Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Nevada Bird Count - 2nd Tour: Warm Springs Grids

Saturday April 30th, with all the transects completed, the pairs split off again to complete the spring season grids. Warm Springs is divided up into many 200m x 200m survey grids where we conduct rapid atlassing-type surveys to determine the numbers and habitat preferences of breeders and migrants. They’re fun surveys to conduct, since unlike to the time- and distance- constrained point counts the grids allow you to simply wander the area and observe your birds. The rain held us off our start until a bit after 7:00, but then Kayla and I headed down to 4 squares in "the boot" of the property. This is an area I hadn’t been before, and Dave had said it is the Crissal Thrasher capital of the whole place. Despite hearing numerous individuals giving their “pijurry-jurry” calls daily from the mequite, Kayla still hadn’t seen her lifer bird and I’d only glimpsed them this season, so our hopes were high for some nice looks.

Our wanderings were hindered by the thick clay that the rain had turned to gumbo and stuck to our boots, as well as the maze of mesquite thickets we had to navigate, but it turned out to be a very productive morning. Migrants diversity was continuing to increase and we heard our first MacGillivray’s and Black-throated Gray Warblers of the season. Coming around a corner we also had amazing looks at a Vesper Sparrow teed up on a snag, showing it’s white eye-ring and chestnut shoulder-patch clearly for Kayla’s  lifer view.

Storm above our grids

But the highlight of the morning was finally getting to see a Crissal Thrasher, and a singing male no less! It was a bit distant to properly appreciate the white malar and chestnut undertail, but from the distance the very curved bill and musical mimic song were unmistakable. The Crissal’s song is one I have heard very few times, and to actually see one in song was a real treat. We ended up hearing another 2 males singing on the site but they remained uncooperative visually. Another treat of this area was that we did not get a single mockingbird! Throughout most of the property the mockers are very common and are eager to confuse the listener with their perfect renditions of many of the local birds (Myarchus flycatchers particularly, since the actual flycatchers aren’t near as common as the mockers might have you think). But in the boot we only encountered Crissals, so it lived up to Dave’s reputation.

We also came across these Gambel’s Quail eggs. It’s probably a bit too early in the season for chicks to have hatched so the nest was likely predated.

Gambel's Quail Eggs

On the non-avian front, the mud from the rain was great for picking up tracks, and aside from the numerous Raccoon and Western Coyote trails we came across a single Bobcat print. A mammal I’ve still never seen, but I found some tracks last season at Warm Springs as well. Didn’t take a photo of this year’s prints becaus I kept my camera mostly packed away due to the wet bush we were walking through, but here's a photo from last year.

Bobcat Print

Sunday morning was our last day in the south for the tour, and the crew set to finishing the grids. Migrants were continuing to push in, and we heard the ‘prididit’s of the season’s first Western Tanagers. Early on in the morning we had a treat in the form of 5 male Bullock’s and a young male Hooded Oriole that flew into a mequite in front of us. We watched them for a bit until they flew off, and which point Kayla spotted a gorgeous male Western Tanager who had popped up in the next shrub over. A nice bit of colour to start the morning!

The rest of the morning was made up of most of the usual suspects, with additional MacGillivray’s and Black-throated Gray Warbler that, like the day before, refused to give us looks as they sang quietly in the shrubbery. Both gnatcatchers were still about, and we’re getting pretty confident at differentiating their whiny calls. Confirming them at times has been difficult, since these jumpy birds are always reluctant to sit still and give a view of their undertails. But the biggest surprise of the morning were 3 individuals giving a strange call and remaining unusually still in a nearby shrub

Black-tailed Gnatcatcher Fledgelings

We didn’t stay too long so we didn’t disturb the birds, but these cute fledgling Black-tailed Gnatcatchers were wonderful to see. The female came in and added her scolds to the young’s begging calls and we let them be.

Another highlight of the morning and the rest of the day were the raptors. This season we’re conducting  raptor-raven surveys for the USGS, with a lot of surveys in the schedule for the third tour, so we’ve been practicing our raptor ID with every bird we can get out bins on. During the morning’s surveys we lucked out with a distant look at a Prairie Falcon cruising low over the top of the mesquites, and later saw the local Peregrine soaring overhead. With the addition to the local Turkey Vultures, American Kestrels, Sharp-shinned and Red-tailed Hawks we had the start of a good raptor list to the day.

Starting the long drive back north we added Swainson’s and Cooper’s Hawks to our day’s list as well as tallying more vultures and Red-tails. We were keeping our eyes peeled for Golden Eagles since Sue had seen a couple on the way down, but we hadn’t connected with any by the time we got our regular stop at the Twin Springs. Soon after arriving we heard some weak whistled calls and our thoughts turned to eagle, but it turned out they belonged to the local pair of adult Red-tails that were giving what were apparently juvenile-type calls. A little later we got satisfying looks at a Prairie Falcon that flew in along the cliff and gave a couple circles above us before heading off. Not as close as it could have been, but clear enough views to show off its round-tipped wings, dark axillaries and smudged moustache stripe really well.

Cliff at Twin Springs

Sue had mentioned she’d seen eagles regularly here, so we killed some time birding, herping and botanizing around. One of the strangest things we encountered was a loud vocalization coming from the edge of the lake. The squawking reminded me of some sort of waterbird, but when we went to check it out there was nothing there and nothing had flushed. Further on we heard it again, and out popped a Black-tailed Jackrabbit! I’ve done a bit of research and it seems the rabbits can vocalize, but I haven’t any recordings yet similar to what we heard.

Finally our waiting paid off, and down the way we’d come we had a Golden Eagle soar by and get attacked by the local Red-tail pair. They’re one of my favorite birds out here, and it rounded out a 9 raptor day. Aside from Osprey and Northern Harrier we tallied all of the raptors expected on our route, so it was a really successful day in the hawkwatching department

Continuing on, west of Tonopah just outside Miller’s Rest Stop (a local migrant trap that has yet to produce for us), we spotted a largest dust devil either of us had ever seen. Unfortunately it dissipated just before we stopped, but I was able to snap this quick photo through the windshield before it did.

Massive dust devil west of  Tonopah
Soon after arriving back in Yerington, Ned found out that he was accepted to a volunteer position in Thailand doing radio-telemetry with King Cobras of all things! Absolutely unreal, and we were all really pumped for him. Dave and Sue picked him up a custom cake to celebrate.

Ned with his cobra cake

Ned and I had been talking about a trip to the Mojave for the weekend upcoming weekend, and it seemed like an even better way to celebrate his new position. The last days of the tour involved some training at the field house as well as a field day with a local botanist, and were fairly low-key, so my next posts will recount our weekend finds.

No comments:

Post a Comment