Global Big Day 2015: Nevada Big Day Trip Report (158 Species!)

CORRECTION:  Originally counted at 157, Zachary Ormsby noticed a species missing from our final list below, and a quick check confirmed that we did actually have 158 species + Empidonax sp.! I’ve updated the checklist at the bottom of this post, and the numbers in the text below to reflect the corrected total.

I have 3 year old, so it isn’t very often that I get to spend a full day out birding. So, when Brian Steger suggested running a Big Day to coincide with eBird’s inaugural Global Big Day and International Migratory Bird Day, my wife gave me the day off of daddy duty and the game was on! Both Brian and I are new to the Reno area, and this was more than enough of an excuse for us to get out and explore new locales, refine our understanding of what birds are where this time of year, and to have a great day out birding.

After far too little scouting, some helpful suggestions from Rob Lowry and other Reno/Tahoe area birders, some final tweaks Friday afternoon produced a nicely scheduled route. Brian and I agreed to meet around 10pm after my son went to sleep to get a jump on owling, and despite the rain, we headed out around quarter past 10pm. Rob Lowry, who had work commitments, couldn’t afford to lose sleep Friday night. So we decided that good birding companions trump ABA Big Day listing rules, and we planned to pick up Rob in Carson City late morning, and he would join us for the rest of the day after that.

Our first stop was one final scouting stop in south Reno. We’d received a tip about a pair of Barn Owls from the Birding Nevada facebook page, and we wanted to pin down that location so we could get them after midnight. Unfortunately, a light rain kept the Barn Owls holed up where it was warm and dry, and we neither heard nor saw them. After that, the skies started to clear, and we had other owls to find.

We began our Big Day at 12:00am in the Geiger Summit area, hoping for Common Poorwill and some owls. By the time we started, conditions had improved considerably. The moon had appeared from behind the clouds, the stars were shining bright, the rain had subsided, and the wind was dead calm. But there were no birds, only some wild horses.

Wild Horses

Wild Horses near Geiger Summit southeast of Reno, NV

With nothing on the board, we headed back to the Barn Owl spot. As we approached, we quickly spotted one sitting on a roof exactly where we had told we might find one! A state bird for both Brian and I, and a great bird to start our Big Day!

We quickly moved on and headed to Damonte Marsh where we added Sora and Virginia Rail along with some more common marsh birds. The rails were nice, but the highlight was a nearby coyote pack sounding off in the otherwise calm darkness. The clock was ticking, so we continued on.

After unsuccessfully trying for Great-tailed Grackles, we headed up to the Tahoe basin for a second shot a owls and poorwill. A stop at Spooner Lake produced our first Great Horned Owl. Regardless of being the easiest owl to find in the region, the experience of listening to one hooting while watching the moon rise through the trees and fog was an extraordinary moment.

From Spooner Lake, we headed to Chimney Beach. Upon stepping out of my vehicle, we were greeted by a pair of serenading FLAMMULATED OWLS! A life bird for Brian, a state bird for both of us, and a bird we thought it was too early in the season to get! After just a minute or so, a Common Poorwill sounded off, shortly after that a Northern Saw-whet Owl (species #12 for the day) joined the chorus! Things were starting to look up.

After a few unsuccessful stops for Northern Pygmy Owl, the dark sky began to lighten up, and we headed out into Tahoe Meadows. As darkness started to give way to daylight, we quickly bagged Wilson’s Snipe and Fox Sparrow. Then Mountain Quail, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Williamson’s Sapsucker, Clark’s Nutcracker, and a few more common species. The Quail were a treat, but the real surprise highlight was a vociferous Northern Goshawk! A difficult bird and another state bird for both of us!

From Tahoe Meadows, we headed back to Chimney Beach. We hoped to pick up Pacific Wren, Sooty Grouse, and a lot of other hard to find birds, but, due to our inexperience birding the area, we started on the wrong trail and climbed up away from the creek. Despite the error, I got lucky and got a visual on a calling Pileated Woodpecker across the drainage, but we dipped on Sooty Grouse and head back down. We missed the wren as well, but added Wilson’s Warbler, MacGillivray’s Warbler, and a few other good birds.

Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine Falcon at Cave Rock, Lake Tahoe.

After Chimney Beach, we returned to Spooner Lake. It was still early, and the insectivores seemed to be just getting active. Brian observed a noticeable decrease in the number of birds from a week earlier, but we still added several target species – Ring-necked Duck, Orange-crowned Warbler, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Western Tanager, all three nuthatch species, and several Cassin’s Vireos (a lifer for me; and I was lucky to have multiple birds provide some excellent views!).

Driving south along the lake before heading down 207 into Carson Valley, we picked up Peregrine Falcon at Cave Rock, and added a few other odds and ends, but we left the mountains short on insectivores and a few other mountain species we weren’t likely to see for the rest of the day.

Goodbye Mountains, Hello Valley Birds!
Our next stop was the Centerville Ln and Centerville Marsh in Carson Valley. The Tricolored Blackbirds were exactly where Brian had seen them a week earlier, and yet another state bird for me. A short distance down the road we added Sandhill Crane, and the small pond where the blackbirds bred in prior years produced Red-necked and Wilson’s Phalaropes, Swainson’s Hawk, and other more common species.

After adding the nesting Bald Eagles from Genoa Lane, we headed to Rob and Rickie Lowry’s house in Carson City with high hopes of adding Evening Grosbeak and some other difficult to find species visiting the Lowry’s feeders. We quickly added the grosbeaks and then got our only Cedar Waxwings of the day as the three of us were loading the car to head to Carson River Park.

At Carson River Park, we added Western Screech-Owl, Lazuli Bunting, Wood Duck, Black Phoebe, American Goldfinch, and several other target birds. We then headed back to the Lowry’s place for a second chance at feeder birds and were not disappointed when we picked up a Hooded Oriole, another state bird for Brian and me!

From the Lowry’s house we headed straight to Deadman’s Creek. We nailed our three targets – Long-eared Owl, Cooper’s Hawk, and Rock Wren – added a soaring flock of American White Pelicans, and moved on.

Our next stop was Davis Creek Park. The targeted Calliope Hummingbird was perched exactly where we expected him, and we picked up an unexpected Chipping Sparrow. An empid was chipping, but we were uncomfortable calling it and couldn’t get eyes on it, so we disappointingly left a species on the board (that was our ONLY empid of the day!).

From Davis Creek we raced north to the Damonte wetlands pond behind the fire station. The pond had very little water and the mudflats were getting pretty dry. We added just one species – American Green-winged Teal – and left Damonte a little worried about our shorebird and waterfowl prospects for the day.

If Damonte was surprisingly bad and dispiriting, the South Meadows pond was surprisingly good and uplifting. The 5-minute stop produced no less than  9 new day birds – American Crow, California Gull, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Black-crowned Night Heron, Forster’s Tern, Lesser Scaup, Bufflehead, and a lone Great-tailed Grackle. Score! We left South Meadows with a pep in our step and a second wind!

Since we were a few minutes ahead of schedule, and still needed Ring-billed Gull and Clark’s Grebe, we made a quick detour to Virginia Lake and quickly added the gull and the long-present grebe. A quick stop at Idlewild Park was necessary to add Downy Woodpecker. And then we scoped the Red-shouldered Hawk on it’s nest across the river from Ivan Sack Park.

The next stop was Crystal Peak Park, where we added several more targets – Vaux’s Swift, Black-chinned Hummingbird, and Red-breasted Sapsucker. A quick stop on the Bridge Street bridge in Verdi produced an Acorn Woodpecker, but we left Verdi without American Dipper, Hairy Woodpecker, and Violet-green Swallow, three species we’d end up missing altogether.

Acorn Woodpecker

Acorn Woodpecker along the Truckee River near Verdi.

Lemmon Valley then Back to Reno
Our next key area to visit was Lemmon Valley. The sewage ponds were a complete bust. Whereas a lack of water was a problem at Damonte, too much water at the water treatment plant left no shorebird habitat. A Northern Mockingbird, a flock of flyby Least Sandpipers and distant Canvasback were all we added from a place for which we had high hopes. From there, things turned around as Sage Thrasher, Juniper Titmouse, Black-throated Sparrow, Loggerhead Shrike, and Brewer’s Sparrow all were found exactly where we had hoped for (and expected) them to be.

