Great Basin Regional Report
Winter 2001

Ted Floyd

Great Basin Bird Observatory
One East First Street, Suite 500
Reno, Nevada 89501

The Great Basin is sometimes disparaged as a featureless and homogeneous "sagebrush sea". But nobody would ever argue that the weather is the same all across the region. In southern Nevada, above-average temperatures may have benefited wintering hummingbirds. In southern Utah, though, it was colder than average with very little precipitation. Precipitation was below average in northern Utah, too, but the northern Nevada snow pack was right about normal. This winter, several observers felt that local variation in ice cover and snow pack helped to explain patterns of occurrence in species such as Tundra Swan, Bald Eagle, Merlin, Black Phoebe, and Northern Shrike. But this year’s Common Redpoll invasion was doubtless attributable to meteorological phenomena outside our region. And then there are always the flukes—totally unexpected sightings without precedent or explanation. The season’s winner in this category was surely the Ruff that spent the last week of December at the Great Salt Lake.

Abbreviations: A.I.C. (Antelope Island Causeway, Davis, UT); C.L. (Carson Lake, Churchill, NV); C.C. (Corn Creek, Clark, NV); F.B. (Farmington Bay, Davis, UT); P.L. (Pyramid L., Washoe, NV); Q.C.R. (Quail Creek Res., Washington, UT); S.L.C.C. (Salt L. City Cemetery, Salt Lake, UT); S.L.R. (S-Line Res., Churchill, NV); S.R.P. (Sun R. Pond, Washington, UT). Christmas Bird Counts referred to in this report include the following: B.R. (Bear R., Box Elder, UT, held 19 Dec); Elko (Elko, Elko, NV, held 22 Dec); F.S. (Fish Springs, Juab, UT, held 30 Dec); P.L. (Pyramid L., Washoe, NV, held 1 Jan); S.G. (St. George, Washington, UT, held 29 Dec); S.R. (Silver Reef, Washington, UT, held 15 Dec); T.M. (Truckee Meadows, Washoe, NV, held 15 Dec). Records marked with a dagger (†) were accompanied by a written description.

Loons Through Mergansers

A rare Red-throated Loon remained at Minersville Res., Beaver, UT until 2 Dec (RF et al.). The only Pacific Loon reports were of 2 each at L. Mead, Clark, NV 20 Jan (MC, JCr) and at Q.C.R. 1–3 Dec (RF). A well-studied Yellow-billed Loon (†JW et mult. al.; ph. JT) was found at P.L. 21 Dec and remained throughout the reporting period. Horned Grebes at 3 NV locales were led by 5 at P.L. 8 Jan (JW), and single birds were noted at 3 UT locales (v.o.). A Red-necked Grebe that showed up on the P.L. CBC remained until 28 Jan (JW).

An American White Pelican lingered until 5 Jan at S.R.P. (BH). The mid-winter max. for American Bittern was 3 at C.L. 2 Feb (DSe). A surprising 18 Great Egrets remained for the T.M. CBC. The good fall Cattle Egret flight was rounded out by a single bird at C.C. 4 Dec (TF, CT). A Green Heron was at Fallon, Churchill, NV 14 Dec (DSe), and a White-faced Ibis lingered for the F.S. CBC.

Tundra Swans at 10 NV locales were led by 175 at Lemmon Valley Marsh (Washoe) 28 Feb (FP), and reports from 4 UT locales were led by 200 at F.B. 23 Feb (SC). Trumpeter Swans numbered 1–5 at 4 UT locales (v.o.). Greater White-fronted Geese numbered 1–7 at 6 Reno area locales (v.o.), while reports from UT included 8 at American Fork Marina (Utah) 9 Dec (EH, KC) and 1–2 at Dixie Red Hills Golf Course (Washington) 2 Jan – 6 Feb (v.o.). Snow Geese at 8 NV locales were led by 2000+ at C.L. 16 Feb (DT), while reports from 4 UT locales were led by 1000+ at Gunnison Bend Res. (Millard) 24 Feb (DA). A Blue Goose at C.L. 13 Feb (NB, JT) was the only report. Ross’s Geese numbered 1–20 at 8 NV locales (v.o.), but the only UT reports were of single birds at S.R.P. 17–21 Dec (BH) and at Sun Brook Golf Course (Washington) 27 Jan – 6 Feb (RF). Two possible hybrid geese (Snow ´ Ross’s) were at Idlewild Park, Washoe, NV 9 Feb (DSe).

