"Tis the season" for the Northern Nevada Christmas Bird Count (CBC)! After some discussions, our local bird count compilers and Lahontan Audubon staff decided to move forward with hosting this year’s CBC event. All leaders will be following the National Audubon CBC guidelines including the following:
January 2, 2021, 7:00 AM-5:00 PM
Contact Jim Woods. (775) 720-7009
Participants will meet in their cars to distribute maps, areas and survey forms.
December 19, 2020
Contact Lois Ports (775) 753-2569
December 15, 2020
Contact Nancy Herms (775) 289-1838
Contact Dave McNinch (775) 747-7545
December 26, 2020
Contact Karl Ruprecht (208) 749-1395
January 2, 2021, 7:00 AM-5:00 PM
Contact Jim Woods (775) 720-7009
Participants will meet in their cars to distribute maps, areas and survey forms.
Reno/Sparks. see Truckee Meadows
December 15, 2020
Contact Colin Dillingham (530) 394-8129
December 16, 2020
Contact Gretchen Baker (435) 406-1041
South Lake Tahoe
December 15, 2020
Contact Sarah Hockensmith (775) 298-0067
Truckee Meadows (Reno, Sparks)
December 19, 2020
Contact Dave McNinch (775) 747-7545; email@example.com
Eagle Lake has been canceled.
Hart Mountain has been canceled.
Sheldon NWR has been canceled.
If you feel it is not safe to participate in this year’s CBC, please know that Lahontan Audubon fully supports your decision to cancel. The safety of our compilers, staff and community scientists will always be our top priority. We wish you happy and safe holidays and hope to see you out bird watching!
Written by Olivia Sembach
There is a slice of cattle country nestled within the Sparks industrial district where open country farmland birds and other wildlife can find refuge from the hustle and bustle of urban activity. The area contains prime farmland, extending along the Truckee River, and sits just West of Steamboat Creek. The University’s agricultural fields have a wide diversity of surrounding habitats that attract various birds year-round. I have worked as a ranchhand here for the past year and a half while I finish up school at UNR. Working here has given me the ability to observe and learn about wildlife such as mule deer, yellow-bellied marmots, coyotes, bats, beavers, insects, fish, birds, and more birds, to name a few.
All photos taken by Olivia Sembach on the University Farms
If you are looking for a safe, easy, and enjoyable car or bike-friendly birding trip, the University farms is a great option. Fall and winter are my favorite times of the year to bird here; waterfowl, sparrows and raptors are abundant this time of year. The Canada Geese come in flocks of hundreds. In the larger flocks, Cackling Geese, Snow Geese, and Greater White-Fronted Geese are regulars, but they can be hard to spot in a Canada Geese blackout. Winter is the best time to view raptors here. Over the past couple of weeks, I have noticed a massive increase in raptor populations. In early November, I witnessed multiple battles between raptors for hunting territory. The most remarkable war between an American Kestrel and two Prairie Falcons; all three were diving and swooping at each other, just as falcons do. The battle ended in the two Prairie Falcons perching together on a nearby telephone pole while the kestrel took off to another field. Keep an eye out for other raptors such as the Peregrine Falcon, Red-tailed Hawk, Northern Harrier, Cooper’s Hawk, Ferruginous Hawk, and Bald Eagle to name a few.
In the summer, the insect populations support many different species of birds. One of my favorite birds that breed on the farm is the Bullock’s Oriole. Check the cottonwoods and other trees for their nests. Once all the leaves have fallen in the winter, you can see their intricately weaved pendant nests hanging from the branches. Throughout summer, Western Kingbirds and Say's Phoebes, are plentiful and often perch along the fences swooping for bugs.
Besides the cattle and sheep, the farm is well known for its large populations of yellow-bellied marmots. Marmot activity is at its peak in the spring and early summer. After watching their curious and hilarious behaviors, I now consider myself a “marmot-watcher.” The young marmots will wrestle and play with their siblings, all while I stand less than ten feet away from them. I couldn’t get enough of it in the spring. They will even hang by their front legs on the fence that runs along the irrigation ditch, just peeping over into the water. Once summer hits and it gets too hot, the marmots go in their burrows for the rest of the year. This fall, one single marmot came out of his burrow to forage every day if the weather permitted. He has been the only marmot that remained active throughout the fall, making me curious why others aren’t active.
