The Henderson Preserve – Part 3: Two more life birds!

Orange-crowned Warbler

After leaving the Black Phoebe and Crissal Thrasher Doran and I walked over to the boardwalk at Pond 4. This is one of the largest ponds and I was told it was one of the best for waterfowl. I was disappointed to see that the boardwalk doesn’t extend very far into the lake-sized pond, and most of the birds – including a flock of gulls I really wanted to ID – were way out in the middle and required a scope. I was able to identify a male Northern Pintail preening on a rock, which was a new bird for my U.S. list, and that was about it. Fortunately there were a few songbirds in the shrubs on the small island right in front of the platform that kept us entertained, and these made the stop worthwhile.

Boardwalk at Pond 4

The first bird was a bright yellow Orange-crowned Warbler eating seeds in the shrubs at the edge of the water. I tried to get some good shots but it was very active, and often disappeared behind the plants in its quest for food.

Orange-crowned Warbler

A pair of sparrows were flitting about in the vegetation close to the ground as well. The first was a Song Sparrow, but the second had much finer streaks, a buffy wash across the chest, and lacked a large, central black spot. It was a Lincoln’s Sparrow, a species I don’t see very often in Ottawa, nor out in the open for very long.

Lincoln’s Sparrow

On our way back to the main trail I finally got a good look and a few photos of one of the gnatcatchers. There are two species in Las Vegas, though the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher – the same species we have in southern Ontario – is a summer resident only. The Black-tailed Gnatcatcher spends the winter in Las Vegas, and looks quite similar to the Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher in non-breeding plumage, although the underside of the tail has more black than white. They have a similar buzzy call, and I heard them before I saw them.

Black-tailed Gnatcatcher

In this photo you can see how the black on the underside of the tail extends about halfway to the tip. Gnatcatchers are very active little birds, and finding one that stayed out in the open long enough to take its picture was a challenge!

Black-tailed Gnatcatcher

We walked past a few ponds which had reeds growing too tall to view the water. I heard two Virginia Rails grunting from within their depths, though I didn’t see any of these secretive rails. I was, however, completely surprised when a Sora crept out of the reeds of a different pond and walked completely out into the open! This is a bird I have trouble seeing in Ottawa, so I was ecstatic with the views of the one at the bird preserve. Both Sora and Virginia Rails are resident breeders at the Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve, though they are considered to be uncommon.



A Northern Harrier swept over the marsh as we continued on our way to the western boundary of the preserve toward Pond 9, which had a couple of small, long islands near the shore. Because of this island – which was fully vegetated with trees and shrubs – a lot of the ducks were swimming relatively close to the main trail

Pond 9

This male Green-winged Teal was one of five swimming in the area.

Green-winged Teal

American Coots and Northern Shovelers were abundant of course, and this female shoveler standing on a rock presented too nice of a view to ignore. Although her plumage looks similar to the plumage of many other female dabbling ducks, that huge bill is dead giveaway.

Northern Shoveler

At the next pond we found five sleeping Snow Geese and a good number of Ruddy Ducks. They are difficult to see up close in Ottawa, but not at the Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve!

Ruddy Duck

I got my next lifer when Doran pointed out a bird on the ground next to the fence. I got my binoculars up in time to see a Greater Roadrunner take flight and land in between the rows of barbed wire at the top of the fence! It was bigger than I expected, with a long tail. I got two distant photos before it flew down to the ground on the other side of the fence and moved out of view. The roadrunner was life bird no. 502 and one that I really wanted to see. I was hoping to find another within the preserve to photograph, but we didn’t see any others during our walk.

A flycatcher was also perching on the fence with its back to us, but we were so far away at first that I didn’t pay much attention to it. Once we got closer to it I had difficulty trying to figure out what it was. Fortunately it was sitting on part of the fence close to where a different section jutted out, so I climbed up on top of the hill and tried to get a good look at it from the front. I was glad I did, for I immediately recognized the gray head and yellow belly of a kingbird! It wasn’t until I got back to the hotel and checked eBird reports that I discovered that Western Kingbird is a summer resident which departs in October, while a rare Cassin’s Kingbird has been seen regularly since early November! The key identifying feature is the white stripe below the bill against a gray head and breast, and my distant front-view photos captured that field mark nicely. I returned to the path to take some pictures from behind, although it never turned to look at me.

Every trip I’ve taken so far there’s been one or two species that completely takes me by surprise, and the Cassin’s Kingbird was one of them. It was no. 37 on my list of target species at 1.1%, but considered rare so I didn’t expect to find one!

Cassin’s Kingbird

A few American Pipits flew over and I spotted another hummingbird perching in a shrub. I was able to get photos from the front and back, and the spots on her chin identifies her as a Anna’s Hummingbird.

Anna’s Hummingbird

By the time we returned to the Visitor Center we found a Black Phoebe perching on the fence surrounding the garden.

Black Phoebe

A Desert Cottontail was enjoying the shade of the building. It was the only mammal we saw other than a small muskrat or rodent that appeared briefly at the edge of the water near the Cinnamon Teals.

Desert Cottontail

I was happy to see the family of Gambel’s Quail inside the preserve, and watched a male pick up a piece of straw.

Gambel’s Quail

Close by an Abert’s Towhee was scratching beneath a tree in the sunlight, and I got some better pictures.

Abert’s Towhee

It was hard to leave this amazing preserve. We spent just over three hours there and ended up with 41 species. There were a couple of species that I had hoped to see but missed, including Bushtit (no. 24 on my list of targets) and Bewick’s Wren (no. 13), but I was super happy with all the species we did see. And because the birds were so close it was a great spot for photography. I really hope to return again, perhaps earlier in the fall before the breeding species have left. I can’t recommend the Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve highly enough, so if you ever get the chance to go to Las Vegas, check it out!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s