WHAT TO EXPECT Washoe Valley is located between Reno and Carson City. The area is characterized by a diversity of habitats. It includes Scripps Wildlife Management Area and two shallow lakes, Little Washoe Lake to the north and the much larger Washoe Lake to the south, as well as extensive marshes during wet years. Washoe Lake State Park lies along the eastern and southern edges of Washoe Lake. Tree-lined Franktown Road along the west side of the valley passes farms and ponds at the foot of the Carson Range. Davis Creek Regional Park offers access to forested slopes on the northwest side of Washoe Valley. East Lake Boulevard (sometimes spelled Eastlake) on the east side of the valley passes through sagebrush and bitterbrush slopes of the lower, unforested Virginia Range. Washoe Valley is a Nevada Important Bird Area.
Best time of year: Year-round, with raptors and waterfowl particularly good October through March.
Notable species: Raptors include Golden Eagle and Red-tailed Hawk year-round and Bald Eagle and Rough-legged Hawk in winter. Tundra Swan may be seen in winter and American White Pelican in spring and fall. Sooty Grouse, White-headed Woodpecker, and Calliope Hummingbird are specialties of the mountains and foothills. The valley offers habitat for shorebirds, waterfowl, and rails. (See the Popular Birding Route.)
Precautions: Parking on the shoulders of US 395 along Route Segment #1 is extremely hazardous. This is a heavily traveled four-lane divided highway with speeds in excess of 70 mph.
HOW TO GET THERE From the I-80 & US 395 interchange, drive south on US 395 approximately 19 miles through the town of Washoe City to the point where US 395 becomes a divided highway. From this point, there are three route segments to bird the valley, described sequentially below: (1) off US 395 along the west edge of the Washoe Lake and marsh system (waterfowl, shorebirds, and raptors); (2) Franktown Road via SR 429/Old Hwy 395 along the foothills of the Carson Range on the west side (forest birds); and (3) East Lake Boulevard along the eastern side of the lake and marsh system (riparian and marsh birds and sage dwellers).
POPULAR BIRDING ROUTE Route Segment 1: (Note precautions above.) Travel south on US 395 4.0 miles to Exit 44 Bellevue Road. Cross over US 395 to the edge of Washoe Lake to view waterfowl, shorebirds, gulls, and three species of blackbirds. Backtrack over US 395. Take Whitman Street, the first street to the right (north) and continue approximately 0.2 mile to a dead end. Bird the ponds to the left and right and the Big Canyon Creek delta and marsh straight ahead. (Note: This is a short-radius turnaround.) Backtrack to US 395 and continue south 2.3 miles to Exit 42 East Lake Boulevard.
Route Segment 2: At Exit 42 East Lake Boulevard, turn right (west) at the stop sign and right again (north) onto SR 429/Old Hwy 395. At 1.5 miles turn left onto Franktown Road/SR 877, which skirts the edge of the Carson Range. Pine trees, shrubs, fields, and streams may yield, in addition to species mentioned in segment 1, woodpeckers, jays, nuthatches, and other montane forest species. At about 4.2 miles, Franktown Road rejoins SR 429/Old Hwy 395. Turn left (north) and continue about 2.5 miles to the entrance to Davis Creek Regional Park on the left.
After entering Davis Creek Regional Park go left to the Day Use Area (restrooms). Follow the signs to the Lake View Group Picnic Area. Bird the Jeffrey pines, shrubs, and pond for mountain birds, including woodpeckers, sapsuckers, nuthatches, Western Tanagers, and various swallows and warblers. (Side Trip A) Backtrack toward the park entrance and park to the left in the Campground Visitor Parking, just outside of the Day Use gates. Enter the campgrounds on foot. At the top of the main camp road loop, in the northwest corner of the campgrounds, the thick willows around an intermittent creek form a traditional nesting site for Calliope Hummingbird. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Bushtit, Mountain Chickadee, and various warblers frequent the willows and surrounding bitterbrush. Return to SR 429.
Route Segment 3: At the exit from Davis Creek Regional Park, turn left (north) onto SR 429/Old Hwy 395 and again onto US 395 northbound. Proceed north 2.5 miles to turn right onto East Lake Boulevard; travel 2.0 miles south to Lakeshore Drive and turn right (south). Continue 1.7 miles to a right-turn dirt road into the Washoe Lake State Park boat ramp area (day use fee and restrooms), productive in winter and spring for waterfowl, gulls, terns, Wilson's and the occasional Red-necked Phalarope, and swallows. A few hundred yards east of the park ranger station is a northbound road into the Scripps Wildlife Management Area, closed during breeding season February 1 to June 30. Check ponds for shorebirds, waterfowl, nesting Marsh Wren, Virginia Rail, and calling Sora. A Great Blue Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron, and Snowy Egret rookery is situated about one-half mile north (may be flooded).
Return east to Lakeshore Drive. Turn left (north) and drive 0.7 mile to Esmeralda Drive. Turn right (east) and go 1 mile to East Lake Boulevard. Turn right (south). Jumbo Grade 0.5 mile south of Esmeralda on the left may yield Pinyon Jay and Juniper Titmouse. From Jumbo Grade, continue south 3.1 miles to Washoe Lake State Park (day use fee and restrooms). The park is frequently crowded on weekends. A bird list is available. East of the sand dunes on the east shore of the lake, sage scrub species may nest. Bank Swallows nest in the blowouts between the dunes. Check the willows along the lake's edge in the Day Use area for migrating and nesting songbirds.
Returning to East Lake Boulevard, turn right. Just beyond the park entrance at 0.3 mile on the left a large cottonwood marks the entrance to Deadman's Creek Trail. (Side Trip B) Travel an additional 1.4 miles to the observation platform on the right overlooking the Washoe Lake Wetland. Continue right (west) on East Lake Boulevard to return to US 395. Long-billed Curlews sometimes feed in the ranch pastures to the right.
