit us though, and it continued to rain into the next morning.


  1. Wow! Sounds like your summer is going great, can't wait to hear more about it!

    1. Thanks Chelsea! Yeah, things are going pretty fantastically, trying my best to keep the blog updated