By Diane Wong-Kone
Note to reader: Information and registration links for all current events with Lahontan Audubon Society are on the website calendar: www.nevadaaudubon.org . To volunteer with any of the teams below, please fill out our volunteer form: https://www.nevadaaudubon.org/volunteer.html .
"On a day like this, I can’t imagine anything better that might happen in a person’s life than for them to start paying attention to birds—to become aware of this magical world that exists all around us, unnoticed by many but totally captivating for those who know its secrets. This kind of spring day, with its bountiful myriads of colorful sprites just arrived from tropical shores, has to be one of the greatest gifts of life on Earth."
― Kenn Kaufman, A Season on the Wind: Inside the World of Spring Migration
Spring is the season that brings warmer weather and birds flying north. Lahontan Audubon Society (LAS) was astir with activity this past spring, celebrating the passage of birds journeying north and returning to their summer breeding grounds. Below is a recap of our spring bird events.
Spring Wings Bird Festival
On the weekend of April 30th and May 1st, the Spring Wings Bird Festival returned to Churchill County, after a hiatus due to Covid restrictions. This festival was a collaborative project between Lahontan Audubon Society, National Audubon Society, AmeriCorps, the City of Fallon, the Fallon Convention and Tourism Authority, Friends of Stillwater Refuge, Great Basin Bird Observatory, Naval Air Station Fallon, Nevada Department of Wildlife, Nevada State Parks, the Fallon Paiute Shoshone Tribe, and US Fish and Wildlife Service. Lahontan Audubon Society volunteers braved the winds this weekend and helped visitors explore hotspots and birds in the wetlands of the Lahontan Valley. Water conditions were low this year, but plenty of birds were on the move. Highlights included large numbers of Northern Shoveler, American Avocet, Least Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitcher, American White Pelican, White-faced Ibis, and Cliff Swallow. Ben Sonnenberg spotted a hybrid Blue-winged x Cinnamon Teal, with a cinnamon body and pale face crescent at Carson Lake. Lahontan Audubon Society, as owners of the new website https://www.springwingsbirdfest.org/, updated the home page to display 2022 photo contest winners. New events for 2023 can be posted as plans for next year’s bird festival develop. Thanks go to all the volunteers who helped bring the Spring Wings Bird Festival back.
Online Bird Drawing Workshops
In April and May, thanks to a grant from the Nevada Arts Council, LAS hosted five online bird drawing workshops with artists Christine Elder and John Muir Laws. These classes featured a common subject, Nevada birds, to build skills in observation, sketching, and mixed media technique. These classes were a huge success, with over 100 participants watching each of the live workshops. Each workshop also highlighted a Lahontan Audubon project or story. Development Coordinator Diane Wong-Kone led local studio sessions and field trips to practice drawing skills taught in each workshop. All bird drawing workshops can be viewed on the LAS YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLZoWXHKL68g06gMRH-1wDlzwowbFGrI4o .
Galena Creek Visitor Center Speaker Series
This series of mid-monthly talks, featuring LAS’s collection of taxidermy birds, continued with talks: Birding by Ear, and What Makes a Bird a Bird? Parts 1 and 2 with LAS Education Committee Chair Alan Gubanich. The upcoming July and August talks will feature Hawks and Owls of Nevada and are sure to be a hoot!
Birds of Truckee Meadows
In May, LAS’s Birds of Truckee Meadows series on bird identification returned, featuring some classes that have been taught before, and some with new material. Classes featured this year included:
These online classes provide expert birder insight to bird identification, behavior, and ecology for both the beginner and more advanced birder. These classes are available for viewing on the LAS YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLZoWXHKL68g242KKinna0qAOlqMI6Drcf .
For years, LAS education volunteers have led field trips for school groups to Washoe Lake. In recent years, with Covid restrictions, these field trips were not offered, but increased vaccinations have allowed the return of some in person events. In May, LAS began leading Washoe Lake field trips again, hosting six field trips for four schools. On these field trips, students went on a bird walk and also examined aquatic macroinvertebrates through a dissecting scope. The activities taught students how to use tools such as binoculars and microscopes, while also introducing them to wetland ecology, water quality, and animal identification.This year’s student groups ranged from 2nd to 8th grade, totaling 221 students. Diane Wong-Kone also led a bird talk and walk for another dozen students at the Walker River Paiute Tribe's annual Good Water Camp near Weber Reservoir. Thanks to all our wonderful volunteers who made the field trips so successful: Alan Gubanich, Kelle Brogan, Phyllis Henderson, Pat King, Debbie Pontius, Randy Pontius, David Reynolds, Suzie Reynolds, Kim Zuch, Mary Ann Bonner, Pat Cashman, Sandy Denmon, Becca Serdehely, Valerie Andersen, Kara Blum, Julia Mortenson, Linda Badzioch, Sheryl Ferguson, Laura Gibson, Peggy McCormick, Eileen Puterski, Bob Puterski, Linda St-Cyr, Lurana Cancilla, Karen Critor, Teresa Gubanich, Mary Luzier, Jenifer Royle, and Karen Critor.
