Las Vegas is a strange world that I cannot quite fathom. I get the spectacle of it, I love how just as a visitor, you yourself become a part of the overall Vegas ambiance, you become part of the background of someone else's vacation. I love that I can go into a casino and have my photo taken with parts of Barry Manilow's wardrobe (I know that looks like something Liberace would wear, but believe me, that is classic Manilow). I love that there is a store that sells nothing but Barry Manilow items--a whole store, in this economy, a whole store dedicated to Mr. Copacabana himself (a note--Donny and Marie have a case as a casino shop, but not their own store, that's how big Barry rates). I love that I can turn my phone from a mere Blackberry to a Blackbarry Manilow.
But other parts of Las Vegas baffled me, like golf courses aka lush areas of grass made to fit in a desert landscape.
And then there is the casino itself. If someone wanted to torture me or if I believed in a hell, I think that my version would be in the center of a casino surrounded by slot machines and the only way out is desert heat of 105 degrees. I'm unnerved by the number of slot machines based on my childhood like above Dukes of Hazard or Green Acres (or That Girl, and yes I mean THAT Girl or R2D2 or Indian Jones). Standing in the middle of a place like the Flamingo surrounded by an overhead speaker pumping in Lady Gaga surrounded by blinking machines all playing a different computerized tune with no outdoor lighting totally freaked me out. I marveled at people who think, "Yes, this is how I'm going to spend my hard earned vacation money!"
I know I am not one to be putting on airs when it comes to how one should spend relaxation time, we all recharge our personal batteries in our own way. Just as I am baffled by those who sit in the din of electronic over stimulation of a casino, I'm sure there are tons of people who would find my personal heaven of sitting in a dark box on a cold fallow farm field at the crack of dawn waiting for a hawk to fly by so we can band it equally as torturous. To each their own, I suppose.
Fortunately, there are plenty of birding opportunities in Vegas. One of the best ways to take advantage of them is to contact the Red Rock Audubon Society who hooked our crew up with Rita Schlageter. They were happy to help us find birds and suggest locations, one being a spot for one of my favorite birds, the burrowing owl (above, claiming taloned victory over a rather large beetle in the middle of a street).
If you want to enjoy the burrowing owls in Vegas, you MUST contact Red Rock Audubon. The members are engaged in a partnership with US Fish and Wildlife for the Urban Burrowing Owl Monitoring Project in the Las Vegas Valley. The goals of this project are to map and monitor the location of burrows used by breeding owls and to educate the public about collecting scientific data and bird conservation. Rita took us to owls that would be good light for filming and were also not too skittish around people. She had a specific distance she wanted us to stay from the burrows so as not to disturb the owls. With her help we got the best view we possibly could have and for me, these were the best looks I have had of this species.
Burrowing owls are a crowd pleasing bird, even my husband Non Birding Bill enjoyed filming the owls. How can you not enjoy an owl that is active during the day, are about nine inches long (with long legs), who take over old burrows or dig their own and lurk at the entrance like a little boy cautiously defending his tree fort from cootie laden little girls?
Even though we kept our distance, the owls were not disturbed by us in the least little bit. One burrowing owl we were watching, took off and flew with four feet of our group. We marveled at its bouncy flight, watched it flip around, heard a faint snap and fly back to its original location. Clay asked, "Did that bird just grab something?"
Yes it did! Some sort of ginormous beetle that was flying behind us (yuck, that's what's flying around in Vegas--EW!). Clay estimated that the owl saw it flying in from behind us and when it came in range, made it's move. I just enjoyed having the bird in flight so close to us, what a treat to watch its feeding behavior in action. Rita was a distance away and was impressed by the owl's hunting technique.
Look at the wild look in the bird's eyes as it nom, nom, noms up that crunchy big beetle. What great pest control for the neighborhood. Alas, it appears to be on borrowed time.
This is the small lot where we found the owls. There's another one across the street and between these two lots were about a dozen owls, perhaps four family group. Rita said that according to Red Rock's numbers, there are about 27 pair in and around Las Vegas. These two lots are slated for development, but thanks to the recession, all construction on the two lots is currently on hold. Once the economy bounces back, construction will begin and all of the burrowing owls will have to move on. Where will they go? Flat open space without trees and buildings is harder and harder to find.
I think we got some great footage for a birding segment here. I'm glad we had an opportunity to experience this spot chock full of cute owls. Consider giving Red Rock a call if you are interested in seeing and learning about burrowing owls in Vegas. Here is some raw footage of burrowing owls, I especially love the little guy lurking in the burrow. I think you will see four individual owls in this clip. One is eating another ginormous beetle. Note how the burrowing owl eats it like parrot by holding it with its foot. Also, I recommend having the volume down, there's quite a bit of wind in this footage: