Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Getting Lucky

Every birder knows that the more they visit one location, the less likely they are to see new birds. Of course, the occasional rarity or vagrant is always possible, but still uncommon.

With that in mind, I didn't have high hopes for our recent trip to Las Vegas, and my return to the Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve and Sunset Park. When I'd visited these same areas last year, birding extensively, I hit the jackpot with 15 new species to add to my life list, and while I'm always hoping for a new lifer, I didn't think I'd see anything extraordinary on this visit.

During several hours of birding at the two sites combined, I identified 44 species, including an astonishing five new lifers:

  • Gadwall: I'm fairly certain I've seen these dabblers before, but never clearly enough for a positive identification.
  • Lesser Scaup: Finally I was able to clearly identify one of these diving ducks, adding it to my life list next to its near twin, the greater scaup, which I saw for the first time in Vegas last year.
  • Great Egret: Beautifully poised on the island at Sunset Park, this is a stunning bird to behold.
  • Crissal Thrasher: It took a half hour of wandering through sand dunes and desert brush before I got a clear look at this bird; then go figure after I'd identified it, it kept coming closer and into better light.
  • Muscovy Duck: This was an exciting find, a pair of these rare ducks. While they may be escapees, they didn't have the white plumage you'd often find on domestics. Neither the male nor female will win beauty contests, but their coloration is extraordinary.
Of course, just seeing new lifers is only part of the fun of birding in a new - or infrequent - place. It was a joy to see many other species I don't get at home, including verdins, common moorhens, and great-tailed grackles. Other popular species at the two sites included yellow rumped warblers, ruby crowned kinglets, marsh wrens, and many species of ducks such as northern pintails, northern shovelers, pied billed grebes, and ruddy ducks.

Seeing different bird behavior is also a treat. Shovelers pinwheeling, grackles staring up like grackles do, warblers warbling - it's all a pleasure, and reminds me that even if you don't see new species, you're always lucky to be seeing birds.

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