With our time running short, we decided to skip Rancho San Rafael and head directly to the Sparks Marina for Mew Gull. This bird had been super reliable the past week, and Brian had stopped on Friday evening and had seen the gull within a minute or two. Our goal to was to find it quickly and then move on to Mason Valley Wildlife Management Area to end the day. Alas, our quick stop for Mew did not go as planned. Not only did we not find the gull quickly, we didn’t find it at all. Pine Sisking and Hairy Woodpecker were a pity to miss for the day, but the gull was easily our most disappointing miss of the day.

Mason Valley WMA
As we drove away from Sparks Marina, we did a quick count to see how many species we had and what we could still possibly add. Before we started, Brian had pegged us for 155 or so species, and I thought 150ish was likely. After Sparks Marina were were at 149 species. 149! With the drive to Mason Valley and then Mason Valley itself all that was left for us to bird, those projections were looking pretty accurate. Optimists that we are, Rob and I predicted we’d end up over Brian’s projection of 155 … Brian played it safe and took the under.

We hoped to luck into a Prairie Falcon on the drive, but added only Horned Lark, #150. As we entered Mason Valley, we saw a large flock of Mourning Doves. Within the flock was a lone sparrow, which turned out to be species #151 – Lark Sparrow! My 16th state bird for the day, #198 for my state list, and #197 for my state year list! As we drove along, eyes slowly closing, Brian started making some guttural grunting sounds at the same time Rob simultaneously called out, “Wild Turkey!” for species #152 of the day.  A drive around the wetlands loop at Mason Valley WMA added American Bittern #153, Common Yellowthroat #154, and Black Tern #155.

Mason Valley WMA

Mason Valley WMA, looking south from the Wetlands Loop.

As we arrived at Miller’s Marsh to finish up the day, the sun fell behind the mountains, and things looked bleak. We had miscounted at this point, and thought we were at #154, so when, right on cue, two Caspian Terns flew by (for species #156) Rob and I thought we were still one shy of our prediction. Surely the last birds we would get, or so we thought. Since I was driving, I told Brian and Rob that I would take them hostage and drag them to University Farms to add Savannah Sparrow in the dark to guarantee species #156, if needed. Fortunately for them, as I scanned the marsh my jaw dropped open and I couldn’t believe what was there preening in the water in front of us.  I blurted out “No way. No way!” before the words “Blue-winged Teal!” finally fell from my lips.  Everyone got great looks at the breeding plumage male.  After some high fives between Rob and I, we sat enjoyed extended views, snapped a few photos and savored the moment. And then, as Rob was taking photos of the teal, bird number #158 sang out — Savannah Sparrow.  We were on cloud nine.

Blue-winged Teal

Blue-winged Teal with Cinnamon Teal, at Miller’s Marsh, Mason Valley WMA.

The brilliant orange sunset was almost the perfect ending to this amazing day of birding, but mother nature was not letting us go without some fanfare. As we headed back to the car, an American Bittern became visible a few dozen yards out into the marsh and it began pumping away as we looked on before heading back home to catch up on some much needed sleep.

Great birds, great company, it all made for an unforgettable day of birding!  I added 18 state birds and one life bird, and Brian added 1 lifer (Flammulated Owl; heard only), somewhere around 21-23 state birds and 14 county birds.

PS:  All 158 species, plus the unidentified empid, made it into eBird for the May 9th Global Big Day event. This was the second highest Big Day total for Nevada that I’m aware of (the current Big Day record for Nevada is 162, set 10 May 1997 by Larry Neel, Graham Chisholm, Keith Geluso, and Bob Flores), however we had to break ABA Big Day Rules to pull this off on May 9th and to make sure Rob could join us for at least some of the day. I suppose that means we’ll just have to do it again sometime! 🙂

SPECIES LIST (Order is only approximate; via eBird)

