Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Away Game: Reno-Tahoe

We've been birding on vacation, on a Reno-Tahoe expedition where we traced the great blue waters from Pyramid Lake, 35 miles north of Sparks, back up the Truckee River, to beautiful Lake Tahoe.

We found lots of help online from the Lahontan Audubon Society based in Reno. They also publish this information in book form, which is more convenient than riffling through printouts. Two caveats: many of the roads involved were dirt--not good for our low-slung Prius, and the birds were running about two weeks earlier than advertised in the book published 10 years ago. By the end of July, most of the white pelicans had cleared out of Pyramid Lake, as far as we could tell. Apparently our paths crossed as they were heading to the Bay Area.

There may have been more birds around the corner, we simply didn't see them. We can vouch for a one exemplary drive-by birding site in downtown Reno: Virginia Lake, a few blocks west of the Peppermill Casino. It's a large urban lake, with a paved path and trees planted around its one mile perimeter. At that size, it contains a large island filled with nesting egrets and cormorants and gulls. There were also many ducks and those Canada geese that show no sign of migrating north. The black cormorants and the white egrets alternated along the edge of the island like so many cake decorations.

We also spotted a mystery bird that looked like nothing in our Sibley. It was determined to stay in the middle of the lake but I was able to zoom in on it, and include a nearby goose for size. It reminded me of a swan that had falled afoul (afowl?) of a wet Mondrian canvas -- white with color blockings. Something Chinese fleeing the Olympic flurry?

We also visited Swan Lake near Reno, and Spooner Lake near Tahoe and Highway 50. They are excellent sites but require moderate walks to get within viewing distance of all but the most random birds.

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