The farm is also home to a few small resident populations of mule deer easily spotted from the road. They are usually in the fields adjacent to the river, but they often wander into other areas. If you see a deer that appears to have an injured or a broken leg, do not worry, that is “Broken Leg Deer,” as we call her, and she has been living with an injured leg since before I started working on the farm.
These fields and the surrounding habitats have existed since 1958, giving wildlife a stable source of habitat and water in the summer months. Lots of critters have come to rely on these resources due to their stability. The never-ending development in the Reno-Sparks area forces wildlife to the edges of their habitat, leaving them no choice but to find new territories. Luckily, the University farms can provide some of these animals a safe place to sleep and eat.
For those in need of a quick escape from urban Reno/Sparks to view wildlife, the University farms are a great option. The accessibility by car and bike makes it ideal for sensitive populations or those who just want to see unique wildlife.
Check out the University Farms Area Birding Guide for more birding information on this location.
Written by Parker Flickinger
Have you heard of the movie The Big Year, but thought it sounded too silly to watch? Or have you never heard of this lesser-known comedy about birdwatching? I actually missed this film when it arrived in theaters back in 2011, and only watched it when it was shared by a birder friend of mine. If you are a birdwatcher, give The Big Year a chance. You may find the film a fun adventure, or at least it will give you some chuckles.
The film is loosely based on true accounts, chronicled by Mark Obmascik in his novel, The Big Year: a Tale of Man, Nature and Fowl Obsession. In 1998, three men from diverse backgrounds undertook a grand adventure going on a “Big Year”, an ambitious and expensive attempt to log the most bird species within North America in a single calendar year.
According to an interview with the film's director David Frankel, when he was pitched the idea of a comedy film about competitive bird watching, Frankel's thoughts were “OW! And I mean Ow, like I just broke my finger or that was my foot,” (Holmes, 2011). All initial aversions aside, the movie made it into production, then into theaters.
The Big Year is definitely a comedy that lives up to its description “loosely based”. Its three comedian stars, Steve Martin, Owen Wilson and Jack Black, are all playing their typical roles. Wilson is the vain, smooth-talking jerk, Black is the lazy, childish underdog, and Martin is the kind-hearted bumbler. All these characters have their own predictable character arcs, such as a love interest, being a work-aholic or the ever popular mid-life crisis. But thanks to excellent comedy acting, these somewhat goofy caricatures never become truly obnoxious.
The film of course exaggerates birders' obsessions and the challenges of birdwatching, throwing in silly slapstick. However, in spite of some inevitable scientific inaccuracies, the film lovingly portrays why people are captivated by birds. It depicts formal birdwatching and species listing in a manner easily accessible and enjoyable to a general audience.
The Big Year is escapist fun and made me laugh hard at times. If you want a simple, funny, feel-good movie, The Big Year is your ticket. Its content and humor make it better for adults or families with older children. If you are looking for a movie with scientific accuracy featuring birds, I recommend the French documentary Winged Migration or one of the insightful ornithology documentaries streaming on PBS and the BBC, such as The Secret Life of Birds.
As actor Jack Black said in interview, “I would not be surprised if there's more people involved in a big year competition after this movie comes out,” (Yarnold, 2011). In my own case, Jack is correct. This film helped inspire me to start keeping a life-list and become an eBird contributor. I can see the value for this film inspiring people to explore the birdwatching hobby, as I have successfully used The Big Year to connect with beginner birdwatchers. I'm glad the motion picture The Big Year was created, and I hope to continue using it to inspire the public.
*PS- Be sure to stick around while the credits roll, an impressive slide show of named bird photographs flash by.
Image copyright 20th Century Fox, retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.
Other Winter Bird Needs:
Water: Be sure to provide a consistent source of fresh water. Many birds bathe even in winter to keep their feathers conditioned. Heated bird baths and water pans are available for purchase.
Clean out birdhouses after nesting season for birds to use as roosting places in winter.
