On Sunday June 28th I started my day at Sarsaparilla Trail. One of the birds I still needed for my year list was Least Bittern, and I’d been lucky to hear it in the marsh here last year. In fact, I got a great view of it as it flew from the southern shore toward me and landed in the reeds close to the boardwalk before it started calling. I didn’t expect to actually see one again – they are quite elusive and prefer to hunt within the reeds rather than stalk fish out in the open the way Green Herons and Black-crowned Night Herons do – but I knew if I arrived early enough I might have a chance to hear its mournful call. I’d checked a few times earlier this season to no avail, and with June almost over there wasn’t much time left in the breeding season to track down those birds best found by their songs, as many birds stop singing by late July.
The cold front that arrived late on Sunday brought high winds as well as cold temperatures. Monday morning was so chilly and so gusty that we didn’t do any birding, and when we went to our first show that night (La Reve by Cirque du Soleil) the nighttime temperature had fallen to 0°C. I had hoped that the wind would abate on Tuesday, but it was still blowing strong and not much warmer. That was the only free day of our trip, so I was hoping to do some serious birding, but we stayed inside instead – wind is my least favourite condition for birding, as it makes it hard to hear any calls or chip notes, and most birds are hunkered down themselves.
The weather improved on Wednesday, so Doran and I made plans to go to Sunset Park to look for a Varied Thrush that has been hanging around. This is a rare bird in Las Vegas in the winter, and I had heard about it from Justin Streit, who was also kind enough to send me a map showing its exact location in the park. It was most often seen foraging on the ground near a line of dense shrubs east of the pond, often feeding with doves and blackbirds.
October is a month of transition – we leave the hot days of summer behind (although September didn’t feel like summer this year, as the sultry 25-plus-degree temperatures of years past never materialized) and enter true fall, enjoying those crisp sunny days where the north wind carries a hint of winter and the brilliant orange and red foliage slowly starts to carpet the ground. The sun casts longer shadows as its zenith drops lower and lower in the sky each day, and the shorter days become evident when I have to leave for work in the dark in the morning. The birds, too, are transitioning, as most of the insect-eaters are now gone and the bulk of the seed-eaters – mainly sparrows – start moving through. It’s not going to be a good year for seeing finches in the south, as Ron Pittaway’s Winter Finch Forecast indicates bumper crops up north will keep the crossbills, redpolls and Pine Grosbeaks on their summer territory. Waterfowl and shorebirds are still moving through, although heavy rain toward the end of the month obliterated the remaining shorebird habitat along the Ottawa River – so much for the flocks of Dunlin and White-rumped Sandpipers I was hoping to find at Andrew Haydon Park again.
During the first week of July my fiancé and I spent some time in Prince Edward County with my dad’s family. We rented a cottage on Loves Lane on Prince Edward Bay, a nice three-bedroom place with 8 acres of land only 20 minutes away from both Sandbanks and Picton. The weather was beautiful, and I spent most of my time getting to know the local residents. Chipping Sparrows, Song Sparrows, Red-winged Blackbirds, American Robins, Northern Flickers, Downy Woodpeckers, Eastern Kingbirds, Cedar Waxwings, a Red-eyed Vireo, and a Yellow Warbler were seen or heard around the property every day. Barn Swallows often hunted for insects above the bay, and a couple of times they even landed on the sandy bank at the edge of the swamp just beyond the cottage deck. We saw some great water birds from the deck, including an Osprey perching on the far side of the bay, a trio of Hooded Mergansers diving close by, Caspian Terns hunting for fish further out, six Mute Swans swimming by, a Common Loon that appeared in the bay twice, a mother Mallard that swam by with 11 babies in tow every morning and evening, and the occasional Green or Great Blue Heron flyby. A Merlin flew over the cottage twice, and the second time it appeared to be carrying a bird – a couple of agitated Barn Swallows were chasing it, making me think that the falcon had carried off one of their young.
On Wednesday we returned to Sunset Park, as it was only a 15-minute drive from our hotel. I wanted to check the undeveloped desert dune system for more desert birds, and wasn’t disappointed. Although I didn’t get any new life birds, I did get a nice photo of a Greater Roadrunner, perhaps the bird I most wanted to see on the trip. A male Phainopepla and a male Anna’s Hummingbird were also great finds, though both were too far for decent photos.
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.
On our first morning in Las Vegas we woke up nice and early to meet the Red Rock Audubon Club at the Pine Creek Canyon Trail in Red Rock Canyon. I wanted to make the most of our trip, and since we had never been to the desert before, we wanted to go out with an experienced guide. I’d been eyeing the outings on the Red Rock Audubon Club website for a while, and this trip was exactly what I was looking for. It cost $7 to enter the park for the day, and the Pine Creek Canyon Trail is described as a three-mile, two-hour loop that crosses the open desert, vists an old homestead, and passes through a meadow before heading up into the canyon.
We ended up getting to the meeting point a couple of minutes late, as the road through the park is a one-way, 35 mph scenic loop with multiple look-outs and hiking trails branching off of it, and the one we wanted was – of course – near the end of the loop. In this it reminded me of Algonquin Park’s Highway 60 corridor, except the view was drastically different – I wished we had time to stop and take pictures of the dramatic Spring Mountains rising up from the floor of the Mojave Desert.
I’ve seen a few interesting things in my own backyard and in conservation areas close to home these days, but haven’t taken enough photos for a full blog post; here are a few photos from the past couple of weeks.
On July 10th I visited the Eagleson storm water ponds for an hour in the afternoon. Even though this was much later in the day than I usually visit, I still found 21 species including a Green Heron, an Osprey and a Belted Kingfisher. I also counted three Spotted Sandpipers around the pond. It seems odd that I haven’t seen any tiny precocial sandpiper chicks running around here at this point in the breeding season; either they aren’t breeding here, or they are keeping their young well-hidden. This adult kept a wary eye on me as I photographed it from a respectful distance.
April has arrived, and I think spring has finally arrived with it. We’ve finally had some nice, sunny days and the weather has warmed up, so Deb and I finally got together to do some birding on the second day of April. We headed over to Mud Lake, where we only managed to tally 20 species; this is usually a great place to take in spring migration, but there was surprisingly little difference in the species seen since my previous visit on March 18th. The best birds there were an American Tree Sparrow, three Wood Ducks flying along the river, and an adult Cooper’s Hawk in the woods. Once again a male and female Downy Woodpecker pair came readily to my hand to take some food. I am now noting these birds in eBird, as I’ve been hand-feeding them for a couple of years now. The starlings singing near the filtration plant were of special interest, as we heard them imitating the calls of a Killdeer, an Eastern Wood-pewee, and even a Tree Frog!
On the last day of July I got a late start and headed over to the storm water ponds with the intention of checking them briefly before heading elsewhere. However, I had such a great time I ended up spending almost 90 minutes there! Once again when I arrived, I was startled to see a number of swallows flying above the ponds. Most appeared to be Barn Swallows, but I did see at least two Bank Swallows flying with them. It is interesting to think that they managed to nest here this past summer with all the construction going on; fortunately the bridge they nest under hasn’t been touched by the construction. I later found the Barn Swallows resting on the roof of a nearby house, and counted about 15 of them.