Autumn birding prime in Lahontan wetlands |

Autumn birding prime in Lahontan wetlands

Pat Devereux

This month’s record temperatures in Northern Nevada have delayed fall migration of birds. Dennis Serdehely of the Lahontan Audubon Society led a trip to the Lahontan Valley wetlands Saturday in hopes of seeing large numbers of raptors and waterfowl.

Twenty birders met at the Greenhead Hunting Club. While hunting and birding seem to make for strange bedfellows, hunting organizations, notably Ducks Unlimited, have helped preserved and restore millions of acres of waterfowl habitat in the United States.

The group dispersed into vehicles to carpool for a four-hour drive up and down canals and swamps. The Lahontan Valley wetlands consist of Carson and Stillwater lakes, which Serdehely explained, aren’t really lakes most of the year but a series of marshes. Don’t visit this sink during the rainy season; even after a long , dry summer, sandy areas caused concern for some drivers of low-clearance vehicles.

At one of three observation towers, hunters loaded gear and a bird dog in its own personal flotation device into canoes. Distant gunshots were occasionally heard, but the birds were unconcerned.

Go soon to see brilliant golden cottonwoods against the blue, blue sky. Expect scrutiny by mildly interested free-range cattle with late calves.

More than 50 species of birds were seen or heard Saturday. Participants were promised raptors, and the birds delivered. Half a dozen golden eagles were seen at relatively close range. A prairie falcon; red-tailed, sharp-shinned and northern harrier hawks; and a kestrel were also sighted.

Great blue herons, flapping away like pterodactyls, were common. Other heron species added to the birders’ lists were great white and snowy egrets and a black-crowned night heron. A highlight was huge white tundra swans feeding with diminutive coots, killdeer, long-billed dowitchers, greater and lesser yellow-legs, least sandpipers and black-bellied plovers.

The long-billed curlew lived up to its name with a down-turned beak at least half its body length. Avocets and black-necked stilts daintily navigated the muck alongside several types of ducks, siphoning algae for invertebrates. Of the three gull species sighted, the Bonaparte stood out.

From fences, horned and Western meadowlarks, American pipits, loggerhead shrikes (called “butcher birds” because they impale their insect or amphibian victims on thorns or barbed wire to eat later), three species of sparrows and Say’s phoebes called. In the cottonwoods, flickers, “butter butts” (Audubon warblers), American robins and ruby kinglets flitted about. A scrub jay that wasn’t supposed to be there looked lost.

The last species seen was a prize: our impossibly bright state bird, the mountain bluebird.