Monday, May 25, 2015

Birding Las Vegas

Recently, my job had me going on another trip – this time to Las Vegas. I swear I have a legitimate and respectable job, and it just so happens that it has taken me to exciting places like St. Maarten and Las Vegas in the past few months. This time, however, Nick was able to come with me to also make this trip a fun weekend getaway. And what would a typical Vegas weekend be without including some birding?!? =)

Crane made of flowers at the Belagio Hotel

More cranes in the Belagio Hotel's botanical area

We were excited to once again explore the desert. We took about a 30-minute drive from the Strip to visit Red Rock Canyon. The landscape was simply beautiful, showcasing big rocks with various shades of red and orange. Some were sharp and jagged, while others were rounded and smooth. And we got to enjoy some Joshua Trees, with their delightful spikes of green cutting through the arid land.

Joshua Tree

The visitor center was a lovely building that also had some great outdoor displays with the gorgeous red rocks as its backdrop. In a pen outside was a resident captive Mohave Desert Tortoise. He was super adorable – larger and flatter than the gopher tortoises we were used to seeing in the Southeast. He also had an unusually large “gular horn,” the protrusion coming out from his plastron under his head. The naturalist there supposed that it may have overdeveloped due to an especially protein rich diet in captivity.

Leaving the visitor center, we headed down the 13-mile scenic drive, focusing on some of the “birdier” areas. At our first stop, we saw a welcomed familiar face – the Black-throated Sparrow. We had seen our first when we birded through Phoenix, AZ last year. He was just as handsome as ever, and he treated us to his lovely song, too.

Digiscoped pic of a Black-throated Sparrow

As we went on to our next main stop, we were delighted to see a similarly named cousin, the Black-chinned Sparrow. It was a lifer and the only one we saw the rest of our trip. Instead of being mostly black, buffy and brown like the Black-throated Sparrow, this sparrow was mostly gray with brown wings with just a touch of black on its chin and a sweet little pink bill.

Black-chinned Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow

As we walked around the brush, I swore I saw a low-flying hummingbird. But it turned out to be a very large sphinx moth, flashing its big patches of coraly pink on its wings, hovering and feeding with its long proboscis very much like a hummer.

As we walked, I just kept hearing this lyric in my head: "I've been through the desert on a horse with no name…"

Another familiar face from our East Coast days also made an appearance. The Blue-gray Gnatcatcher made its nasal little whine as it flitted amongst the shrubs. One even led us to its nest where we saw both parents together and then swapping places to stand guard.

Male Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Pair of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers on their nest

We then headed out on a trail that led to a little oasis in the desert. A group of Ponderosa Pines lined a small creek. We caught sight of a few Costa’s Hummingbirds, which we had also seen in Phoenix. We enjoyed the lovely pops of pink and yellow of the desert flowers, but didn’t see much else for a while other than a few bugs and spiders.

We did keep hearing the repetitive calls of a mimid, but couldn’t locate one for quite some time. Then finally we got closer and closer to the singing, and there we found a Crissal Thrasher - our second lifer of the day! We got to see at least two of them as they took turns standing in a sentinel position at the top of a tree. The sun was beating down on us and the heat waves were strong, but we couldn’t have been more excited!

Digiscoped pic of a Crissal Thrasher

That was the last main bird of our trip to Red Rock Canyon, and it was a good one. We were super stoked about the 2 lifers we picked up, plus the cool moths and butterflies that we saw all around. A couple of nice non-birds that ended our day were some fun lizards basking in the hot Nevada sun. We got more than our share of that harsh sun, too. We both walked away with a little sunburn, but it was totally worth it for all of the fun we had!

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