Wood Ducks were noted at 3 n. NV locales (v.o.), while UT reports came from S.R.P. 17–29 Dec (BH) and from La Verkin (Washington) 27 Jan (RF). A drake Blue-winged Teal was an unusual winter visitor to Oxbow Park, Washoe, NV 8 Dec – 12 Jan (TF et mult. al.; ph. MM), and a late Cinnamon Teal remained at Reno until 12 Dec (DM). A drake Eurasian Wigeon was at Reno from 15 Dec until the end of the period (†TF et al.). Also at Reno was a hybrid drake Eurasian Wigeon ´ American Wigeon from 20 Feb until the end of the period (JT et al.).

Greater Scaup numbered 1–8 at 4 NV locales and 1–6 at 4 UT locales (v.o.). Two Long-tailed Ducks were at A.I.C. 13–28 Dec (MSt et al.), and a single bird was at nearby F.B. 20 Jan (AN). All 3 scoters put in appearances in UT, with a Black Scoter at A.I.C. 13 Dec (MSt et al.), 1–2 Surf Scoters also at A.I.C. 16 Dec – 27 Jan (JB et al.), and a White-winged Scoter at Q.C.R. 18 Dec – 12 Jan (RF et al.). Barrow’s Goldeneyes numbered 1–4 at 5 NV locales and 1–7 at 4 UT locales (v.o.). The top Hooded Merganser count in NV was 20 at Virginia L. (Washoe) 16 Feb (TF et al.), and the best tally from UT was 10 at Layton (Davis) 26 Dec (HG). Red-breasted Merganser reports from 5 NV locales were led by 7 at P.L. 8 Jan (JW), while the only report for UT was of a single bird at Q.C.R. 15 Dec (RF, KW).

Eagles Through Gulls

Bald Eagles at 11 locations in NV were led by 31 in the Carson Valley (Douglas) 16 Feb (JW et al.); in UT there were reports from 12 locations, including an impressive peak of 200+ at F.B. 16 Feb (SC). Single Red-shouldered Hawks were found at 7 NV locations (v.o.), but the only UT reports came from Cedar City (Iron) 24 Jan (SS, PS) and from Washington Fields (Washington) 2 Feb (SS). Merlins were widely noted this winter, with reports from 14 locales in NV and from 9 in UT (v.o.). Peregrine Falcons were found at 3 locales in NV and at 4 in UT (v.o.).

The wintertime status of the Sora in the northern part of the region is not well understood; this winter, the only reports came from the Carson Valley, Douglas, NV 2 Feb (JE et al.) and from Oxbow Park, Washoe, NV 16 Feb (TF et al.). Common Moorhen reports included the following: at least 3 near Fallon, Churchill, NV 2–17 Feb (DT et al.), 1 at Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve, Clark, NV 12 Feb (TL), and 1 at Powell Slough, Utah, UT 8 Feb (EH). The only Sandhill Cranes were a flock of 9 at Overton, Clark, NV 10–16 Feb (PFo et al.).

Four Snowy Plovers were at Saltair, Salt Lake, UT on the unusual date of 20 Jan (JB, KB). One of the first signs of spring in the Great Basin is the return of the American Avocet, and this year some 100 were already back at C.L. 13 Feb (NB, JT). Greater Yellowlegs are scarce but widespread during the winter months in the Great Basin; this year there were reports from 5 NV locales (v.o.), as well as from the UT locales of Great Salt L. Marina (Davis) 10 Jan (BR) and Saltair (Salt Lake) 20 Jan (JB, KB). An early Lesser Yellowlegs was reported from S.L.R. 16–17 Feb (DT et al.). A Spotted Sandpiper was at Reno 12–15 Dec (DM et al.) and again 20 Feb (AW).

