Saturday, October 3, 2009

Nevada Oasis

The long drive north from Arizona to Idaho brings the perfect opportunity to revisit our favorite refuges in Nevada and to explore new ground. We pick up our friend Rich Hoyer in Tucson, and the three of us set off on a three-day camping trip through the vast, stark Nevada desert.

The Sonoran Desert grades into the Mojave as we exchange Saguaro for bristly, imposing Joshua Trees. The rainfall regime changes as well: Mojave Desert receives mainly winter rain; Sonoran Desert usually receives both winter and summer rains and is lusher.

Just a half-hour north of the glitter of Las Vegas lies a gem of an oasis: Corn Creek Field Station, a part of Desert National Wildlife Refuge. This refuge's 1.5 million acres encompass six mountain ranges, which are home to Desert Bighorn Sheep. Over the years, Alan and I have stopped at Corn Creek every chance we've had. During migration it often produces an impressive array of western migrants and eastern vagrants, such as White-eyed Vireo and Palm Warbler. Corn Creek is also a northerly nesting outpost for several typically southwestern birds, including Lucy's Warbler, Verdin and Vermilion Flycatcher.

Alan Craig & Rich Hoyer at Corn Creek (Photo by Narca)

We arrive in late afternoon, make a quick circuit of the spring-fed ponds, and set up camp not far away. (It's still possible to rough-camp here for free.) The 100-degree day cools with the setting sun, and Coyotes begin to sing. Soon the vast starfield stretches over our two tents, alone in the immensity. A glow to the south marks Las Vegas.

At dawn we're up, break camp, and return to Corn Creek. We meander along the paths through thick vegetation. Cedar Waxwings pluck fruit from the Russian Olive trees. A Red-shouldered Hawk (unusual in Nevada) swoops to a post next to a small pasture. Endangered Pahrump Poolfish fin through the ponds. We find a nice showing of western migrants––Peregrine Falcon; Willow and Gray Flycatchers; Nashville, Virginia's and MacGillivray's Warblers; Yellow-breasted Chats; Lazuli Bunting––before continuing our journey north.

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