LAS education volunteers at Washoe Lake help teach 88 students from the Lady of Snows Catholic School about birds and lake ecology. On bench: Sheryl Ferguson and Becca Serdehely. In back: Valerie Andersen, Laura Gibson (sitting), Mary Ann Bonner, Randy Pontius, Debbie Pontius (sitting), Eileen Puterski, and Bob Puterski. Photo by Alan Gubanich.
Beyond school field trips, LAS also brought taxidermy bird mounts for education events and tabling events in schools and other events around town, including Earth Day at Truckee Meadows Community College and Animal Ark, Bordewich Bray Elementary School Family Science Night, Jack’s Valley Elementary School Read-a-Thon, Mark Wellman Adventure Day and Abilities Expo at Sparks Marina, and the Tahoe Institute for Natural Science’s Lake Tahoe Bird Festival and Native Species Day. LAS volunteers host these tabling events to display and teach about common birds in our area, while also publicizing our chapter and LAS activities to the greater community. This outreach effort can create such a positive influence. A note from Bordewich Bray reads, “About 160 students and about 240 family members enjoyed Lahontan Audubon Society’s presentation. Your passion was clearly contagious. You inspired our young students to learn more about birds!”
Last year’s drought significantly reduced wetland habitat in the Lahontan Valley this spring. When the 2021 irrigation season ended on November 15, the shorebird habitat carried over the winter into spring of 2022 was much less than average. The wetland habitat steadily declined over the spring until only about 300 acres remained at Carson Lake, when the irrigation season opened in April. Shorebird habitat increased at Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge (SNWR) once water deliveries began, however, shorebird habitat remained static at Carson Lake until drain water from irrigated fields finally reached the area in early May. After coordinating with the SNWR and Nevada Department of Wildlife, LAS shorebird count volunteers were assigned survey areas in the Lahontan Valley wetlands in April and May. Thirty LAS volunteers donated over 400 hours of their time in training and shorebird counts. Even though water levels were low this year, this volunteer effort was greatly needed to cover all the shorebird count areas. Our spring shorebird counters included: Mike Goddard, Bill Grossi, Jessica Schatz, Rose Strickland, Dennis Ghiglieri, Sue Stevensen, Valerie Andersen, Brendan Bucy, Linda St. Cyr, Kelle Brogan, Alan Gubanich, Bill Frey, Tina Nappe, Sharla Scott, Nancy Hoffman, Pat Cashman, Eileen Puterski, Dan Puterski, and Max Malmquist, with assistance from Jennie Jones Scherbinski to record the training sessions.
Pinyon Jay Surveys
Due to an 80% population decline over the past half century, the Defenders of Wildlife submitted a petition to list the Pinyon Jay as an endangered or threatened species with designated critical habitat. This petition was submitted on April 25, 2022 (https://defenders.org/sites/default/files/inline-files/2022.4.25_FWS_Listing%20petition_Pinyon%20Jay.pdf). Lahontan Audubon Society volunteers have been working with the Great Basin Bird Observatory to contribute survey data in Pinyon Jay habitats in northern Nevada. Ongoing spring activities included group scouting trips to find accessible routes to survey Pinyon Jays around the Reno – Carson City area. LAS continued monthly training with field trips to familiarize new volunteers with the Survey123 app and Pinyon Jay Conservation Community Hub website. Please see Rose Strickland’s article, Pinyon Jays – Threatened or Endangered? for more information.
LAS volunteer Judith Lockwood continued to maintain the pollinator gardens at Oxbow Park. The spring flowers were beautiful!
The LAS Conservation Committee continued its dedication to avian conservation in Nevada. Volunteer members are actively following the science and writing advocacy letters on important issues, including the Carson Lake Comprehensive Management Plan, Sage-Grouse conservation, and Pinyon-Juniper management effects on Sage-Grouse and Pinyon Jays. The Conservation Committee continues to advocate for and support funding opportunities for bird conservation such as the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act and the Migratory Birds of the Americas Enhancements Act. Committee members are also following updates to the Nevada State Wildlife Action Plan, which is being revised this year.
LAS continued to offer free bird field trips almost every week this past spring. In May-June, LAS hosted 14 field trips to local birding spots around Reno, including a biking and birding trip around the Damonte wetlands. New field trip volunteer leaders are encouraged to co-lead or start their own trips, so that we may continue to offer these fun bird outings. The bird field trips are a great way to meet friends and to explore bird communities in our area. Bird sightings are recorded in LAS’s ebird account: lasbirdinggroup.
In addition, funding from the National Audubon Society’s Collaborative Grant allowed us to host three bird walks with local American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter Karla Johnston. One more ASL trip will be offered July 18th at Spooner Lake.
LAS looks forward to continuing providing bird education, birding opportunities, community science, and conservation action for Nevada birds. Please check the LAS calendar for updates on new events!