Lifebirds of the Southwest

Shortly after touchdown at Las Vegas International Airport, I had one destination on my mind and it wasn’t the Strip. I took the shuttle to the car rental center and 45 minutes later, I was on the road, my binoculars on the passenger seat, and I was heading to one of the best birding locations around Las Vegas: the Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve.

I had two notoriously difficult birds on my wish list that I hoped to see at the birding center. Because of their secretive nature, crissal and Le Conte’s thrashers were a prize on any desert birding trip to the southwest.

On my arrival at the visitor center I was informed that Le Conte’s was not to be found here but crissal could be seen just beyond the fence on the other side of Pond 6.

The Birding Preserve is an oasis of 9 ponds in the desert, southeast of the Vegas Strip and directly east of the airport. I threaded my way out to the far side of Pond 6 and walked the fence line, looking for the secretive thrasher.

In a near bush I spotted a little mouse of a bird, seen in a pair, it was a desert gnatcatcher, the black-tailed gnatcatcher. Life bird number 506.

black-tailed

After watching the gnatcatchers, I scanned the brush for any sign of the thrasher and listening for their musical desert song. Then the thrasher appeared on top of a bush near the fence line and I had great looks of this fleeting enigma. It flew from bush to bush and I stayed with the bird for about ten minutes then I headed back to the visitor center, the preserve closed at 2:00 and I was warned that I would be locked in if I didn’t return in time. A roadrunner was a nice treat on my way out.

crissal-thrasher

Life bird number 507, crissal thrasher (Toxostoma crissale).

Two lifers in Las Vegas was not a bad haul and the other lifer I could expect to find was in Zion National Park, two and a half hours away. This bird was not rare and unlike the thrashers, was very conspicuous and easy to see. Indeed this bird was “created” by the American Bird Association (ABA), as it was split from the western scrub-jay. All scrub-Jay’s were once considered one species but are now broken up as Western, Florida,  Island, and now Woodhouse’s.

I didn’t really look for Woodhouse’s, I just knew that eventually we would cross paths somewhere in Zion. This I did while returning from Emerald Pools on the Kayenta Trail. I later have better views of a different jay on the Pa ‘rus Trail. This jay looks exactly the same as the western but favors juniper over oaks and there is no range overlap in southern Utah. Easy lifer.

woodhouse

Woodhouse’s jay, life bird number 508.

I was going to try one more time for the elusive Le Conte’s thrasher. This involve getting up extremely early, and leaving Springdale by 6 AM, so I could make my 1 o’clock flight from Sin City (turns out the flight was delayed by two and half hours because of Bay Area weather). My destination was the entrance road to Corn Creek, north west of Las Vegas. This is a hotspot, according to ebird, for this species. I waited as an approaching thunderstorm bore down on me. I searched the brush that flanked the road, and I heard it’s contact call but I never saw the  ghostly pale phantasma of a bird. It just gives me a bird to look for on my trip to Joshua Tree during my winter break.

img_5767

I may have heard a Le Conte’s thrasher at Corn Creek but the elusive bird was not seen, instead I was treated to one of nature’s masterpieces. Sun, rain, thunder, lighting, double rainbow.

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