If you look hard — and know where to look—it’s possible that you just might spot an Ash-throated Flycatcher or Western Wood-Pewee or a Yellow-breasted Chat in Nevada.
At least that’s the basic idea behind a venerable activity that’s become increasingly popular in the state of Nevada: bird watching. Communities such as Fallon, Elko, and Minden now promote themselves as bird watching centers.
So what kind of birds are bird watchers watching? According to the Nevada Department of Wildlife, 456 different species of birds can be seen in the state.
An excellent source of information about birding in Nevada is “The Nevada Birding Map,” published by the Lahontan Audubon Society in 2007.
This map lists nearly three-dozen quality bird sighting areas in Western Nevada and ranks them with stars to indicate the likelihood that you’ll spot a wide variety of birds at the site (five stars is considered “don’t miss”).
There are only a handful of five star sites in Western Nevada, including: Reno’s Oxbow Nature Study Area; Soda Lake near Fallon; the Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge near Fallon; Carson Lake near Fallon; Mahogany Creek, north of Gerlach; the Santa Rosa Mountains, north of Winnemucca; and the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge near Denio.
In Northeastern Nevada, some of the best birding areas can be found at the Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge, east of Elko, the Lamoille Canyon Scenic Byway near Elko and Goshute Mountains Raptor Area, south of West Wendover.
For anyone seriously interested in birding, there are also a number of books that can serve as guides including: “A Birding Guide to Reno and Beyond” now in its second edition, also published by the Lahontan Audubon Society as well as “Nevada Wildlife Viewing Guide” by Jeanne L. Clark; and “Birds of the Lahontan Valley,” by Graham Chisholm and Larry Neel.
The latter book, published by the University of Nevada Press, is a comprehensive guide to birding in the Fallon/Lahontan Valley area, which is one of the best bird-spotting places in Nevada.
The book contains detailed descriptions of each species, the best time of year and places to spot a particular bird and its relative rarity. Additionally, excellent line drawings of the various species, by artist Mimi Hoppe Wolf, greatly enhance each listing.
Not surprisingly because of the increasing interest in birding, Fallon hosts the annual Spring Wings Bird Festival in the spring (usually late April). The festival is held during the height of the spring bird migration in the Lahontan Valley wetlands.
Each year, participants flock to the wetlands to catch glimpses of some 260 species of birds ranging from the White-faced ibis to the Long-billed dowitcher.
Additionally, the Carson Valley Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Authority has, in recent years, sponsored an annual Eagles and Agriculture Tour & Workshop in February. The event includes guided tours to birding locations throughout the Carson Valley.
Part of the Carson Valley’s attraction for eagles is the presence of so many cattle ranches. Each February, during the calving season, the majestic eagles arrive in the valley to feast on the protein-rich cow afterbirths found in the pastures.
In fact, from early February to mid-March, it’s possible to drive south of Carson City on U.S. 395 and spot dozens of the birds hanging around the various ranches.
To order a copy of “A Birding Guide to Reno and Beyond, Second Edition” or the “Nevada Birding Map,” go to http://www.nevadaaudubon.org/bookstore.html.
Rich Moreno covers the places that make Nevada special.