Maintain a brush pile in a corner of your yard for shelter and protection from predators.
Leave some leaf litter under shrubs for foraging by some bird species.
Plant dense evergreen trees and shrubs for winter shelter.
Hummingbirds in Winter?
In our area, we do have Anna’s Hummingbirds that regularly overwinter here, so if you have one sticking around, don’t worry, your feeder isn’t keeping them from migrating south. If you wish to continue feeding your winter resident, there are heated hummingbird feeders for sale or just remember to bring the feeders in at night to prevent the nectar from freezing. If you don't want to deal with frozen feeders in the cold weather, you can take them down, the hummingbird will find food elsewhere.
Read more about the Anna's Hummingbird, which has been expanding its range since the middle of the last century in response to more available feeders and nectar plants in suburban gardens here.
Feeding Guide Chart
Written by Parker Flickinger
Author's note: This article is an account of a birdwatching challenge. During this challenge, I followed the concept of “mindful birdwatching” etiquette. This etiquette includes avoiding private property, public area closures, and sensitive bird habitat. It also includes following the pandemic social distancing rules. To visit some of the locations mentioned in this article, I had to receive prior permission. I highly recommend you review mindful birdwatching etiquette before getting started. Click here to learn more about mindful birdwatching .
As you are well aware, I am passionate about bird watching. What I find impressive about bird watching is how it is emotionally fulfilling yet it can also be a competitive activity if the bird watcher chooses. As Greg Miller, one of the real life men who inspired the film The Big Year, stated in an interview "I walk into a woods (to bird watch) and my regular life just fades away." To learn about an example of competition, I recently read an article in The Guardian about a team competing in the World Series of Birding: a 24 hour competition to see the most bird species in the New Jersey countryside. The teams involved in the competition go to extremes. The interviewed birding team was wide awake and ready to “launch” at 12:00 am that morning. “They pursued birds with the fury of tornado chasers, every member powered by energy drinks.” Later on, one member broke his finger but still kept racing through the competition (Bekiempis, 2019).
While I did not go the extremes of people taking on a Big Year or the Birding World Series, I decided this year to take a bird challenge to “my own backyard.” I would hit all of the eBird hotspots within my town of Yreka (as well as some personal locations) using a bicycle or other non-motorized transportation. I would follow the rules for eBird complete checklists; where after arriving at a hotspot, I would record all the important information such as time, distance and exact number of bird species. In addition to recording bird species, I would record my experiences for this article.
Before my challenge day arrived, I did some prep work, which included taking a scouting bicycle trip to some of the parks I would visit and making phone calls to fellow birdwatchers. From this, I was able to see that my challenge was indeed possible, even with my casual bicycling skills. I also found a goal to shoot for: sighting the Lewis' woodpecker. In my community, Lewis' woodpeckers are a hidden gem of a find. I had only observed this bird two times. Once was at a wilderness campground, and the other time was a “blink and you'll miss it” fly by. Needless to say, I would enjoy seeing a Lewis' woodpecker again, and was happy to have a species goal to shoot for.
My day started a 6am, with the obligatory breakfast and cup of coffee. I gathered my gear, and mounted my bicycle and headed off to my first destination, Greenhorn Park. I chose to visit Greenhorn early in the morning in order to catch the awakening species, and to avoid crowds, as Greenhorn can be a popular destination with the public. Even en route to the park, I had incidental bird observations, such including a flock of geese and a group of crows roosting on a telephone wire.
I arrived at Greenhorn Park and started my list at 7:36am. A fellow birdwatcher friend joined me there. I just started my list when I observed a bald eagle, majestically circling overhead, the perfect omen for a good day.
Greenhorn has a reservoir, which is often a haven for migrating waterfowl, such as buffleheads, mergansers, wood ducks and too many mallards and Canada geese to count. Surprisingly enough, this morning, the reservoir's waterfowl were few and far between. However, we did observe some feral domestic ducks and geese. These birds most likely were let loose in the park by people who couldn't take care of them. The geese in fact walked right up to us and begged for food like dogs. Some highlights at Greenhorn were a large number of migrating cedar waxwings, and a large flock of California quail, sneaking off through the bushes.