Three Long-billed Curlews at C.L. 17 Feb (DT) were the first of the year. An early or wintering Western Sandpiper was at S.L.R. 2 Feb (DSe). Wintering Least Sandpipers were found at 7 NV locations, with a max. of 30 at S.L.R. 2 Feb (DSe); there were reports from 4 UT locations, with a max. of 10 at Utah L. (Utah) 2 Dec (EH, KC). A remarkable find was the Ruff that showed up on the B.R. CBC and remained until 28 Dec (m.ob.). Wintering Long-billed Dowitchers at 4 NV locales were led by 24 at Reno 12 Dec (DM). A Wilson’s Phalarope was at A.I.C. on the rather unusual date of 25 Dec (ph., †DC).

A Little Gull was at A.I.C. 13 Dec (ph., †TS et al.). A Mew Gull was at A.I.C. 13–16 Dec (TS et al.), and another was at Bountiful Landfill, Davis, UT 10 Jan (DS, BS). Herring Gulls were reported from NV only at P.L., where the top count was 13 on the P.L. CBC; there were reports from 4 UT locations (v.o.). Similarly, the only NV Thayer’s Gull came from P.L. 8 Jan (JW), while there were reports from 3 UT locations (v.o.). Ditto for Glaucous-winged Gull, with the only NV report coming from P.L. 1 Jan – 28 Feb (v.o.), but with reports from 3 UT locations (v.o.). Two "Olympic" (Western ´ Glaucous-winged) Gulls were at P.L. 1–20 Jan (v.o.). Single Glaucous Gulls were found at F.B. 27 Jan – 21 Feb (JB et al.) and at Bountiful Landfill, Davis, UT 27 Jan (DG et al.). Rounding out the gulls was a Black-legged Kittiwake at Ivins Res., Washington, UT 3–5 Jan (BSh et al.; ph., †RF).

Hummingbirds Through Waxwings

At least 8 Anna’s Hummingbirds wintered at 3 s. NV locales (v.o.), and 2 northerly individuals wintered successfully at Reno (ML et al.). One or 2 Costa’s Hummingbirds spent the winter at Pueblo Park, Clark, NV (RS). A Selasphorus hummingbird was at Reno on the unusual dates of 5–17 Dec (†RB).

During the colder months Lewis’s Woodpeckers are uncommon but widespread in the Great Basin, and so it was this winter: there were reports of single birds from 4 UT locales (v.o.), as well as from the NV locales of Amargosa Farm, Clark, NV 8 Dec (MC, JCr) and Logandale, Clark, NV 17 Feb (RF, KCo). Easterly Red-breasted Sapsuckers were reported from Pahranagat N.W.R., Lincoln, NV 16 Dec (JC) and Red Rock Canyon, Clark, NV 26 Dec (CT et al.), and a hybrid sapsucker (Red-breasted ´ Red-naped) was at Overton, Clark, NV 16 Feb (JC). Williamson’s Sapsuckers are rarely noted during the winter in the Great Basin, so it was nice to get reports from 3 w. NV locales 12 Dec – 20 Jan (v.o.). A Yellow-shafted Flicker was seen at Stead, Washoe, NV 4 Jan (ph., †JT), and hybrid flickers (Yellow-shafted ´ Red-shafted) were noted at Rancho San Rafael Park, Washoe, NV 9–16 Feb (ph. MM; †TF et al.) and at Reno, Washoe, NV 20 Feb (†FP).

The status of Black Phoebe in n. NV is complex, to say the least: it is scarce in the spring and summer, somewhat more common in the fall, and generally absent in the winter. But this pattern is quite variable, and this winter there were reports from 8 n. NV locales, including 3 on the T.M. CBC. Three Vermilion Flycatchers were at St. George, Washington, UT 29 Dec – 9 Jan (v.o.). Northern Shrikes numbered 1–2 at 4 locales in NV and at 5 in UT (v.o.). Large flocks of American Crows were reported from various locales in s. NV and s. UT (v.o.), and several observers have commented on the apparent recent increase of the species in the s. part of the reporting region.

More than 200 Tree Swallows were seen along the lower Colorado R., Clark, NV 12 Dec (MS); the species reaches the n. limit of its winter range in far s. NV. Meanwhile, the first Tree Swallows for n. NV were recorded at Mason Valley (Lyon) 17 Feb (DT). Two Northern Rough-winged Swallows remained at Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve, Clark, NV until 9 Dec (MC, JCr), and 2 late Barn Swallows tarried at Q.C.R. 22 Dec (BH).

A House Wren remained for the Elko CBC. A Winter Wren at Pahranagat N.W.R. (Lincoln) 16 Dec (JC) was the only report for NV, but there were sightings at three widely scattered locales in UT. A Blue-gray Gnatcatcher at Overton, Clark, NV 16 Feb was early (JC). A Varied Thrush at Fruita, Wayne, UT 28–29 Jan (BW, DW) was the only one reported. Wintering Brown Thrashers were noted at C.C. at least until 21 Jan (MC, JCr) and at Stillwater N.W.R., Churchill, NV at least until 26 Dec (DSe, RSe). Bohemian Waxwings were noted at 4 NV locales, with a top count of 20 at Rye Patch Res. (Pershing) 23 Feb (DSe, RSe); the only UT reports came from Mantua (Box Elder), where up to 8 were present 5–9 Jan (v.o.).

Warblers Through Finches

At least 6 Orange-crowned Warblers were as far n. as Reno on the mid-winter date of 23 Jan (TF; LW et al.), and a northerly individual was at Orem, Utah, UT 4 Jan (KC). Myrtle Warblers were noted at C.C. 4–8 Dec (TF et al.) and at Jordan R. Parkway, Salt Lake, UT 13 Feb (PF). An Ovenbird showed up in a Las Vegas yard 17 Dec and again 6 Jan (JBo), and an apparent Northern Waterthrush was at Bear R. Migratory Bird Refuge, Box Elder, UT 22 Dec (EC, JCo).

A Rufous-crowned Sparrow was at Zion N.P. 6 Jan (RF, KCo). Three American Tree Sparrows on the Elko CBC and 8 at Ruby Valley (Elko) 19 Dec (KV) were the only ones reported from NV; in UT, though, there were sightings at 7 locales, including reports of double digits from several places (v.o.). Single Fox Sparrows were noted at three NV locales (v.o.), and one was at Mapleton, Utah, UT 17 Dec (BWi); none was identified at the subspecies level. White-throated Sparrows were found at 3 spots in e. NV (v.o.), as well as at the UT locales of Layton (Davis) 1 Dec (WS) and Mendon (Cache) 3 Jan (BA). It was a decent winter for Harris’s Sparrow, with reports from 4 locations in NV as well as at 4 in UT (v.o.). Easterly Golden-crowned Sparrows were seen at the following locales: Rye Patch Res., Pershing, NV 17 Feb (JT et al.); Carson R. Diversion Dam, Churchill, NV 24 Feb (AW); and Red Cliffs Recreation Area, Washington, UT 4 Jan – 7 Feb (RF, KCo).

Slate-colored Juncos at C.C. 4 Dec (TF, CT), on the Elko CBC, and at S.L.C.C. 2 Feb (GB, PF) were the only reports. A possible White-winged Junco was reported from Mendon, Cache, UT 4 Jan (RR). Single Lapland Longspurs were found at A.I.C. 21 Dec (TS) and at Golden Spike National Historic Monument, Box Elder, UT 5 Jan (GW, SW). A Snow Bunting was at A.I.C. 26 Dec – 6 Jan (KL et al.).

An Indigo Bunting lingered at Mapleton, Utah, UT until 17 Dec (BWi). A few Great-tailed Grackles winter in n. NV, and this year there were reports of 1 on the Elko CBC and a goodly 14 at Winnemucca (Humboldt) 5 Dec (JW); in UT the most northerly report came from Lehi (Utah), where an impressive 27 were seen 20 Jan (BR). A Hooded Oriole at Las Vegas 23 Feb (RSc) was the only report. Some 310 Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches made the Elko CBC, and several of the birds in the Elko area were determined at a later date (10 Feb) to be of the Hepburn’s race (JW). Meanwhile, a small flock of Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches at Virginia City, Storey, NV 15 Dec (DH) were the only other report. Fifteen Black Rosy-Finches on the Elko CBC were the only ones reported.

