Where the Deer, the Antelope, and the Sage Grouse Play
By Rose Strickland
The Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge was designated a Nevada Important Bird Area in 2013 as an intact desert shrub ecosystem providing significant habitat to Great Basin birds. These birds include the Greater Sage-Grouse, Sage Thrasher, Vesper and Sagebrush Sparrows and Gray Flycatcher. Its wide open sagebrush-covered rolling landscapes, deep gorges, large tablelands, and some of the darkest skies in the United States are irresistible to visitors to the remote Sheldon Refuge. The 600,000 acre Refuge is over 250 miles from Reno on the Nevada-Oregon state line.
The sagebrush-dependent birds can best be seen in the spring and summer during breeding season. Sage-grouse and their broods cross the unpaved Refuge roads and the passerines are busy making nests in the sagebrush and raising young during the warmer months. Pronghorns may race you to cross the roads ahead of your vehicle. You may also see deer and bighorn sheep in their proper habitats. Camping at Catnip Reservoir on the west or Virgin Valley on the east side of the Refuge will provide opportunities to get close to water birds nesting at the scarce lakes and ponds. Wildflowers brighten up the sage green scenery with brilliant yellows, reds, and blues. Spectacular sunsets yield to dark skies where it seems you can see to infinity.
Volunteers from Lahontan Audubon and other conservation groups have spent many June weekends since the 1990’s taking down barbed-wire fences left over from livestock grazing in the past, monitoring springs, cleaning up properties acquired by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and working on other projects to assist refuge managers.
If you’re curious about IBAs, you can find detailed reports on the Lahontan Audubon Society website at https://www.nevadaaudubon.org/nevada-iba-conservation.html
For more information on visiting the Sheldon, follow this link: https://www.fws.gov/refuge/sheldon/visit-us