What was a birder doing in Las Vegas – Sin City – the Gambling Capital of the U.S.? At least in reference to me on May 27, 2019, the answer was easy – looking for 50 species in a day in a State for the 38th time.
My original thinking had been to include Northeast Nevada in an upcoming Mountain States foray probably squeezed in between Idaho and Utah. I would try for the Himalayan Snowcock and hopefully be able to either find another 49 species somehow that day or add another day in a more bird rich location. The details were not working out though. The Snowcock was more readily found later in June or even later in the summer or the fall. And making the attempt would add a number of days to a schedule already getting longer because of miles to travel and non-birding plans along the way. And there was no guarantee of finding the Snowcock, so I would be gambling in Nevada.
With the help of Alaska Airlines, I came up with another plan – return to Seattle from Boston via Las Vegas. No Snowcock, but I have mixed feelings about that species anyhow. So Plan B would remove one gamble. Was it still a gamble for 50 species? I would only have one day as I would be arriving very late the night before the counting day and really did not want to extend the visit for a second day beyond that. Thanks to Las Vegas Audubon, I removed that gamble as well. Researching through their website I had come up with names of some local birders who might be able to help me. One name was Douglas Chang. Easy contact. Receptive. Definitely capable. Available. Done. I had a birding companion for my trip. Let’s do it.
Based on my early research and then discussions with Doug, the area west and northwest of Vegas seemed like our target area. I had been using Hotels.com to find lodging and tried for a place in the area. No familiar names but I came up with Arizona’s Charlies Hotel and Casino on Decatur street. What the heck. I try to get some local color on my trips. The reviews were good. The rooms looked ok online. The price was right and so was the location. Had I paid more attention I might have realized that the place should be named Arizona Charlies Hotel and CASINO!! You go through the casino to get to the registration desk (inhaling smoke along the way) and then through more of the casino to get to the single small elevator that takes you to the 6 floors of rooms. And even at midnight which is about when I arrived the parking lot was full and the casino floor was busy – automatons at the machines. Not a pretty sight – to me.
Arizona Charlies Hotel and CASINO!!
Smoke aside it was an ok place. The room was large, basic and quiet. Actually I wondered if the gamblers who stayed overnight did most of their staying downstairs at the machines. The place seemed still half full when I left for my birding early the next morning. That was gambling that was easy to resist – for me – not them. Of course maybe it wasn’t really morning. There was no light coming in to the casino, so you couldn’t tell that way. And my body certainly had no clue. It was midnight local time when I got to my room which meant it was 3:00 a.m. for my body – still on East Coast time. Doug was going to pick me up at 6:30 a.m. No free breakfast at this place, so it would be fast food down the street. I set my alarm for 5:15 a.m. local time and woke up without it at 4:00 – as I said my body had no clue what time it was. I gave up trying to sleep, got clean, went out for a McSomething breakfast and was waiting for Doug in front of the Casino/Hotel at 6:30 a.m. My first bird for the trip was a Rock Pigeon as I waited.
Doug was accompanied by birding friend Paul Rodriquez. Both were eager to go and had a plan. It was the beginning of a really fun and successful day. We started at a large park on Tule Springs Road. The mix of ponds, brush, trees and scrub provided a good mixed habitat with lots of birds. After all of the forest birding in the East it was nice to be dealing with less and lower vegetation. We spent more than two hours and walked almost 3 miles. The weather could not have been better – cool and clear. The mixed habitat meant a good mix of birds, too. Around and in the ponds we had ducks, grebes and herons and a Neotropic Cormorant.
Black Crowned Night Heron
Great Tailed Grackles were plentiful giving me the Grackle Trifecta after my Boat Tailed Grackles and Common Grackles in the East.
Great Tailed Grackle
In the shrubby areas we had several Verdin , Phainopepla, Abert’s Towhee, Lesser Goldfinch, and my favorite – the relatively drab Lucy’s Warbler. Photos of the latter even captured the red feathers on the top of the head.
