Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Corn Creek revisited

On the annual Las Vegas trip, faced again with an hour time frame in which to visit the local wildlife, I opted again to check out the Corn Creek field station, both a migrant trap and a regular site for a few local specialties. I did not post my last visit, but Corn Creek quickly became one of my favourite birding spots. I like to think of Corn Creek as a bit of a "wildcard", since it is totally random what is seen (and what isn't seen!) on a visit to this location on any given time of the day at any given time. Last visit I found Nevada's 9th NBRC endorsed record of purple martin which was quite something.

It was good to see that the heavy construction setup had vanished, along with the rather obnoxious clamour it threw up if you were standing in the immediate vicinity. In its place was the new (but closed) visitor center, a car park, and toilets, which was exactly 300% more facilities than the last time I visited. There was a fair bit of weather nearby, rain and thunder/lightning, which fortunately had diminished prior.

I first visited the "orchard" area. I don't actually remember this area so I think I missed it last time. There was quite a tremendous amount of activity here, mostly western tanagers but also orioles (hooded, Bullock's) and a lone (but attractive) male indigo bunting. The fence was occupied throughout by about one black phoebe every 10 metres, vigilantly keeping to their invisible territories. I also played an Abert's towhee recording to remind myself of their vocalizations, and was sure I heard a reply far off but I could not be sure. Other than this I did not encounter such a bird during the trip.

For the next few minutes or so I checked up on calls to make sure I knew what I was hearing--Nevada, though it is not too far from California, has a wealth of new possibilities. I was perhaps a bit out of my element here, so I didn't discount a new bird hiding behind a familiar sound. For instance, I had heard a sort of metallic "chik" call; what I assumed was a bunting, probably indigo or lazuli, from within a dense patch of undergrowth nearby a little creek. Wait, dense undergrowth? Buntings live in the open, perched on exposed branches, or even hopping along open grasslands, so this instantly raised a red flag. I took one step and a dark bird dashed out and landed on a branch a couple of trees down the creek. I could see a white supercilium line and pale underparts from where I was standing, the rest shrouded by leaf cover. I thought perhaps it was a black-and-white warbler, a bird that would have those sort of features, but a little repositioning on my part revealed some interesting streaking and a face that looked like it came from a thrush.

It was now very obvious that I had a waterthrush on my hands. The waterthrushes were odd thrush-patterned warblers known for their love of water--a bird that could not be named in any better fashion. Only two waterthrush species exist: the northern waterthrush and the Louisiana waterthrush. So here is what I was thinking right at the time, to give an idea of the situation for a non-birder:
Erm, hang on a minute...Neither of these maps are even close to where I am.
Often in birding the common conundrum is deciding between a regular species and a rare species. Rarely is it that the conundrum is deciding between a rare species and a rarer one! I tested the calls of both species, and it sounded thinner than northern waterthrush.

The bird then, as its habits would dictate, flew into the water of the creek and hopped along the stones perfectly at home. Exposed in the open, the bird really stood out in its high-contrast dark-brown back and clean white underparts. Another feature that stood out here was its rather bright pink legs. Typical of waterthrushes, it flicked its tail regularly at increments of about 7 seconds+. Along with its unmarked white throat and lack of buffy colouring overall, it was quite clear I was dealing with a Louisiana waterthrush, by far the rarer of the two this far west. Update August 5th: this bird was refound by others today and confirmed as the 3rd-4th NBRC record, what a great bird to find.

A bit lost would be a bit of an understatement I'd say, though Nevada
does seem to be a bit under birded, so perhaps it is more common than it is thought.

In other parts of the park I located a Virginia's warbler foraging silently in some low trees. This is a mountain species at this time of year so here in the low desert it is another good bird but not necessarily rare. I did not have any luck with Lucy's warbler at the site. I picked up 2 black-throated sparrows on my way out of the park and along with 2 loggerhead shrikes on the drive out, this concluded the visit. I definitely do not regret coming here.

Virginia's warbler. The diagnostic yellow undertail is only just visible through a gap in the leaves.

Black-throated sparrow

No comments:

Post a Comment