By Kath Giel
Looking for a great place to bird in the winter months with nearly level, relaxing and relatively easy walking? Well, look into the Truckee River area. Here you can enjoy a few hours of birding with the sounds of the river at your side.
There is a great section, all paved, where walking and birding is good. You can walk from City Hall Plaza downtown all the way to Ivan Sack Park, about 2.5 miles one way. Or, you can break up the walk about at the halfway mark by parking at Idlewild Park and going upstream one time and downstream another.
To bird on the north side of the river, start at City Hall Plaza, walk over to the river behind the “Believe” sign and check out the small rapid. Often there are a pair of Dippers there! You may also see some Common Mergansers along the shoreline. Then continue upriver almost to West Street Plaza and you will find a small rapid with several large rocks on either side. Very often in the late afternoon a Black-Crowned Night Heron can be found on these rocks, peering into the water for something to eat. Continuing upstream, you’ll cross Arlington, scanning the rapids and eddies for Mallards, Common Goldeneyes, and, if you are lucky, Wood Ducks or maybe even a Barrow’s Goldeneye. You will soon pass Hub Roasters Coffee on the right, a nice stop for a warm drink, and continue upstream to cross the Truckee River at Booth Street.
Upstream from Booth Street, the Truckee River winds through Idlewild Park. As you follow the path into the park, on your left is a large pond that often has some interesting birds. Of course you will see Canada Geese, but keep a look out for Hooded Mergansers, Wood Ducks in the winter, and perhaps a Ring-Necked Duck. In the tree branches above the pond you might find a Kingfisher, and in the trees in the park we’ve also seen a Hairy Woodpecker. Continue on the river path upstream, looking for Red Tailed Hawks in the trees; on a recent field trip, we saw a Red-Tailed Hawk perched right next to the path at nearly ground level (see above, photo by Emma Wynn). Buffleheads are often seen as you walk upstream past the condominiums on the north side. Even a Merlin was spotted near the condominiums this past month (see above, photo by Emma Wynn).
Along the brushy banks of the river, look for Downy Woodpeckers and White-Crowned Sparrows. Along the path are some ash trees with berries, and sometimes you will see Cedar Waxwing flocks enjoying a feast. Don’t forget to look up high in the trees, Bald Eagles may be seen scanning the river. As you approach Ivan Sack Park, take some time to enjoy the river and again, in the rapids, you may spot some Dippers. You can continue past Ivan Sack Park on a future venture.
Wanting something a bit less urban? Another riverside option, though not paved, is Oxbow Nature Study Area. This is on the north side of the river, accessed through Dickerson Road. You will need some boots for walking here if it has been wet, but the options for birding along the river and in the cottonwoods and brush can be rewarding. There are many meandering paths in the area; with the river as your guide, it is hard to get lost. Keep on the lookout for Dippers in the river upstream of the wooden platform. On our last field trip here in December, we were delighted with very close views of at least 2 Red-Shouldered Hawks (see above, photos by Judy Duffy). Our group was able to have time to see the field marks as the hawks flew around the study area. We also saw a Hermit Thrush (see above, photo by Judy Duffy) in the thicket. Mergansers are also common, and we enjoyed watching a female Goldeneye surf her way down the river (see above, photo by Judy Duffy).
So, next time you are in the mood for some easy and enjoyable birding, think of the Truckee River!