I didn’t set out to find birds while visiting with relatives in Nebraska, but during our stop at the Holy Family Shrine in Gretna, I was pulled away by a trail that led to a small pine forest.
Beyond the pine forest, amongst the juniper trees, I found a flock of American Robins. I know. To so many folks the American Robin is a common visitor. Honestly, I never noticed them before. I didn’t think we had any in Las Vegas, however I’ve recently learned that they can be found there too.
Surprisingly, I caught a glimpse of a yellow bird and managed to snap a frantically fuzzy photo. After a bit of research, I suspect it may be an American Goldfinch.
Ultimately, I did return to Vegas in time for the holidays and a Christmas Bird Count hosted by the Red Rock Audubon Society. I woke up at 4:30a.m. with the hopes of getting to the Calico Basin area early enough to find the glowing eyes of a desert dwelling owl. When I arrived, I found my way up the boardwalk using my headlamp and met up with the coordinator of the bird count. It had been a while since I’d woken up so early for an outdoor activity. I had forgotten how mysterious the early morning darkness can be; wrapped in silence, cold air, and the glow of the moon. Even though we didn’t see any owls in the skeletal forms of the tall deciduous trees, the adventure of early morning exploring was worth it.
By 6:30 a.m. we met with the rest of the birders at the Red Rock National Conservation Area visitor center. We broke into groups and were assigned large areas to observe for the day. I worked with Doug Chang, the president of the Red Rock Audubon Society. We were assigned the second half of the Red Rock scenic loop: Ice Box Canyon, Pine Creek Canyon, Oak Creek Canyon, and the overlook area near the park exit.
In those areas, we managed to identify twenty-two species of birds. I couldn’t believe it. Pine Creek Canyon was the best area for birdwatching. We walked down the trail until we reached the foundation of an old homestead. We were able to sit and watch a variety of birds flit in and out of the trees, except for the roadrunner, which made a fleeting dart across the grassy area.
The bird count made for an intense day outdoors. I loved it. However, I am looking forward to taking more leisurely trips with the Red Rock Audubon Society very soon.
The day after the Christmas Bird Count, I had another amazing encounter with a bird. As a friend was driving me home, I saw a hawk sitting on the light post that is behind my backyard. We stopped quickly so I could take a picture, which didn’t turn out all that great. I was hoping that I would be able to rush up to my room and get a face to face view of the hawk from my window. Unfortunately, the hawk had already taken flight. Later that day, I saw two hawks high above the desert lot soaring in the cloudy skies. Amazing.
I wasn’t planning on becoming a birder when I started doing Bird Sleuth lessons from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology with my students last summer. But I couldn’t believe how many kinds of birds we found on our little schoolyard birding adventures. I grew up in Las Vegas and never saw the tiny Ruby Crowned Kinglets, Say’s Phoebes, and other birds we haven’t identified yet…because I was never really looking. Now that I know there is so much diversity, I can’t stop looking for it, and I want to see more.