OPTIONAL SIDE TRIPS Side Trip A Ophir Creek Trail: In Davis Creek Regional Park, the 6-mile Ophir Creek Trail begins near the restrooms and interpretive signs in the Lake View Group Picnic Area. This is a strenuous hike with a 4,000-foot ascent. The lower portion of this trail is montane scrub, which changes to Jeffrey pine as it climbs. American Dipper occur along the creek in the summer, especially east of Price Lake, about 4 miles up the trail. Sooty Grouse boom near Price Lake in the late spring and early summer. For the upper end of this trail, see Area #17 - Tahoe Meadows and Upper Ophir Creek, Side Trip A
.Side Trip B Deadman's Creek Trail: This is a one-mile trail uphill from East Lake Boulevard. This spring-fed riparian area provides habitat for a variety of migrating warblers as well as nesting species such as Long-eared and Great Horned Owls, Cooper's Hawk, Black-billed Magpie, Lazuli Bunting, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Bewick's and House Wrens, Bushtit, Brewer's Sparrow, and Spotted Towhee.
WHAT TO EXPECT This urban lake is best known for its waterfowl and gulls, especially during fall and winter. A paved 1-mile walking and jogging path around the lake provides an excellent opportunity to scan and study the large flocks. Patient birders are often rewarded with an unusual gull or duck. More than 110 species have been recorded here.
Best time of year: November through March, but birding the trees around the park during the spring can be quite productive.
Notable species: Hooded and Common Mergansers, Snow and Ross's Geese, and occasional Barrow's Goldeneye and Eurasian Wigeon may be seen among the sizable flocks of wintering waterfowl, which include Redhead, Ruddy Duck, Northern Shoveler, American Wigeon, Gadwall, and Canada Goose. A surprising number of raptors frequent the lake. Glaucous-winged, Glaucous, Thayer's, Mew or Glaucous-winged x Western hybrid gull individuals can sometimes be found within the large flocks of California and Ring-billed Gulls, particularly in the winter. Also look for small numbers of wintering Herring Gull. Black-crowned Night-Heron have roosted in the large trees at the northeast end of the lake.
HOW TO GET THERE From the I-80 & US 395 interchange, drive approximately 1.5 miles south on US 395 to Exit 65A Plumb Lane. Turn right on East Plumb Lane and proceed 1.5 miles west to Lakeside Drive. Turn left (south) on Lakeside Drive, drive two short blocks, and bear left to the small parking lot at the north end of the lake.
POPULAR BIRDING ROUTE Follow the paved one-mile path around the lake. Note the small island in the south end of the lake, which has provided nesting habitat for a number of species including California Gull, Double-crested Cormorant, and Snowy Egret.
OPTIONAL SIDE TRIPS Side Trip A Incline Village General Improvement District Wetlands Enhancement Facility: On the east side of US 395, this area of natural marshes and extensive evaporation ponds is often productive for a variety of migratory and nesting waterfowl and wetland birds. Permission to enter must be arranged in advance: Call the Incline Village Water Treatment Office (775- 832-1289).
Northbound on US 395, turn right (east) on Johnson Lane (4.9 miles north of the intersection with SR 88). Travel 1.9 miles to Vicky Lane. Turn left (north) onto Vicky and drive north 2.3 miles, crossing Stephanie Lane at 1 mile, to the gate for the facility (last 0.2 mile is dirt). Bird the natural marshes and evaporation ponds by automobile and foot. Backtrack south 1.3 miles to Stephanie Lane. Turn right (west) onto Stephanie and travel 1.9 miles to US 395. Turn right (north) onto US 395 to return to Reno.
Side Trip B Carson River Park: This city park on the west bank of the Carson River in Carson City provides a paved parking lot (restrooms, handicapped access) and a short trail to a viewing platform overlooking the river. There is also an entry turnstile accessing the east side of Silver Saddle Ranch (Side Trip C), where trails to the left along the Carson River are good for songbirds and raptors. Traveling north through downtown Carson City, turn off US 395 to the right (east) at Fifth Street (stoplight) and proceed 2.4 miles to Carson River Road. Turn right (south) and go 2 miles to the paved parking lot on the right just before the river bridge.
Side Trip C Silver Saddle Ranch: This publicly owned ranch is comprised of 848 acres of open space along the west side of the Carson River. It may be accessed either through the turnstile at Carson River Park (Side Trip B) or by backtracking from the park 0.6 mile on Carson River Road to the ranch's main entrance on the left side (south) of the road. Proceed 0.5 mile on the dirt road to the main parking area by the ranch buildings. Follow the path between the buildings to the ranch house, where a 1.5-mile loop trail leads east between pastures to the fence line along the Carson River. Here the trail turns to the right and follows the river.
WHAT TO EXPECT Located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada west of Reno, the town of Verdi (VUR-dye) is surrounded by a variety of habitats including riparian, meadow, aspen, pine forest, and upland shrub. Although considerable development has occurred here, Verdi still offers plenty of opportunities to view and enjoy wildlife.
Best time of year: April through October
Notable species: Spotted Towhee, Mountain Chickadee, Steller's Jay, woodpeckers, and sapsuckers are readily seen. Golden-crowned Sparrow may occur in winter. Watch for Mountain and Western Bluebirds in open, brushy areas and for migrating songbirds in riparian areas. American Dipper is possible along the Truckee River.
HOW TO GET THERE From the I-80 & US 395 interchange, travel approximately 10 miles west on I-80 to Exit 5 East Verdi. Follow the road to Verdi. From I-80 Exit 5 East Verdi, travel 2.5 miles on 3rd Street (unsigned) to Bridge Street.
POPULAR BIRDING ROUTE Turn right (north) on Bridge Street. Check the trees around the fire station on the left for woodpeckers and migrating songbirds. The entrance and parking for Verdi Nature Trail is at 0.2 mile on the right just past Verdi Elementary School. (Side Trip A) Proceed 0.2 mile past the school to the first bridge. Parking is available only on the right shoulder. The Truckee River can be accessed by a rough trail beginning on the right near a rock bearing a plaque commemorating Crystal Peak Toll Bridge. The trail follows the south bank of the Truckee River along the northern edge of a golf course. Birding is also good on the bridge and on foot for the next 0.7 mile along Bridge Street.
From the bridge, drive the short distance to Dog Valley Road and turn right (northwest). Check the old cemetery on the right on Dog Valley Road at 0.2 mile after the turn. At 0.7 mile (Side Trip B) turn left onto the dirt road heading southeast, an extension of Hill Lane (unsigned). Bird along this road for 0.6 mile to the intersection with Sylvan Circle. Bear right (south) and continue 1.0 mile to the end of Hill Lane, watching for Mountain Bluebird on the right.
Turn left onto Trelease Road for 0.1 mile to the main road, 3rd Street. Turn left (north) onto 3rd Street and proceed 0.5 mile to the Truckee River. Cross the river and turn right into the entrance to Crystal Peak Park (restrooms). After leaving Crystal Peak Park, turn right (northeast) on 3rd Street and continue to retrace your route 2.8 miles to I-80 to return to Reno.
OPTIONAL SIDE TRIPS Side Trip A Verdi Nature Trail: This 0.5-mile loop trail provides good birding. The trail begins in upland shrub, goes through pine forest edge, then into open meadow, and back to upland shrub.
Side Trip B Toiyabe National Forest: Continue on Dog Valley Road into the Toiyabe National Forest. The pavement ends at 1.0 mile from the intersection of Bridge Street and Dog Valley Road and becomes Sierra County Route 860. This dirt road continues approximately 7 miles to Stampede Reservoir.
WHAT TO EXPECT Tahoe Meadows is a lush alpine meadow with adjacent montane forest and riparian habitats. At approximately 8,700 feet, this meadow and surrounding areas support a variety of high-elevation bird species. There are two good birding route options: an easy one-hour interpretive trail around the perimeter of the meadow or a three-hour loop which begins in a lodgepole pine forest and follows Ophir Creek along the south side of the Tahoe Meadows.
Best time of year: May through September
Notable species: Hermit Warbler can be seen in the pines at the beginning of the longer Ophir Creek Trail loop. Scan the tree tops for Pine Grosbeak and irruptive species such as Red Crossbill and Evening Grosbeak. Aspen groves occur along Ophir Creek in the lowest portion of the route and attract riparian species such as Wilson's and Yellow Warblers. American Dipper can also be observed along Ophir Creek. Mountain Bluebird is possible.
Precautions: Be aware of the potential effects of high elevation. A hat and sunscreen are recommended. Mosquito repellant is necessary in spring and summer. Snow may remain along portions of the trails until June. Alpine meadow vegetation is extremely fragile, so do not stray from designated trails.
HOW TO GET THERE From the I-80 & US 395 interchange, drive south approximately 11 miles on US 395 to Exit 56 Mount Rose Highway/SR 431. Bear right onto Mount Rose Highway/SR 431 and proceed another 15.6 miles to the Mount Rose Summit. At 0.6 mile beyond the summit, turn left (southeast) into the parking area (restrooms) for the 1.3 mile Tahoe Meadows Interpretive Trail.
To access the 3.0-mile Ophir Creek Trail loop, continue about another 0.7 mile to a wide paved shoulder near a wide, right-bearing road. The trailhead is on the other side (left, southeast) of the highway, where pullout parking is also permitted. Exercise caution when crossing the highway on foot or making a U-turn. Note that this trailhead can also be accessed on foot from the Tahoe Meadows parking and restroom area. A path begins at the the edge of the lower parking lot and initially follows the highway southwest downhill. This path will add nearly 2 miles to the 3.0-mile Ophir Creek Trail loop.
POPULAR BIRDING ROUTE Tahoe Meadows Interpretive Trail: At the parking-restroom area, check the kiosks and brochures. This is also the main trailhead for the Tahoe Rim Trail, and parking may be crowded on weekends and holidays. The 1.3-mile trail (handicapped access) encircles the meadow and soon leaves any highway sounds behind. The trail is level and well-marked. It winds among huge granite boulders and tall pines and along mountain creeks.
Ophir Creek Trail loop: From the parking areas along the highway, continue past the beginning of the Tahoe Rim Trail at about 0.3 mile and follow the Ophir Creek Trail. The trail travels gradually downhill through pine forest. Look for Clark's Nutcracker, Cassin's Finch, and the usual montane species such as Red-breasted, White-breasted, and Pygmy Nuthatches, and Mountain Chickadee. As the trail nears Ophir Creek at 1.5 miles, stands of aspen blanket the slopes and willow thickets hug the creek banks. Check for riparian species such as MacGillivray's, Wilson's, and Yellow Warblers, Song Sparrow, and Hermit Thrush. Along this stretch the trail also provides superb views of Washoe Valley and Washoe Lake some 4,000 feet below. (Side Trip A)
To return to the trailhead, take the trail to the left heading back uphill, mostly along the creek. Upon reaching the meadow, watch for White-crowned and other sparrow species and Mountain Bluebird. Just before reaching the highway, cross the creek and return to the trailhead. (Side Trip B)
OPTIONAL SIDE TRIPS Side Trip A Ophir Creek Trail: This alpine trail continues downhill from the birding route for a six-mile descent of 4,000 feet to Davis Creek Regional Park in Washoe Valley. A shorter walk down the trail may be worthwhile. The entire trail is very strenuous and requires vehicle shuttling for a one-way hike. Price Lake is at 2.0 miles and a 1,400-foot descent from the birding route. The lower end of the trail may be birded from Davis Creek Regional Park. See Area #20 Washoe Valley Side Trip A.
Side Trip B Connection to Area #14 Spooner Lake: Continue southwest on Mount Rose Highway/SR 431 6.6 miles to its intersection with SR 28. Turn left (south) on SR 28 and drive approximately 12.6 miles along the eastern shore of Lake Tahoe to the entrance to Spooner Lake wildlife viewing area on the left (east) side of the highway.