My next location was Evergreen Cemetery. This cemetery is located on the edge of town entering the oak woodland. Often birds are seen foraging for food in the cemetery. My experience was no different, as one of the first birds I noticed was a colony of acorn woodpeckers at work in their granary. If I was going to observe a Lewis' woodpecker, the cemetery would be the place. I had my eyes peeled and my ears open. As if by fate, I observed other woodpecker species: northern flickers and a red-breasted sapsucker. Back and forth, I traversed on the cemetery paths looking for the Lewis' woodpecker. I would have stayed longer, but after carefully looking for an hour, I decided the Lewis' woodpeckers were not around and I needed to move on. Some noteworthy species from the cemetery were a hermit thrush and a breeding pair of western bluebirds.
My next stop was the Yreka Creek Greenway. The volunteer group Siskiyou Gardens Parks and Greenways Association has worked tirelessly and diligently to transform an informal network of alleys and deer trails into a formal Greenway.
When I arrived at the Greenway, it was mid-morning, and I was not alone. Multiple people were walking through the park. Therefore, I put on my mask and strived to maintain social distancing during my bird visit. Fortunately, I was able to find a bench within the bushes. This was a perfect location, as it was quiet and secluded, and served as a blind. While watching from my “blind”, I observed several small songbirds, including yellow-rumped warblers and ruby crowned kinglets. I saw a group of “Eurasian doves” fly by, however when they began to sing, I realized they were actually western meadowlarks.
After this walk, I returned home, as it was lunch time. At this point I discovered I was much more exhausted from my journey than I expected. This was a physical challenge, although nowhere near the level of the World Series of Birding. After some thinking, I came to this conclusion: birdwatching and bicycling by themselves are not extremely challenging. However combining birdwatching and bicycling multiple times in a single day can indeed consume large amounts of your energy. Because of this, I decided to put away my bicycle and finish my bird watching challenge on foot.
As if by fate, a package containing a new pair of binoculars had arrived in the mail while I was out in the morning. While resting, I tuned up my new binoculars and used them for the rest of the day.
My afternoon started with visiting the local school behind my house. Similar to my walk at the Greenway, I used a mix of both walking and waiting at fixed locations. The school hosts a variety of resident species, including robins, crows, brewer's blackbirds, and sparrows. In addition to these usual residents, I noticed another flock of waxwings flying by.
I continued on to my final location, the Yreka community garden. The community garden has a bird garden set up with a feeder and flowers to offer seeds and nectar for birds. When I arrived, I found a comical scene. A mourning dove was sitting on the seed feeder, and chasing away any Eurasian doves or house sparrows attempting to eat. Once inside the garden, I again found stationary points where I could sit still and wait for the birds to appear. This was helpful, as it allowed me to look carefully and distinguish different birds, such as a flock composed of white-crowned and house sparrows. I also found having a large view of the sky was helpful, as many diverse species made fly-bys. These included turkey vultures, a sharp-shinned hawk and (yes) another migrating flock of cedar waxwings.
After about an hour, I finished my walk at the community garden, and finished my birdwatching challenge. I calmly walked back to my home and tallied my lists. I did not end up seeing my coveted Lewis' woodpecker. However, by the end of the day I had observed 44 different bird species at 5 different parks. I wound up bicycling 8.2 miles and walking an additional 1.2 miles. A bird of note was the California scrub jay, which I observed at all five of the hotspots.
Doing a birding-by-bicycle challenge is physically demanding and not for everyone. I imagine people who are competitive bicyclists could easily tackle a challenge like this, barely breaking a sweat. However for people like myself, who are serious birdwatchers but only casual cyclists, I offer these pieces of advice. Pace yourself to conserve your energy. Talk to other bird watchers about locations in your area. Use a map on to plan you trip and try to select hotspots which are not too far apart. On your journey, take short rest breaks. Bring plenty of food and water to drink, you'll be glad you did.
This undertaking gave me insights into possible combinations of bicycles and bird watching in the future. Even with some unexpected speed bumps along the way, I'm happy with how my birding-by-bicycle challenge turned out. My future will definitely hold more bird watching by bike.