When I told people that I was going to Las Vegas on a birding project (and to visit some old friends) people thought I was a little nuts. Vegas in August? The timing may not have been ideal, but there were birds there. Most people tend to think of the casinos and great shows (by the way, we saw the Penn & Teller Show--highly recommend it, we had a GREAT time) in Vegas and my earlier posts have focused on the urban birding potential. However, in just a short drive into the mountains, you can find some fabulous natural scenery:
This is Spring Mountain Ranch State Park. Rita at Red Rock Audubon Society recommended this site to our group and I'm so happy we took her advice--isn't that gorgeous? Totally worth the $5 fee to get into the park. It's recommended that you visit this park on a weekday when there are fewer people, on the weekends this park gets packed with people. We were here on a Thursday and there were times when we felt like we were the only people in parts of the park. We didn't have a chance to do it all, but if I ever go back to Vegas, this park will be at the top of my list to revisit.
We were greeted by a western kingbird in the parking lot with a lone raven calling overhead. The park's cooler temperatures were instantly noticeable when we stepped out of the van. It was still hot, but this park is 3,800 feet and averages about 10 - 15 degrees cooler than Las Vegas. The drive from our hotel to this park was about 40 minutes, so if you have a rental car, it's an easy day or early morning trip. One of my favorite sparrows was in the parking lot too--lark sparrows! Such a classy looking brown bird. Here's a video:
While we were in the parking lot, we could hear a TON of house finches in the distance. As we all went our separate ways to record video of birds, WildBird on the Fly, Non Birding Bill and myself headed towards the finches.
The sound came from this pear tree with branches laden with ripe fruit. The house finches were going crazy eating the pears.
Here's a female Bullock's oriole chowing down on a pear. She worked this one for a good ten minute. It was interesting to watch her wedge her bill inside the white flesh and then open her beak to cut out a morsel to swallow. Western tanagers also flew in to take advantage of the tree's bounty. We could also hear other cool birds around us including lazuli buntings (Which almost caused an argument with me and my husband, it's a nemesis bird for me, I always miss it. As a matter of fact NBB got a clear look at a male before I saw a bunting period. I did not get the best look of lazuli bunting, but I at least got a countable look).
I had WildBird on the Fly try out some of my digiscoping equipment and lo and behold, she actually got a good shot of a black phoebe at the park. This was using my Swarovski scope and DCA adaptor with a Cannon Powershot A570, not bad for a newbie.
Check out this Say's phoebe I got with my new SLR. I was experimenting with my new Nikon D40 that I got right before I left...which Non Birding Bill pointed out, "Don't you tell people in your workshops to not get their equipment right before they leave? But I figured that Vegas was not the trip of a lifetime and my beloved Fuji FinePix E900 died. The Cannon A570 is a serviceable digiscoping camera but not my favorite. The D40 worked but I did have a strong learning curve. I have to look through the view finder and not at a digital screen with the SLR. All my shot look perfect in the view finder, but had I paid attention to the shots as they showed up for a few seconds after been taken, I would have seen that they were under exposed. So, I thought I was getting 50 great shots at a time, but in reality when I downloaded them, I discovered that I got 1 or 2 for every 200 photos taken.
Again, that is advice that tell people about digiscoping. For every good photo, there are 200 utter crap ones. I think once I get my groove down, I'm going to like this camera, but I'm still trying to figure out how to carry this larger SLR camera and my binoculars.
Check out his cutey! The park was full of these tiny critters and when they ran away from you, they had tiny white tails--like a rabbit. My cute mammal centric husband enjoyed these far more than he enjoyed the birds. After checking out my Peterson Mammal book, I learned that this is an antelope squirrel, small social critters that are adept at climbing cactus. We also saw a mountain cottontail and the park brochure said that if you go into higher elevations mule deer, big horn sheep, and kit foxes are possible.
More on this park in the next entry.