WHAT TO EXPECT Dedicated in April 1999, Swan Lake Nature Study Area (NSA) is a nearly unspoiled wetland in the midst of suburban housing and warehouses. Depending on annual precipitation, the wetland varies from 100 acres to 1,000 acres. Surrounded by sagebrush, greasewood, and other desert vegetation, this large, shallow lake has a marshy habitat on the west side and adjacent sewage treatment ponds on the east. Over 150 species have been recorded here. Burrowing Owls often nest in man-made boxes located at the west and north edges of the nature study area. Swan Lake NSA is a Nevada Important Bird Area.
Best time of year: Year-round
Notable species: Burrowing Owl is present through the breeding season; Tundra Swan, Greater White-fronted Goose, and ducks are common in winter. American Avocet, Black-necked Stilt, and other shorebirds visit in spring. Check the marshes for Virginia Rail and Sora. Scan the upland areas for sage species.
Precautions: Stay off the alkali mud flats and any muddy roads to avoid becoming mired.
HOW TO GET THERE From the I-80 & US 395 interchange, travel approximately 6 miles north on US 395 to Exit 74 Lemmon Drive. Turn right (north) onto Lemmon Drive and, depending on the route chosen, follow the directions below.
POPULAR BIRDING ROUTES Marsh Boardwalk: At the southwest side of the marsh, a floating boardwalk with benches and interpretive signs allows visitors to penetrate the marsh and part of the lake for approximately 300 yards. From Exit 74, follow Lemmon Drive 0.8 mile north to Military Road. Turn left (northwest) and follow Military Road 1.5 miles to Lear Boulevard. (Side Trip A) Turn right (east) onto Lear Boulevard and drive 0.4 mile to its end at a gravel road. Turn left and drive 0.2 mile to the Swan Lake NSA parking lot. Walk to the boardwalk. Trails from the interpretive area preceding the boardwalk also provide birding access around the entire southwestern shore.
After birding the boardwalk area, the water treatment ponds may be reached by returning to Lemmon Drive via Military Road and following the directions below to Patrician Drive (1.6 miles to the left from Military Road). To return to Reno, turn right (southwest) at Lemmon Drive to reach US 395 south.
Lemmon Valley Sewage Treatment Facility ponds: From Exit 74 Lemmon Drive, turn right (north) onto Lemmon Drive. Drive 2.4 miles to Patrician Drive (a well-marked school zone, 1.6 miles beyond Military Road). Turn left on Patrician Drive and make an immediate right turn onto a dirt road, which parallels Lemmon Drive. Proceed 0.4 mile to the Lemmon Valley Sewage Treatment Facility. At the plant bear to the right and follow the 0.3-mile fence line to bird the ponds on the left. At the north end of the fence line, park and walk the fence line or dike. Swan Lake is visible to the north. Walk or drive the 0.3-mile dirt road along the north side of the pond. A good vehicle turnaround is 0.1 mile to the left of the northwest corner of the pond. Return to the treatment facility and to Patrician Drive.
Additional birding areas: Swan Lake may be viewed from several vantage points, described here in a counterclockwise sequence from southeast to southwest. Distances are in short increments through residential areas.
WHAT TO EXPECT Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), located 73 miles east of Reno, usually requires at least a full day trip. This maze of sloughs and ponds is formed by the terminus of the Carson River, which flows out of the Sierra Nevada into the Nevada desert. The 77,500-acre refuge is a designated Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve and a significant stopover for migrants along the Pacific Flyway. Stop at the Stillwater NWR Headquarters before entering the refuge (details below). Stillwater NWR is part of the Lahontan Valley Wetlands Nevada Important Bird Area.
Best time of year: All year is productive, with tens of thousands of shorebirds from late April to mid-May and, again, July through September. Waterfowl, sometimes in the hundreds of thousands, arrive in late fall.
Notable species: Shorebirds and wading birds are abundant spring through fall, including good numbers of American White Pelican, White-faced Ibis, and Wilson's and Red-necked Phalaropes. Snowy Plover nests here. Tundra Swans gather in early winter. The refuge is Nevada's largest Bald Eagle winter residence. Approximately half the Canvasback population in the Pacific Flyway winter here. Wintering raptors include Golden Eagle, Rough-legged Hawk, and Prairie Falcon. Over 160 species have been recorded here. This area has produced a number of rarities; check the Nevada Birds List Server (see Introduction).
Precautions: Exercise caution driving along the refuge roads during wet weather to avoid becoming mired in muddy dirt roads or shoulders. Plan for sufficient drinking water as well as protection from the elements, especially during warmer months.
HOW TO GET THERE From the I-80 & US 395 interchange, drive east on I-80 for approximately 32 miles to Exit 48, the second Fernley exit; bear right and over the railroad overpass. Enter the roundabout and exit east onto US 50. Continue 26 miles to Fallon. Stop at the Stillwater NWR Headquarters (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), 1000 Auction Road, Fallon 89407 (775-423-5128), by turning left (north) at the Allen Road stoplight. Allen makes a hard right (east) and becomes Auction Road. Travel a few blocks east to the small headquarters building on the left to get maps and information. Shortly east of the headquarters, Auction Road joins US 50. Continue east on US 50 4.9 miles beyond the US 95 south/Taylor Street intersection to the Stillwater Wildlife Management Area sign at Stillwater Road. Go straight ahead (US 50 curves to the right in a southerly direction) on Stillwater Road/SR 116. (Side Trip A) Proceed 12.3 miles on Stillwater Road/SR 116, which turns into East County Road.
POPULAR BIRDING ROUTE Just beyond the refuge maintenance shop area on the right, park at Stillwater Point Reservoir (restrooms). A short path leads to a large interpretive viewing platform overlooking open water and wetlands. A new, one-way interpretive Auto Tour Route, planned for early 2008, begins at Stillwater Point Reservoir. It travels the perimeter of Duff's Pond, crosses between Upper and Lower Foxtail lakes, and leads west to Hunter Road. Turn left (south) to return to Stillwater Road/SR 116, or turn right (north) and follow the route described below.