1 Canada Goose – Branta canadensis
2 Virginia Rail – Rallus limicola
3 Sora – Porzana carolina
4 American Coot – Fulica americana
5 Killdeer – Charadrius vociferus
6 Barn Owl – Tyto alba
7 Marsh Wren – Cistothorus palustris
8 Mallard – Anas platyrhynchos
9 Great Horned Owl – Bubo virginianus
10 Flammulated Owl – Psiloscops flammeolus
11 Northern Saw-whet Owl – Aegolius acadicus
12 Common Poorwill – Phalaenoptilus nuttallii
13 Mountain Quail – Oreortyx pictus
14 Northern Goshawk – Accipiter gentilis
15 Wilson’s Snipe – Gallinago delicata
16 Williamson’s Sapsucker – Sphyrapicus thyroideus
17 Northern Flicker – Colaptes auratus
18 Steller’s Jay – Cyanocitta stelleri
19 Clark’s Nutcracker – Nucifraga columbiana
20 Mountain Chickadee – Poecile gambeli
21 White-breasted Nuthatch – Sitta carolinensis
22 Brown Creeper – Certhia americana
23 American Robin – Turdus migratorius
24 Yellow-rumped Warbler – Setophaga coronata
25 Fox Sparrow – Passerella iliaca
26 Lincoln’s Sparrow – Melospiza lincolnii
27 White-crowned Sparrow – Zonotrichia leucophrys
28 Dark-eyed Junco – Junco hyemalis
29 Cassin’s Finch – Haemorhous cassinii
30 Common Merganser – Mergus merganser
31 Bushtit – Psaltriparus minimus
32 Spotted Towhee – Pipilo maculatus
33 Brown-headed Cowbird – Molothrus ater
34 Western Grebe – Aechmophorus occidentalis
35 Osprey – Pandion haliaetus
36 Band-tailed Pigeon – Patagioenas fasciata
37 White-headed Woodpecker – Picoides albolarvatus
38 Pileated Woodpecker – Dryocopus pileatus
39 Red-breasted Nuthatch – Sitta canadensis
40 Golden-crowned Kinglet – Regulus satrapa
41 MacGillivray’s Warbler – Geothlypis tolmiei
42 Wilson’s Warbler – Cardellina pusilla
43 Ring-necked Duck – Aythya collaris
44 Pied-billed Grebe – Podilymbus podiceps
45 Eared Grebe – Podiceps nigricollis
46 Cassin’s Vireo – Vireo cassinii
47 Common Raven – Corvus corax
48 Pygmy Nuthatch – Sitta pygmaea
49 House Wren – Troglodytes aedon
50 Ruby-crowned Kinglet – Regulus calendula
51 Orange-crowned Warbler – Oreothlypis celata
52 Green-tailed Towhee – Pipilo chlorurus
53 Song Sparrow – Melospiza melodia
54 Western Tanager – Piranga ludoviciana
55 Brewer’s Blackbird – Euphagus cyanocephalus
56 Peregrine Falcon – Falco peregrinus
57 Turkey Vulture – Cathartes aura
58 Golden Eagle – Aquila chrysaetos
59 Black-billed Magpie – Pica hudsonia
60 Eurasian Collared-Dove – Streptopelia decaocto
61 Mourning Dove – Zenaida macroura
62 California Quail – Callipepla californica
63 Red-winged Blackbird – Agelaius phoeniceus
64 Tricolored Blackbird – Agelaius tricolor
65 Western Meadowlark – Sturnella neglecta
66 Yellow-headed Blackbird – Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus
67 Great Blue Heron – Ardea herodias
68 Sandhill Crane – Grus canadensis
69 American Wigeon – Anas americana
70 Cinnamon Teal – Anas cyanoptera
71 Redhead – Aythya americana
72 Swainson’s Hawk – Buteo swainsoni
73 American Avocet – Recurvirostra americana
74 Spotted Sandpiper – Actitis macularius
75 Wilson’s Phalarope – Phalaropus tricolor
76 Red-necked Phalarope – Phalaropus lobatus
77 American Kestrel – Falco sparverius
78 Bank Swallow – Riparia riparia
79 House Sparrow – Passer domesticus
80 Northern Shoveler – Anas clypeata
81 Bald Eagle – Haliaeetus leucocephalus
82 Cedar Waxwing – Bombycilla cedrorum
83 Black-headed Grosbeak – Pheucticus melanocephalus
