Mild temperatures in the weeks prior to count season limited ice cover, even in northern Nevada. Although the period brought a few days with rain showers even to the southern part of the state, most counts reported favorable weather, sometimes even balmy for the season. Exceptions were Nevada’s northernmost count, Jarbidge, which straddles the Idaho state line on the north side of the Jarbidge Mountains, Snake Valley which straddles the Utah line on the east side of Great Basin National Park, and nearby Ely. Hardy volunteers on these three counts encountered morning temperatures in the low- to mid-teens (°F), and up to a foot of snow.
This year’s biggest surprise was a Palm Warbler found by Alan de Queiroz along the edge of a wash in a residential neighborhood in northwest Reno, during the Truckee Meadows count on 15 December. The bird was seen and photographed by many in the following weeks, continuing at least through 6 January.
Snow Goose flocks at Fallon exceeded 2000 for the highest tally in over a decade. Ross’s Geese turned up on two southern counts, with five at Desert Game Range and one at Henderson. Lone Trumpeter Swans turned up both in Truckee Meadows and in Southern Pahranagat Valley in southeastern Nevada. At Henderson a hybrid Eurasian x American Wigeon was spotted among the state’s biggest concentrations of American Wigeon (687), Gadwall (869), Northern Shovelers (1000), Cinnamon Teal (15), and Green-winged Teal (217). Truckee Meadows and Carson City accounted for most of the Mallards statewide with 1621 and 1536, respectively.
Among diving ducks, Southern Pahranagat had the state high counts for Ring-necked Duck (341) and Redhead (275) and set a new high state record for Canvasback (3336), more than double the previous record. Eight Greater Scaup were found on Pyramid Lake. Elko improved on their own state record for Lesser Scaup set last year, with 419 this year, and also led the state in Buffleheads (177) and Ruddy Ducks (717). Truckee Meadows again led for Common Goldeneyes (167) and Barrow's Goldeneyes (25) as well as Hooded Mergansers (113) and Common Mergansers (87). A Red-breasted Merganser on Pyramid Lake was a rare find for northern Nevada.
Henderson held their status as grebe capital for Nevada, with top counts of Pied-billed, Horned, Eared, Western, and Clark's grebes. American White Pelicans (11) showed up there for the fourth straight year; one also turned up farther north at Fallon. Truckee Meadows improved slightly on last year’s Black-crowned Night-Heron tally with 37.
Six Ospreys at Henderson and a total of 12 Red-shouldered Hawks in the Reno/Tahoe area reflected the increased winter presence of both species over the past decade. Minden led the state in Buteos with four of those Red-shouldered Hawks, along with 252 Red-tailed, 18 Ferruginous, and 24 Rough-legged hawks. Elko recorded all three accipiter species, with three Sharp-shinned Hawks, two Cooper’s Hawks and the state’s only Northern Goshawk. A Peregrine Falcon was spotted near waterfowl flocks at Fallon.
Southern Pahranagat tallied close to 29,700 American Coots, more than double the record set 20 years ago by the Walker Lake count (no longer active). The 25 Wilson's Snipe at Southern Pahranagat comprised a new count record.
The mild temperatures in early winter allowed a few gulls to persist in northeastern Nevada, including eight Ring-billed Gulls in Elko, six California Gulls in Ely, and five Bonaparte’s Gulls in Snake Valley. In northwestern Nevada where winter gull flocks are more expected, two Mew Gulls (one on count day), a Thayer’s (Iceland) Gull and Glaucous-winged Gull were photographed during count week at Truckee Meadows. Pyramid Lake added both a Thayer’s and a Glaucous-winged Gull for count day, along with 13 Herring Gulls.
Henderson turned up 18 Greater Roadrunners. A total of 14 Burrowing Owls were at the Desert Game Range. A Western Screech-Owl was photographed in its daytime roost next to a daycare facility in Fallon. A Short-eared Owl was found roosting on a dike between ponds on the Sheldon N.W.R. count.
Anna's Hummingbirds and Costa’s Hummingbirds were found in typical numbers for recent years. Two Lewis’s Woodpeckers turned up in Snake Valley. Red-breasted Sapsuckers were found on two southern counts this year, at Muddy River and Southern Pahranagat. The 15 Ladder-backed Woodpeckers at Red Rock Canyon was a record high for the state; good numbers were also found at Muddy River and Southern Pahranagat.
The trend toward increasing phoebes continued with a total of 57 Black Phoebes and 90 Say's Phoebes statewide, with notably high counts at Henderson in the south and Fallon in the north. Henderson also turned up three Vermilion Flycatchers. Loggerhead Shrike numbers were up statewide. A hatch-year Northern Shrike was photographed at Sheldon.
Large flocks of Pinyon Jays were at Snake Valley (348), Ely (141), and Minden (69). Snake Valley also had 42 “Western” Scrub-Jays which were presumably Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jays by range. A Blue Jay turned up in Elko.
Henderson matched last year’s high count of 17 Northern Rough-winged Swallows, and added a count-week Tree Swallow.
Red-breasted Nuthatches irrupted out of montane forests with high counts at Carson City (29), Truckee Meadows (16), and Snake Valley (16), even a few in southern Nevada at Desert Game Range (3) and Red Rock Canyon (2). House Wrens were found north of their typical winter range at Carson City and Pyramid Lake. Pacific Wrens showed up at Desert Game Range and Muddy Creek. A wren at Snake Valley could have been either a Pacific Wren or its eastern relative, Winter Wren. Red Rock again had the state’s high count (12) for Cactus Wren.
Henderson topped last year’s state record with 62 Black-tailed Gnatcatchers and Muddy River added 40 more. A count-day Blue-gray Gnatcatcher at Fallon was part of a wintering flock of five to six seen through February 2020; two were also found at Henderson.
Mountain Bluebirds were thick at Fallon, with 154 for a new count record. Red Rock led the state in Western Bluebirds (102). Desert Game Range had the high count for LeConte’s Thrasher (3) and Muddy River for Crissal Thrasher (33), while Ash Meadows added the state’s only Sage Thrasher. Good numbers of Phainopeplas were found in southern Nevada, led by Muddy River’s count of 173.
Muddy River posted a new count record with 206 Abert’s Towhees. American Tree Sparrows were found at Truckee Meadows (3), Sheldon (2), and Fallon (1). A Chipping Sparrow turned up at Henderson. Three Black-throated Sparrows were the first count record for Red Rock. A Pink-sided (Dark-eyed) Junco showed up for count week at Sheldon. Truckee Meadows yielded the state’s only Harris's Sparrow, and Red Rock had the only White-throated Sparrow. A carefully identified Bell’s Sparrow was at Ash Meadows, along the southwest edge of the state where winter ranges of Sagebrush and Bell’s Sparrows may overlap.
Three Pine Grosbeaks were found in Snake Valley. Truckee Meadows found the only Purple Finches (3). Seven Evening Grosbeaks at Red Rock Canyon were the first record for this young count.