To access areas farther north in Stillwater NWR directly from Stillwater Point Reservoir, backtrack 0.4 mile from the parking lot to Hunter Road and turn north into the refuge entrance. Follow the roads depicted on the refuge map (available at the headquarters in Fallon). Two of the best birding areas are (1) along the dike separating the Nutgrass unit from Goose Lake and (2) from the road along the south end of the Big Water unit, located at the end of Nutgrass Road. Return to Stillwater Road/SR 116 and to Fallon. (Side Trips B, C, and D)
OPTIONAL SIDE TRIPS Side trips: A host of side trips in addition to a trip to Carson Lake Wetlands can fill a multiple-day visit in the Fallon area (see Area #1 - Carson Lake Wetlands). The Nevada Department of Wildlife (775-423-3171) can provide up-to-date information. Another option is to plan for the three-day Spring Wings Birding Festival normally held the second weekend of May in Fallon; contact Stillwater NWR Headquarters (775-423-5128). The following represent the most popular side trips.
Side Trip A Harmon Reservoir: This combination of open water and wetlands, with Russian olives and tamarisks, is en route to Stillwater NWR. After you have turned onto Stillwater Road/SR 116, follow it for 1 mile and where Stillwater Road curves left (north) go straight onto Stuart Road. After 1.1 miles the road becomes dirt and Harmon Reservoir will be on your right. Look for Black Tern, Clark's and Western Grebes, American Bittern, and Bonaparte's Gull. Continue another 1 mile to the northeast corner of the reservoir. Park and bird the dirt road along the east edge of the reservoir. Backtrack to Stillwater Road/SR 116 and turn right (north) to continue to Stillwater NWR, or proceed straight (west) onto Stillwater Road to return to US 50 west and Fallon.
Side Trip B S-Line Reservoir: This reservoir, located northeast of downtown Fallon, is worth a brief visit, especially during migration. From the Stillwater Road/SR 116 & US 50 intersection, travel 3.5 miles west to Rio Vista Road (1.4 miles east of US 95 south/Taylor Street). Turn north onto Rio Vista Road, go 0.4 mile, and then bear right onto Indian Lakes Road (cemetery on the right). Proceed 0.7 mile and turn right on Reservoir Road (dirt). S-Line Reservoir is on the left at 0.5 mile.
Side Trip C Soda Lake: Big and Little Sodas lakes are popularly referred to as simply Soda Lake. Both lakes, situated close together, are surrounded by arid desert sand hills. A high-clearance vehicle is recommended. Big Soda Lake's masses of brine flies and brine shrimp attract large numbers of grebes and phalaropes during migration. Little Soda Lake attracts loons, grebes, diving ducks and terns. This area has produced a number of rarities; check the Nevada Birds List Server (see Introduction). From the US 95 south/Taylor intersection drive west on US 50 4.1 miles to Soda Lake Road. Turn right (north) and drive 3.2 miles. Turn left (west) on Workman Road (dirt) and travel 0.9 mile. Turn left (south) and drive up a short, steep track to the north edge of Big Soda Lake. Turn left and proceed around the east edge of the lake. Continue in a southerly direction to Little Soda Lake. To exit the area you must backtrack to Workman Road.
Side Trip D Carson River Diversion Dam: This is one of the area's best migratory songbird sites. From the US 95 south/Taylor Street intersection, travel west on US 50 7.8 miles (3.7 miles beyond Soda Lake Road) and turn left (south) onto Pioneer Way. At 4.1 miles turn left just before the ditch crossing. Follow this gravel road another 0.3 mile to a dip, which may be impassable during high runoff releases. Turn left, cross the bridge, and turn immediately right. Follow this dirt road upstream along the river. Park and bird the area.
WHAT TO EXPECT Spooner Lake, an alpine lake at 7,100 feet elevation, lies within 12,242-acre Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park. The 2-mile Spooner Lake Loop Trail is a well-maintained interpretive trail through meadows, pine and fir forest, and aspen groves. There are developed picnic sites spread throughout Jeffrey pines and white firs on the bluff above the lake. Spooner Lake is also a major trailhead for hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrians entering the back country. The picnic areas and a loop trail provide an easy, accessible mountain birding experience. Spooner Lake is part of the Carson Range Nevada Important Bird Area.
Best time of year: May through July
Notable species: Osprey fish the lake. Three species of nuthatches, Steller's Jay, Clark's Nutcracker, Brown Creeper, and Mountain Chickadee are resident as are Red-breasted and Williamson's Sapsuckers and Downy, Hairy, and White-headed Woodpeckers. Spring migration brings Common Loon, Spotted Sandpiper, Western Wood-Pewee, Tree and Barn Swallows, Hermit Thrush, Western Tanager, Warbling and occasionally Cassin's Vireos, and a variety of warblers. Sooty Grouse, Northern Pygmy-Owl, and Black-backed Woodpecker are among the more elusive species here.
Precautions: This is a popular cross-country ski area during the winter. Also take note of posted cautions about bears.
HOW TO GET THERE From the I-80 & US 395 interchange, take US 395 south approximately 27 miles to Carson City, Exit 43 North Carson Street/US 395 Business. Travel 6 additional miles south through Carson City to the US 50 west/Lake Tahoe junction. Turn right (west) on US 50 and travel approximately 9.8 miles to the US 50 & SR 28 intersection. Turn right (north) onto SR 28 and look for the Spooner Lake entrance on the right at approximately 0.6 mile. Day use fee.
POPULAR BIRDING ROUTE Park near the restroom structure (handicapped access). A kiosk in front of the structure displays a map of the Spooner Lake Loop Trail. From this area, follow signs indicating "To All Trails" in a northeasterly direction. Shortly, at the end of the paved paths, a sign indicates, "Marlette Lake Flume Trail." Follow the broad path downhill beyond the sign about 400 yards to its dead end. To the left is a sign "North Canyon Trail," which begins a 5-mile one-way hike to Marlette Lake. Continue instead to the right, down another 50 yards to the west side of Spooner Lake.
