The 122nd Christmas Bird Count in Nevada

After two years of reduced participation due to the pandemic, 16 of the state’s 17 recently active counts were able to proceed, while the Ruby Lake CBC revived from nearly decade of dormancy. Participation also returned to normal, with an average of over 18 field counters per count statewide, led by Truckee Meadows (Reno) with 38 and Henderson in southern Nevada with 35.

The weather was mostly favorable for birding. Snow limited access in several northern counts including Elko, Jarbidge, and Winnemucca, with cold, dense fog also a factor for much of Winnemucca count. At Henderson, one route usually covered by boat was impacted by the very low water levels in Lake Mead, due to continuing drought in the Colorado River basin. Elko was once again the coldest count, starting the morning at -5 °F and warming only to 20 °F in the afternoon. Henderson was the balmiest, with an afternoon high of 59 °F.

Rare birds for the region included a Gyrfalcon at Pyramid Lake, a count-week Lesser Black-backed Gull at Carson City, a Rufous-backed Robin at Desert Game Refuge, and a Hooded Warbler at

Henderson, where a Nashville Warbler was also found wintering north of the usual range. An Anna’s Hummingbird at Elko was the first for the count and only the second recorded in the county; the couple hosting this bird diligently rotated two feeders throughout the day to keep food available during the freezing temperatures. The Sheldon NWR count in the northwest corner of the state caught the edge of a notable southward irruption of Common Redpolls, with a total of 31 as multiple flocks were found, often feeding on rabbitbrush seeds in the sagebrush.

Single Ross’s Geese turned up at Muddy River in southern Nevada as well as at Truckee Meadows. Ruby Lake had 71 of the state’s 75 Trumpeter Swans. A female-plumaged Blue-winged Teal and four Cinnamon Teal were at Henderson. Among more common diving ducks, single Greater Scaup were recorded at Pyramid Lake and Carson City. A hybrid male Common Goldeneye x Hooded Merganser for Truckee Meadows was well-documented as it continued through Jan 20 on the University of Nevada Reno campus. Elko set a new count record with 3102 Ruddy Ducks, more than half of the total for the state.

Carson City again found the only Mountain Quail (2). Over 550 Gambel’s Quail were tallied as all six southern Nevada counts returned to action. The 22 Greater Sage-Grouse at Jarbidge was a good tally for recent years, and the only ones recorded in the state. Also, 70 American White Pelicans turned up at Henderson.

Rough-legged Hawks showed up on eight northern Nevada counts for a total of 41, despite that Minden – usually the top count in the state for buteos – didn’t run this year. No goshawks were sighted this year, but smaller accipiters were seen in good numbers, with a remarkable count of 16 Sharp-shinned Hawks at Henderson.

The most unusual shorebird for the season was a count-week American Avocet at Henderson. Thayer’s Gulls were found at Pyramid Lake (1) and Carson City (cw). A Band-tailed Pigeon was at Truckee Meadows.

Notable owls included 17 Burrowing Owls at Desert Game Refuge and Northern Saw-whet Owls at Pyramid Lake and Carson City. White-throated Swifts (18) were at Muddy River where this species winters in some years. Hummingbirds were found on most southern Nevada counts, with Red Rock, Henderson, and Desert Game Refuge combining for 66 Anna’s and 23 Costa’s hummingbirds. Two Red-naped Sapsuckers were found at Truckee Meadows, and a Red-breasted Sapsucker was at Desert Game Refuge.

A Say's Phoebe in Elko was unusual for the northern Great Basin in winter. Northern Shrikes turned up in Elko, Ruby Lake, and Sheldon. Large concentrations of Pinyon Jays, a nomadic species in winter, were at Carson City (252), Snake Valley (184), Ely (177), and Truckee Meadows (169). Snake Valley also had 50 Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jays. Carson City and Truckee Meadows in western Nevada accounted for all of the state’s 23 Clark’s Nutcrackers, a switch from last year when nearly all the nutcrackers found were on the east side of the state. Fallon had the state's high count for Common Raven (612).

Henderson was the swallow capital of southern Nevada, with 20 Barn Swallows and seven Northern-winged Swallows on count day. Desert Game Refuge had the only count-day Tree Swallow.

A Pacific Wren turned up at Ash Meadows. Desert Game Refuge state’s only Cactus Wrens (3). Single Varied Thrushes turned up in Truckee Meadows and, more surprisingly, Desert Game Refuge. With all six southern Nevada counts back in action, gnatcatchers (Black-tailed and Blue-gray) and thrashers (LeConte's, Crissal, and Sage) were found in typical numbers.

A flock of 12 Lapland Longspurs turned up in Elko, along with 13 American Tree Sparrows. Other notable sparrows for the season included a Lark Sparrow at Carson City, a Vesper Sparrow at Fallon, Harris's Sparrows at Muddy River, Red Rock, and Carson City, and a White-throated Sparrow at Desert Game Refuge. Elko had the only rosy-finches in the state with 14 Black Rosy-Finches. Truckee Meadows once again found the state’s only Purple Finches, with two this year.