84 Hooded Oriole – Icterus cucullatus
85 House Finch – Haemorhous mexicanus
86 Evening Grosbeak – Coccothraustes vespertinus
87 Northern Pintail – Anas acuta
88 White-faced Ibis – Plegadis chihi
89 Black-necked Stilt – Himantopus mexicanus
90 Wood Duck – Aix sponsa
91 Gadwall – Anas strepera
92 Red-tailed Hawk – Buteo jamaicensis
93 Western Screech-Owl – Megascops kennicottii
94 Belted Kingfisher – Megaceryle alcyon
95 Black Phoebe – Sayornis nigricans
96 Western Kingbird – Tyrannus verticalis
97 Warbling Vireo – Vireo gilvus
98 Northern Rough-winged Swallow – Stelgidopteryx serripennis
99 Cliff Swallow – Petrochelidon pyrrhonota
100 Bewick’s Wren – Thryomanes bewickii
101 European Starling – Sturnus vulgaris
102 Yellow Warbler – Setophaga petechia
103 Lazuli Bunting – Passerina amoena
104 Bullock’s Oriole – Icterus bullockii
105 Lesser Goldfinch – Spinus psaltria
106 American Goldfinch – Spinus tristis
107 American White Pelican – Pelecanus erythrorhynchos
108 Cooper’s Hawk – Accipiter cooperii
109 Rock Wren – Salpinctes obsoletus
110 Long-eared Owl – Asio otus
111 Calliope Hummingbird – Selasphorus calliope
112 Western Wood-Pewee – Contopus sordidulus
113 Western Bluebird – Sialia mexicana
114 Chipping Sparrow – Spizella passerina
115 Green-winged Teal – Anas crecca
116 Willet – Tringa semipalmata
117 Lesser Scaup – Aythya affinis
118 Bufflehead – Bucephala albeola
119 Ruddy Duck – Oxyura jamaicensis
120 Double-crested Cormorant – Phalacrocorax auritus
121 Great Egret – Ardea alba
122 Snowy Egret – Egretta thula
123 Black-crowned Night-Heron – Nycticorax nycticorax
124 California Gull – Larus californicus
125 Forster’s Tern – Sterna forsteri
126 American Crow – Corvus brachyrhynchos
127 Great-tailed Grackle – Quiscalus mexicanus
128 Clark’s Grebe – Aechmophorus clarkii
129 Ring-billed Gull – Larus delawarensis
130 Rock Pigeon – Columba livia
131 Downy Woodpecker – Picoides pubescens
132 Red-shouldered Hawk – Buteo lineatus
133 Vaux’s Swift – Chaetura vauxi
134 Black-chinned Hummingbird – Archilochus alexandri
135 Red-breasted Sapsucker – Sphyrapicus ruber
136 Western Scrub-Jay – Aphelocoma californica
137 Tree Swallow – Tachycineta bicolor
138 Acorn Woodpecker – Melanerpes formicivorus
139 Canvasback – Aythya valisineria
140 Least Sandpiper – Calidris minutilla
141 Northern Mockingbird – Mimus polyglottos
142 Say’s Phoebe – Sayornis saya
143 Sage Thrasher – Oreoscoptes montanus
144 Juniper Titmouse – Baeolophus ridgwayi
145 Black-throated Sparrow – Amphispiza bilineata
146 Loggerhead Shrike – Lanius ludovicianus
147 Brewer’s Sparrow – Spizella breweri
148 Horned Lark – Eremophila alpestris
149 Lark Sparrow – Chondestes grammacus
150 Wild Turkey – Meleagris gallopavo
151 American Bittern – Botaurus lentiginosus
152 Northern Harrier – Circus cyaneus
153 Black Tern – Chlidonias niger
154 Barn Swallow – Hirundo rustica
155 Common Yellowthroat – Geothlypis trichas
156 Blue-winged Teal – Anas discors
157 Caspian Tern – Hydroprogne caspia
158 Savannah Sparrow – Passerculus sandwichensis
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One Response to Global Big Day 2015: Nevada Big Day Trip Report (158 Species!)

  1. Pingback: Record Breaking Nevada Big Day, May 2016 | Mostly Birds

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