The favored route is to go to the left and circle the lake in a clockwise fashion. In this direction, the first part of the walk is principally in the sun with the latter part passing through more wooded areas. Toward the end of the loop, a sign somewhat south of where the loop began will direct you uphill to return to the picnic and parking area. On leaving Spooner Lake, turn left and backtrack to US 50 for Side Trip A, or turn right to return to Reno via Incline Village (Side Trip B).
OPTIONAL SIDE TRIPS Side Trip A Spooner Summit: Just east of the Spooner summit on the south side of US 50, at about 0.8 mile east of SR 28, is a U.S. Forest Service rest stop (restrooms) and picnic area. There is good birding along a small creek which runs through an extensive aspen grove. You can walk along the dirt road on the far side of the creek. The rest stop is an access point to the Tahoe Rim Trail north- and southbound.
Side Trip B Connection to Area #17 Tahoe Meadows and Area #6 Galena Creek Regional Park: When you leave Spooner Lake, turning right (north) on SR 28 offers a return trip to Reno along approximately 11 miles of the eastern shore of Lake Tahoe. At the first stoplight in Incline Village turn right (northeast) onto Country Club Drive, a 2.3 mile cutoff to SR 431/Mount Rose Highway. At the stop sign at SR 431/Mount Rose Highway, turn right (east) to return to US 395 in Reno (22 miles). From this turn, SR 431/Mount Rose Highway passes a notable scenic overlook of Lake Tahoe at 1.3 miles on the right, Area #17 Tahoe Meadows on the right at 4.3 miles, and Area #6 Galena Creek on the left at about 15 miles. Note: SR 431/Mount Rose Highway, which descends from a 9,000-foot summit, is a well-maintained, two-lane mountain highway at times steep and sharply curved. In winter it is subject to very heavy snowfalls and heavy traffic to and from popular ski resorts.
WHAT TO EXPECT Sierra Valley is a broad, open valley in Northern California with a mix of seasonally flooded sagebrush flats, agricultural fields, and wetlands formed by the headwaters of the Feather River. This area is excellent for wintering waterfowl and raptors, as well as spring migrants and marsh birds. Sandhill Cranes usually nest in the valley. At the western edge of the valley, Yuba Pass (elevation 6,701 feet) offers prime mountain forest habitat. At the right time of year, it is possible to see over 100 species in a day by starting at Yuba Pass in early morning, continuing through the valley, and ending at Frenchman Lake to the east.
Best time of year: Sierra Valley itself can be productive at any time of year. Mid-October through February is the best time for raptors, while May through June offers the most diversity. Yuba Pass is best from May through June.
Notable species: Sandhill Crane, Hermit Warbler, Black-backed Woodpecker, sapsuckers, Calliope Hummingbird, Sooty Grouse, Northern Pygmy-Owl, Mountain Quail, eagles, hawks, and geese may be found in appropriate habitats. (See the Popular Birding Routes.)
Precautions: Exercise caution on dirt roads in central Sierra Valley, particularly after heavy rains.
HOW TO GET THERE From the I-80 & US 395 interchange, drive north on US 395 for approximately 24 miles to Hallelujah Junction/SR 70. Exit and turn left (west) onto SR 70. Drive 7.9 miles to Vinton.
POPULAR BIRDING ROUTE Springtime Route: From Vinton, continue west an additional 12 miles to A23 and turn left (south). Continue another 11.8 miles on A23 to the Calpine turnoff to SR 89. Turn right (west) on the cutoff and drive 1.3 miles to SR 89. The stand of pine trees on the south side of the road can be a good place to find owls.
Turn left on SR 89 (southeast) and continue 3 miles to SR 49. Turn right (west) on SR 49 to Yuba Pass and Downieville. The willows and small meadows at about 1.1 mile often have numerous warblers and hummingbirds, including Calliope. The lookout at 2 miles is a good place to listen for Winter Wren and Northern Pygmy-Owl. Proceed 4 miles from the lookout to Yuba Pass. Park in the lot on the south side of the road. The first quarter- to half-mile of the roads to the north and south of the parking lot as well as the small adjacent meadow can be productive. These areas, birded in early morning, are the best spots to find Black-backed Woodpecker and Williamson's Sapsucker, as well as Hermit and Townsend's Warblers. Mountain Quail can also be found here.
If time permits, continue west from Yuba Pass on SR 49 for 7 miles to Bassett's Station on the right side of the highway (food, gas, restrooms). Check the hummingbird feeders at the restaurant, then walk to the bridge over the North Yuba River on the south side of SR 49 to look for American Dipper. Retrace your route on SR 49 back to the junction of SR 49 & SR 89.
At the SR 49 & SR 89 junction continue straight ahead 0.9 miles on SR 49/SR 89 to Sattley. (Side Trip A) At Sattley turn left (north) onto Route A23 and drive about 10.7 miles to unsigned Marble Hot Spring Road, a dirt road (look for a small power station just north of the road). Turn right (east). For the next 3.3 miles, until Marble Hot Spring Road joins A24, stop frequently to check for Brewer's and Vesper Sparrows as well as Sandhill Cranes, bitterns, and terns. The old iron bridge is a great place to view up to six species of swallows. Where Marble Hot Spring Road joins A24 (unsigned) at a stop sign, turn left (north) and drive 4.4 miles to SR 70. Route A24 is rather narrow, but birding can be productive. The seasonally flooded sagebrush habitat along this road may produce Short-eared Owl. Turn right (east) onto SR 70 to return to Reno. (Side Trip B)
Fall/Winter Route: From Vinton, turn left (south to Loyalton) on SR 49 and drive 3.6 miles to Dyson Lane. Turn right (west) on Dyson Lane. This is great raptor country. Continue 5.3 miles to Heriot Lane (misspelled "Harriet Lane" on the sign) and turn left (south). Drive 5 miles to SR 49, which follows the eastern and southern boundaries of Sierra Valley. The fields on both sides of the road just before arriving at SR 49 tend to be the best places to find Ferruginous Hawk.
