I just finished an afternoon of birding at Carson Lake where one word to describe the birding is UN-FREAKIN-BELIEVABLE! I started out by driving out to the Rice Unit, turned left (north) following the drainage canal, and then turning right (east) following the canal until the "Road Closed" signs. When I got back on the main road by the caretaker's residence, I went south beyond the junction of Madsen Levee and West Road, where I was happily surprised to see the road open up to Sprig Pond. I then came back north and turned right (east) on the Madsen Levee and was able to take it to the first observation tower (road closed after that but I walked a part of it). I then double backed on the Madsen Levee and turned left (south) on the Holmes Levee where the road was open to the observation tower. The Lott Freeway is closed. I then drove out on West Road to the fields in the southwest part of the area.
Bottom line is that I have never seen so many birds there, and some of the previously-closed areas are now open! For those who are not familiar with the area, during the flooding of the Carson River after the Winter of 2016-2017, so much water was diverted into Carson Lake that it has been too flooded to drive much around the area as it was mostly underwater. So it was a welcome and unexpected sight to see the areas open today (for the first time in about 1.5 years). Carson Lake is one of the best birding locations in Nevada, if not the best, in my humble opinion, so it was GREAT to see some of the areas open again.
Now to the birds. Nothing totally unexpected was observed today but I could have spent MUCH MORE time looking around. If one were to go there soon, I would say you could easily spend the entire day there, especially if one were to walk along the levees that are currently closed to vehicles. Species observed in the thousands included:
White-Faced Ibis-easily over 15,000-20,000American AvocetBank Swallows-largest flock I have ever seen, easily about 12,000-15,000Long-Billed DowitcherCalifornia and Ring-Billed GullsCanada Goose
Around 100 each of Great and Snowy Egrets, Least Sandpipers, and Black-Crowned Night Herons. A couple hundred Killdeer and a few hundred Red-Necked Phalaropes. Several hundred Black-Necked Stilts, a handful of Forster's Terns, an American Bittern, 4 Cattle Egrets, and 2 Short-Billed Dowitchers. Upon arriving at the Madsen Tower, I immediately heard the "tu-tu-tu" call of a Short-Billed Dowitcher. I looked out and briefly played the call, and darn near got skewered by one. It landed very briefly within 8 feet of me and the fresh, non-molting plumage was obvious. A few minutes later a second calling Short-Billed showed up and only showed 1 or 2 small molting feathers. They eventually flew back into a small flock of Long-Billed Dowitchers and were constantly being chased around by them. The higher-pitched "pi-pi-pi" calls of the Long-Billed where obvious as was varying stages of molt in the birds. I bring this up because to me, these are the 2 major ways to ID Short-Billed vs. Long-Billed during the migration (hearing the calls is the #1 way to ID). I know that when I lived in Ohio, a general rule of thumb was that Long-Billed molt during the fall migration whereas Short-Billed don't molt until they reach the wintering grounds. I have not yet researched if this is applicable to Dowitchers in the western U.S., so any feedback would be appreciated. It may not be true in an absolute sense, but it may be in a general sense.
There was nothing much to see off of West Road out in the fields in the southwest area. Overall, there were thousands of birds off in the distance that were too far to ID as there was no access to those areas.
I talked with Stan the caretaker who informed me that he does not lock the gate into the area until sunset, "give or take a few minutes". This is great as the gate used to be closed/locked around 5 PM a couple of years back, before he took over as caretaker.
If anyone goes out there to bird, it would be great if they would report what they saw to NV Birds (pay it forward). A map of Carson Lake is included on page 3 of "A Birding Guide to Reno and Beyond", which is put out by the Lahontan Audubon Society and can be accessed on their web page.
Rob LowryCarson City
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