Common Redpolls staged the best invasion ever documented in the Great Basin region. Sightings in NV included 4 at Elko 16–30 Dec (MP, ph. LP) and singles at Mogul (Washoe) 17 Dec (†JA, GA) and at Spring Creek (Elko) 20 Dec (PB). UT sightings were as follow: 1 at Mapleton (Utah) 17 Dec (BWi); 1 at Salt Lake City 20 Dec (JBi); 1 on the F.S. CBC; up to 70 at Mantua (Box Elder) 1–16 Jan (MSt et al.); 2 at S.L.C.C. 5 Jan (DJ); and 1 at Provo (Utah) 27 Jan – 1 Feb (MMo, RT). The big flock at Mantua apparently included one or two Hoary Redpolls 16 Jan (†DG). The only Evening Grosbeak reports came from Galena, Washoe, NV 2 Feb (LW) and from Summit Park, Summit, UT 27 Jan (JB, KB).


Northern Utahans were delighted by the return of "Pink Floyd", the beloved Chilean Flamingo of Great Salt L. This winter there were sightings of this hardy bird at Saltair (Salt Lake) during the period 20–24 Jan (v.o.).

Observers: David Allan (DA), John Anderson, Gisela Anderson, Bob Atwood, Glenn Barlow, Joel Beyer, Kathy Beyer, Jack Binch (JBi), Nancy Bish, Jim Boone (JBo), Pete Bradley, Richard Brune, K.C. Childs, Darren Clark, Jack Cochran, Steve Coleman, Kristin Comella (KCo), Ed Conrad, Joseph Conrad (JCo), Jim Cressman (JCr), Marian Cressman, Jim Eidel, Ted Floyd, Phoebe Fowler (PFo), Rick Fridell, Pomera Fronce, Hugh Gillilan, Dana Green, Diane Horgan, Eric Huish, Bill Hunter, David Jensen, Tiffany Lance, Maxine Landis, Kent Lewis, Dave McNinch, Martin Meyers, Milton Moody (MMo), Anne Neville, Fred Petersen, Lois Ports, Mark Ports, Bruce Robinson, Ron Ryel, Terry Sadler, Mike San Miguel, Rick Saval, Rita Schlageter (RSc), Wes Segni, Dennis Serdehely (DSe), Rebecca Serdehely (RSe), Brian Shirley, Dennis Shirley, Bob Showler (BSh), Mark Stackhouse (MSt), Priscilla Summers, Steve Summers, Jane Thompson, Carolyn Titus, Dennis Trousdale, Robin Tuck, Ken Voget, Alan Wallace, Jack Walters, Gale Westerman, Sid Westerman, Kevin Wheeler, Barbara Williams, Bonnie Williams (BWi), Dan Williams, Larry Williams.

S.A. Gulls of unquestioned Glaucous-winged Gull parentage occur every winter in the Great Basin. Most records are from the larger lakes in the northern parts of the region, but sightings are possible anywhere. Some of these birds are obviously hybrids with Western Gulls. Others are not as obvious and have occasioned lively debate among area birders. One camp holds that almost all are hybrids ("Olympic" Gulls), while the other camp maintains that many are pure Glaucous-winged Gulls. The bird in this photograph appears to be a straightforward hybrid, but other individuals have proven more difficult (and less photogenic). Birders in Nevada and Utah are encouraged to make special note of wintering Glaucous-winged and/or "Olympic" Gulls, and to try to help shed light on the interesting phenomenon of their annual dispersal inland. This photograph was taken 16 January 2002 at Pyramid Lake (Washoe, NV) by Martin Meyers.

Photo captions:

[1] Note that the S.A. is accompanied by a photograph.

[2] The event of the season was an incursion of Common Redpolls into northern Nevada and Utah. These males were part of a small flock that visited an Elko (Elko, Nevada) feeder 30 December 2001. Photograph by Lois Ports.

[3] Adult Little Gull (right) with Bonaparte’s Gull (left) off Antelope Island Causeway (Davis, Utah) 13 December 2001. This was only the second record for Little Gull for Utah and for the Great Basin region. Photograph by Terry Sadler.

[4] Black-legged Kittiwake. This adult Black-legged Kittiwake at Ivins Reservoir (Washington, UT) 3–5 Jan was only the second record for Utah. Photograph by Rick Fridell.