Best time of year: Year-round, with raptors and waterfowl particularly good October through March.
Notable species: Raptors include Golden Eagle and Red-tailed Hawk year-round and Bald Eagle and Rough-legged Hawk in winter. Tundra Swan may be seen in winter and American White Pelican in spring and fall. Sooty Grouse, White-headed Woodpecker, and Calliope Hummingbird are specialties of the mountains and foothills. The valley offers habitat for shorebirds, waterfowl, and rails. (See the Popular Birding Route.)
Precautions: Parking on the shoulders of US 395 along Route Segment #1 is extremely hazardous. This is a heavily traveled four-lane divided highway with speeds in excess of 70 mph.
HOW TO GET THERE From the I-80 & US 395 interchange, drive south on US 395 approximately 19 miles through the town of Washoe City to the point where US 395 becomes a divided highway. From this point, there are three route segments to bird the valley, described sequentially below: (1) off US 395 along the west edge of the Washoe Lake and marsh system (waterfowl, shorebirds, and raptors); (2) Franktown Road via SR 429/Old Hwy 395 along the foothills of the Carson Range on the west side (forest birds); and (3) East Lake Boulevard along the eastern side of the lake and marsh system (riparian and marsh birds and sage dwellers).
POPULAR BIRDING ROUTE Route Segment 1: (Note precautions above.) Travel south on US 395 4.0 miles to Exit 44 Bellevue Road. Cross over US 395 to the edge of Washoe Lake to view waterfowl, shorebirds, gulls, and three species of blackbirds. Backtrack over US 395. Take Whitman Street, the first street to the right (north) and continue approximately 0.2 mile to a dead end. Bird the ponds to the left and right and the Big Canyon Creek delta and marsh straight ahead. (Note: This is a short-radius turnaround.) Backtrack to US 395 and continue south 2.3 miles to Exit 42 East Lake Boulevard.
Route Segment 2: At Exit 42 East Lake Boulevard, turn right (west) at the stop sign and right again (north) onto SR 429/Old Hwy 395. At 1.5 miles turn left onto Franktown Road/SR 877, which skirts the edge of the Carson Range. Pine trees, shrubs, fields, and streams may yield, in addition to species mentioned in segment 1, woodpeckers, jays, nuthatches, and other montane forest species. At about 4.2 miles, Franktown Road rejoins SR 429/Old Hwy 395. Turn left (north) and continue about 2.5 miles to the entrance to Davis Creek Regional Park on the left.
After entering Davis Creek Regional Park go left to the Day Use Area (restrooms). Follow the signs to the Lake View Group Picnic Area. Bird the Jeffrey pines, shrubs, and pond for mountain birds, including woodpeckers, sapsuckers, nuthatches, Western Tanagers, and various swallows and warblers. (Side Trip A) Backtrack toward the park entrance and park to the left in the Campground Visitor Parking, just outside of the Day Use gates. Enter the campgrounds on foot. At the top of the main camp road loop, in the northwest corner of the campgrounds, the thick willows around an intermittent creek form a traditional nesting site for Calliope Hummingbird. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Bushtit, Mountain Chickadee, and various warblers frequent the willows and surrounding bitterbrush. Return to SR 429.
Route Segment 3: At the exit from Davis Creek Regional Park, turn left (north) onto SR 429/Old Hwy 395 and again onto US 395 northbound. Proceed north 2.5 miles to turn right onto East Lake Boulevard; travel 2.0 miles south to Lakeshore Drive and turn right (south). Continue 1.7 miles to a right-turn dirt road into the Washoe Lake State Park boat ramp area (day use fee and restrooms), productive in winter and spring for waterfowl, gulls, terns, Wilson's and the occasional Red-necked Phalarope, and swallows. A few hundred yards east of the park ranger station is a northbound road into the Scripps Wildlife Management Area, closed during breeding season February 1 to June 30. Check ponds for shorebirds, waterfowl, nesting Marsh Wren, Virginia Rail, and calling Sora. A Great Blue Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron, and Snowy Egret rookery is situated about one-half mile north (may be flooded).
Return east to Lakeshore Drive. Turn left (north) and drive 0.7 mile to Esmeralda Drive. Turn right (east) and go 1 mile to East Lake Boulevard. Turn right (south). Jumbo Grade 0.5 mile south of Esmeralda on the left may yield Pinyon Jay and Juniper Titmouse. From Jumbo Grade, continue south 3.1 miles to Washoe Lake State Park (day use fee and restrooms). The park is frequently crowded on weekends. A bird list is available. East of the sand dunes on the east shore of the lake, sage scrub species may nest. Bank Swallows nest in the blowouts between the dunes. Check the willows along the lake's edge in the Day Use area for migrating and nesting songbirds.
Returning to East Lake Boulevard, turn right. Just beyond the park entrance at 0.3 mile on the left a large cottonwood marks the entrance to Deadman's Creek Trail. (Side Trip B) Travel an additional 1.4 miles to the observation platform on the right overlooking the Washoe Lake Wetland. Continue right (west) on East Lake Boulevard to return to US 395. Long-billed Curlews sometimes feed in the ranch pastures to the right.
OPTIONAL SIDE TRIPS Side Trip A Ophir Creek Trail: In Davis Creek Regional Park, the 6-mile Ophir Creek Trail begins near the restrooms and interpretive signs in the Lake View Group Picnic Area. This is a strenuous hike with a 4,000-foot ascent. The lower portion of this trail is montane scrub, which changes to Jeffrey pine as it climbs. American Dipper occur along the creek in the summer, especially east of Price Lake, about 4 miles up the trail. Sooty Grouse boom near Price Lake in the late spring and early summer. For the upper end of this trail, see Area #17 - Tahoe Meadows and Upper Ophir Creek, Side Trip A
.Side Trip B Deadman's Creek Trail: This is a one-mile trail uphill from East Lake Boulevard. This spring-fed riparian area provides habitat for a variety of migrating warblers as well as nesting species such as Long-eared and Great Horned Owls, Cooper's Hawk, Black-billed Magpie, Lazuli Bunting, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Bewick's and House Wrens, Bushtit, Brewer's Sparrow, and Spotted Towhee.