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.