Almost as soon as we left the parking lot and entered the trail we were greeted by a Northern Mockingbird perching on a wire and a couple of Verdin and Black-tailed Gnatcatchers foraging in the shrubbery.
The southern portion of Sunset Park protects a remnant of the mesquite-dune system and preserves honey mesquite, saltbush thickets and other native vegetation. It is hard to believe that this bit of desert exists in the middle of one of the most-visited cities in the United States.
A nice paved path winds around the perimeter of the dune system – we saw a few cyclists and dog-walkers on our walk. The interior is blocked off with a small fence, forbidding people to enter.
Also right away we saw a large number of Gambel’s Quail making their way into the thickets along with several Desert Cottontails. Altogether we saw about eight rabbits in the park, making me think that they are just as common in the desert cities as Eastern Cottontails are in Ottawa’s green spaces!
I saw a larger bird land in a distant tree and was happy to identify it as a Red-shafted (Northern) Flicker. I am always happy to see regional subspecies as they often look different from the birds back home. The undersides of the tail and wings of the red-shafted subspecies are bright red, which was easy to see in this bird.
Northern Mockingbirds are common in the city. Almost every time we turned around we saw one, making us think that the one from the parking lot was following us! I estimated that we saw five in the southern portion of the park altogether.
Doran pointed out this Great Blue Heron sitting in the middle of the scrub. Although unusual to see herons away from water, they do eat things like lizards and small mammals!
White-crowned Sparrows are also very common in Las Vegas. I noticed this one perching out in the open, but didn’t realize it was the Gambel’s subspecies until I got home and looked at the photos. Gambel’s White-crowned Sparrows have pale lores (the area between the eyes and the bill) and a yellowish bill.
Once again it was Doran who noticed the Greater Roadrunner walking along the trail. This one paused before entering the desert scrub then quickly disappeared. Although I think of the roadrunner as a classic desert bird, the only ones we saw on our trip were in the city!
A large dark bird perching in a shrub immediately garnered excitement when I realized it was a male Phainopepla. We had seen a female at Red Rock Canyon. I tried to get some photos, and even circled the shrub to get closer, but this was the best photo I got.
We saw a few House Finches, a Great-tailed Grackle, an unidentified hummingbird, several Mourning Doves, a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and two Yellow-rumped Warblers. Then, back near the parking lot, I noticed a male hummingbird perching out in the open in a distant shrub. The colour of his throat was not visible due to the lighting, but the shape of the gorget matched Anna’s Hummingbird rather than Costa’s. I would have loved to have seen a male Costa’s Hummingbird in the sunlight with his bright purple throat. As this was the only male hummingbird that I was able to photograph the whole trip, I was a bit disappointed he wasn’t close enough to manage anything more than a record shot.
After checking out the desert portion of Sunset Park, we took a walk around the pond. I added Red-breasted Nuthatch to the trip list when I saw one fly down to a wet spot near the base of a water fountain, take a quick drink, then return to the trees. Once again there were a lot of ducks and coots present, and whenever I walked to the edge of the pond, they would swim up to me looking for food!
A young Pied-billed Grebe was nice and close, showing off the facial stripes of a first-year bird.
Halfway around the pond I noticed another grebe; this one had a large white cheek patch, so I was hoping it was a Western or a Clark’s Grebe as either species would be new for me. However this grebe was quite small, as was the bill. It was “just” a Horned Grebe, but a new addition to the trip list.
Several geese were resting and feeding on the lawn, and when I noticed the two Ross’s Geese among them I went up to them to take a few pictures. One was sleeping while the other one fed. I was excited to be this close to one and could easily see the round head and the small bill with a lack of a “grin patch” and a bluish colour at the base.
I was sad to see this domestic goose (species unknown) with a condition called Angel Wing, in which the last joint in each wing has bent outward due to poor nutrition. This condition is seen mainly in birds that reside in parks where people feed them unhealthy food, such as bread, popcorn, and crackers. Such a high-carb diet causes their feathers grow too quickly for their soft bones to support the extra weight, resulting in the wings becoming misaligned….because young birds grow so quickly, even a few days of improper eating can cause irreparable damage. Adult birds are unable to fly, and so this condition is almost always a death sentence – they are struck by cars, killed by predators, die from nutritional deficiencies, or are unable to migrate. If you like to feed ducks, better alternatives include waterfowl feed or duck pellets from feed stores, seedless grapes cut in half, shredded kale, Swiss chard, romaine lettuce, wheat, barley or oats.
As we finished the walk we saw Canada Geese, Mallards, American Wigeon, a female Hooded Merganser, Ring-billed Gulls, about 30 Great-tailed Grackles, two Yellow-rumped Warblers, and an Orange-crowned Warbler, bringing our total up to 30 species.
Sunset Park is a great place right within the city to spend a couple of hours and see both water and desert birds. The variety amazed me, and I’m glad I got a second chance to see the Phainopepla and Greater Roadrunner.