Turn right (west) on SR 49 and drive 9.4 miles to Sierraville. Continue right (west) on SR 49/SR 89 for 4.4 miles to Sattley and turn right (north) on A23. Drive about 10.7 miles to unsigned Marble Hot Spring Road, a dirt road (look for a small power station just north of the road). Turn right (east) and drive 3.3 miles until Marble Hot Spring Road joins A24 (unsigned) at a stop sign. Turn right (southeast) at this junction and continue east (now Dyson Lane) until it dead-ends at SR 49. Turn left (north) to return to Vinton and then back to Reno.
OPTIONAL SIDE TRIPS Side Trip A Sagehen Creek: This is one of the finest riparian areas in the region. From Sattley, continue another 3.9 miles east on SR 49/SR 89 to the junction where SR 89 turns south in Sierraville. Turn right (south) on SR 89 and drive 16.2 miles to Sagehen Creek (unsigned). Park in the dirt parking area on the left just before the bridge over Sagehen Creek. Two routes are possible. To follow Sagehen Creek east 2 miles to Stampede Reservoir, take the trail from the parking area along the north side of the creek. To follow Sagehen Creek west, cross the highway and make your way through boggy seep areas along the south side of the Creek, finally reaching meadows and higher ground. The latter option is better late in the summer. From the parking area, return to Reno either by turning left (south) 7.5 miles on SR 89 to Truckee and from there 30 miles back to Reno on I-80 east or by turning right (north) and retracing your route through Sierraville and Hallelujah Junction.
Side Trip B Frenchman Lake: This reservoir lies at the head of a high-walled, narrow canyon in an area of ponderosa pine and mountain mahogany. From Vinton drive 2 miles east on SR 70 to Chilcoot, which is approximately 30 miles from Reno. Turn left (north) onto Frenchman Lake Road/SR 284 and drive 8.4 miles to the reservoir. En route, bird the canyon's rich riparian areas, checking for American Dipper, Violet-green Swallow, warblers, vireos, orioles, and other songbirds. When you reach the reservoir, circled by a good road, park at the dam and look for loons and diving ducks. If time permits, circle the lake, birding along the way; or return to SR 70.
WHAT TO EXPECT Located northwest of the University of Nevada, Reno, Rancho San Rafael Regional Park contains the Wilbur D. May Arboretum and Botanical Garden. This park offers opportunities for leisurely walks on well-maintained pathways through a variety of habitats in a compact area. It has increasingly become the focal point for many group picnics, weddings, and community-wide events including the Great Reno Balloon Races but still offers good birding opportunities.
Best time of year: Year-round
Notable species: In winter, accipiters are attracted by wintering songbirds. Other possible raptors include Golden Eagle and Prairie Falcon. Migrating and nesting songbirds are present in spring and summer. A variety of waterfowl are often found in Herman's Pond.
Precautions: The park is moderately used most of the time but can be quite busy during special events.
HOW TO GET THEREFrom the I-80 & US 395 interchange, drive approximately 1 mile west on I-80 to Exit 13 North Virginia Street. Turn right (north) on North Virginia Street and proceed 1 mile to the stoplight at North Sierra Street. Make a very sharp left onto North Sierra Street and drive 0.3 mile south to the entrance to Rancho San Rafael. Turn right into the park, and enter the first parking lot.
POPULAR BIRDING ROUTE From the parking lot, walk northwest to the Ranch House and the path to its left (restrooms), which leads to the arboretum. Explore the trails in this main section of the arboretum and park. Bird the riparian area on the east side of the park, where a small wooden bridge leads to the higher sections of the arboretum. Continue west on this path to Herman's Pond. Beyond the pond, the path continues through open meadowland and passes through the McCarran Tunnel under North McCarran Boulevard. This path provides access to the south end of the Rancho San Rafael Nature Trail. (Side Trip A) Return to North Virginia Street southbound to access I-80.
OPTIONAL SIDE TRIPS Side Trip A San Rafael Nature Trail: This established, easy to moderate 1-mile interpretive loop trail lies within Rancho San Rafael Regional Park north of the main section. Long-eared and Great-horned Owls and accipiters are often found along this trail. To access the trailhead by vehicle, backtrack through the park entrance to the stoplight. Turn left (north) on North Virginia Street. Drive 0.4 mile, through the McCarran Boulevard intersection, and turn left into the entrance to the Reno Sports Complex. The signed trailhead is located at the northwest corner of the ballfield parking lot.
WHAT TO EXPECT
Pyramid Lake, a 125,000-acre desert lake, lies at the terminus of the Truckee River approximately 30 miles northeast of Reno. The lake, a remnant of Pleistocene Lake Lahontan, contains a number of tufa formations and Anaho Island National Wildlife Refuge, site of one of the largest nesting colonies of the American White Pelican in the United States. The island and surrounding waters are closed to the public. A spotting scope is recommended. Pyramid Lake is situated within a Paiute Indian Reservation, and visitors must purchase a day use permit, available at various locations along the routes described below. For up-to-date information on permit locations and pricing, call the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe in Nixon (775-574-1000) or access the web site (www.plpt.nsn.us/rangers/index.html). Pyramid Lake is a Nevada Important Bird Area.
Best time of year: Waterfowl present throughout the year. Pelicans nest in spring and summer. In riparian areas spring and fall are productive.
Notable species: The lake surface is good for American White Pelican in breeding season, Common Loon in winter and spring, and inland stray coastal migrants such as Pacific Loon. The lake has a good diversity of waterfowl in winter, with six species of grebes possible. Burrowing Owl, Sage Thrasher, and Black-throated Sparrow are to be found in the surrounding sagebrush habitat. A variety of other land birds may be sought in locations along the birding routes. This area has produced a number of rarities; check the Nevada Birds List Server (see Introduction).
Precautions: Off-road driving around the entire lake region is extremely risky; also, the Paiute Reservation Council prefers that you stay on established routes.
HOW TO GET THERE Pyramid Lake can be reached in two ways:
Via Pyramid Way: From the I-80 & US 395 interchange, drive east on I-80 approximately 2 miles to Exit 18 Pyramid Way. Turn left (north) on Pyramid Way/SR 445. Drive about 9 miles through residential areas with multiple stoplights and frequently heavy traffic. Continue another 18.5 miles through open country to the boundary of the Paiute Indian Reservation (about 27.5 miles north of I-80). Day use permits are available at a store on the left about 1.1 miles after entering the reservation.
Continue another 1.8 miles from the store to the junction of SR 445 & SR 446. Just before the junction a pullout on the right offers a panoramic view of the lake, Anaho Island, and the smaller namesake, The Pyramid. Continue approximately 3 miles on SR 445 to Sutcliffe. "Permits" signs indicate additional locations for purchasing day use permits: a ranger station (intermittent hours) or a gas station and store in the marina area at the northern end of Sutcliffe.
Via Wadsworth: Take I-80 east about 30 miles from the Vista Exit at the east end of Reno to Exit 43 Wadsworth. Go left (north). Shortly after the exit is a store and gas station on the right which sells day use permits (restrooms). Continue north to Wadsworth and turn left onto SR 447 (about 1.4 miles from I-80). Obey the speed limits closely. Continue north 16 miles to the junction of SR 447 & SR 446 and the Nixon Store (permits, gas). Turn left and continue to the areas described below.
Note: All descriptions of birding routes are based upon Sutcliffe as the starting point (about 16 miles northwest of the Nixon Store).
POPULAR BIRDING ROUTE The Sutcliffe Marina area provides a good vantage point for scoping the lake. Then return to SR 445 and turn right (north). SR 445 becomes a gravel road in 8.3 miles. Drive an additional 2.3 miles until reaching a privately owned ranch on the left and a parking pullout under cottonwood trees on the right. This area is called Big Canyon. Park and explore for migrants and occasional vagrants. Do not trespass on private property on the west side of the road.
The large grove of mature black willows near the lake, called The Willows, can be very productive for migrating songbirds. Northern Goshawk is possible in winter. To access The Willows by vehicle (high clearance recommended), backtrack about 0.3 mile to a dirt road on the left that leads down to the lake shore (about another 0.4 mile). Park and bird the area, which can be a popular camping area on weekends.
Backtrack to Sutcliffe. (Side Trips A and B) Continue on SR 445 to the intersection with SR 446. Bear left on SR 446 toward Nixon, watching for the Popcorn Rock sign at 7.9 miles south of the intersection. About 1 mile farther south, approaching the delta of the Truckee River, a single cottonwood tree marks the location of a left turn onto a gravel road leading down to the lake shore identified by a Trail Access: Tahoe-Pyramid Bikeway sign. Scope the lake for grebes, pelicans, cormorants, waterfowl, gulls, and terns.
Return to SR 446 and continue south 4.1 miles to the SR 446 & SR 447 intersection and the Nixon Store (permits, gas). The Pyramid Lake Museum and Visitor Center (775-547-1088) on the left side of SR 446 is well worth a visit (permits, restrooms). (Side Trip C north on SR 447) Take SR 447 right (south) for 7 miles (Side Trip D); continue an additional 7.8 miles to Wadsworth, where SR 447 ends. Turn right and continue 1.4 miles to the I-80 & Wadsworth interchange. A store just before the freeway entrance has gas, food, and restrooms. Return to Reno (approximately 30 miles) via I-80 west. There is also a highway rest stop 1.5 miles after entering I-80.
OPTIONAL SIDE TRIPS Side Trip A Pyramid Lake Fisheries (PLF) Hatchery: Near the southern edge of Sutcliffe turn left (east) on Sutcliffe Drive and go 0.1 mile to a fork where Sutcliffe Drive curves left and a gravel road splits off to the right. Take the gravel road 0.4 mile toward the lake and enter the gate to the PLF Lake Operations and Resources area. Bird the Russian olive windbreaks. The two main ponds and the beach area can be productive for unusual gulls. Backtrack to SR 445.
Side Trip B Dunn Hatchery ponds: From Sutcliffe Drive go south 0.2 mile on SR 445 to the right (west) turnoff at the sign for the Dunn (Cui-ui) Hatchery. At 0.4 mile, just before the hatchery, turn right and immediately right again onto a dirt road. Drive down the hill about 0.1 mile toward the fenced-in ponds. From outside the fence, check the ponds for waterfowl and the surrounding trees for migrants, including warblers. Return to SR 445.
Side Trip C Pyramid Lake east shore: This is a designated scenic area. From late spring to late summer, Anaho Island National Wildlife Refuge teems with nesting American White Pelicans. At the SR 446 & SR 447 intersection, turn left (north) onto SR 447 and pass through Nixon. Obey the speed limit closely. At 8.9 miles look for a Wildlife Viewing Area sign on the right and turn left (west) at the next sign, labeled Pyramid/Red Bay/Anderson/Stone Mother. Follow the good, graded road west toward the lake and then north along the lake for 7.3 miles. Watch for Rock and Canyon Wrens and Chukar. Stop to scope Anaho Island. The Pyramid is another 1.6 miles north. Backtrack to Nixon and follow SR 447 to the I-80 & Wadsworth interchange, as described in the birding route.
Side Trip D Numana Wetlands: This trip is well worth a visit on the way back to Reno. At the Nixon Store (SR 446/447) take SR 447 right (south) for 7 miles to the Numana Fish Hatchery road on the left. Follow the paved road 0.7 mile down the hill to the hatchery entrance, where the pavement ends. Continue straight on the gravel road another 0.2 mile down to a dirt road along the river, following the Wetland Trail signs. Turn right, go 0.1 mile, and park in the grass parking lot at the entrance to the Numana Wetlands Trail/Tahoe-Pyramid Bikeway, an access point for riparian birding along the Truckee River. Return to SR 447, turn left (south), and follow SR 447 to the I-80 & Wadsworth interchange, as described in the birding route.