Doug knew of a Burrowing Owl’s nest in the park. It was not the easiest bird to see even though it was out of its burrow. It was just well camouflaged in the terrain. Amazingly it was only the second owl (species and individual) that I had seen in my month of birding.
There were also several flycatchers at the park – Olive Sided, Hammond’s, Willow plus Western Wood Pewees.
Olive Sided Flycatcher
Western Wood Pewee
We left the park with 40 species seen and headed up into the mountains with our first stop at the Corn Creek Field Station in the Desert NWR. There we had some of the same scrub birds we had before but added Blue and Black Headed Grosbeaks, Ash Throated Flycatcher, Blue Gray and Black Tailed Gnatcatchers, Cedar Waxwing, Black Chinned Hummingbird, Western Tanager, Bewick’s Wren and some warblers – 11 new species at all – so 50 species in a day was accomplished already.
Ash Throated Flycatcher
Black Chinned Hummingbird
Black Headed Grosbeak
Doug and Paul were both excellent at finding the birds and knowing the area. They were also great guys and we had far ranging discussion about their paths to Vegas, birding in the area, Paul’s work on web design and Doug career at Proctor and Gamble before he retired and moved west. They asked if I was interested in a Black Chinned Sparrow…definitely. We found one quickly at a very specific location – Step Ladder Trail – the kind of place I never would have found on my own. We also had a Woodhouse’s Scrubjay.
Black Chinned Sparrow
We continued up the road towards Charleston Mountain – a very beautiful trip. There was no snow now but there had been quite a bit in the winter when even 4 Wheel Drive is insufficient and chains are required. At some feeders we saw some Broad Tailed Hummingbirds and a Hooded Oriole. As had been the case with many birds seen that day they were new for the day, my month long adventure and for the year.
Broad Tailed Hummingbird
Even though it was Memorial Day the traffic wasn’t bad and despite the appeal of being in the mountains, it was not crowded. Thoroughly enjoyable – and although it was not quite noon, we had 60 species for the day. We had one more stop to make – a place Paul knew was good for Gray Vireo. We had at lest two respond to our playback but could not draw them in for a look or photo. It had been a great day. I had hoped for a Roadrunner but they seem to be somewhat of a nemesis bird for me. Paul and Doug were surprised we had not seen a Bell’s Sparrow and a couple of other regular birds, but we all know that is the nature of birding. Demonstrating how different this birding habitat was, more than 25% of the species seen were new for my year despite many days of birding. Last year with much birding in Arizona and Southern California, none would have been new.
There would be one more treat. As I drove in to my hotel the night before I had noticed an odd little building with an even odder sign. It was “Pop’s Philly Steaks” – open 24 hours. I guess that was further proof that Las Vegas is a 24 hour city and those all night gamblers need sustenance. This is where they suggested we go for lunch. It was a great choice – as long as calories don’t matter. It may have seemed out of place, but that was my sense of ll of Las Vegas – especially after my trip later to the Miracle Mile and the mega-casinos “downtown”.
Pop’s Philly Steaks with Doug Chang and Paul Rodriquez
The lunch was the close to another fun day and I could celebrate having 50 species now in 38 states. Doug and Paul had made it efficient, fun and memorable. Here were regular guys who shared my love for birds and birding. They had given up a holiday day to take a complete stranger around their town. I would do this for them or any other visiting birder on a mission. It is part of being in the vast community of birders. Thank you Doug. Thank you Paul. I have invited you to Washington. I hope you visit some day.
I hope I can say this the right way. Doug is of Asian ancestry and Paul has a Hispanic background. My forebears were Eastern European Jews. None of that made any difference on this day of birding; but in our in our everyday world, too often it does – how nonsensical that is. Around the world there are birders everywhere of every race, color, belief, background, nationality, age, sex and orientation. We share a love of birds. birding and usually of each other. While there are definitely other Pauls and Dougs and Blairs out there, if I reflect on birding in my home state of Washington and my experiences during this past month on the road, most of the birders I have seen have been white and older. Younger faces here and there and skins of different colors here and there as well. Hopefully there will be more. I have often said that the birds could care less about such things about the people that watch them. How nice if it worked that way with people as well.