One might not normally put the words ‘bird’ and ‘desert’ in the same sentence, however despite the image of a dry, barren landscape, the desert actually is a vibrant land full of life. Many species of resident and migrant birds occur in the desert, but their numbers generally are low. The few water sources and riparian areas tend to attract and concentrate birds, and therefore most of the better birding around Pahrump is associated with water.
Different species of birds occur in different habitats, so you’ll have to visit the desert, riparian corridors, lakes, and mountains to experience the diversity of bird life in and around Pahrump.
Bring your cameras and binoculars! See how many of these feathered creatures you can spot: Phainopepla. Verdin. Lucy’s Warbler. Crissal Thrasher. Roadrunner. Virginia Warbler. Black-tailed Gnatcatcher. Costa’s Hummingbird. Cactus Wren. LeConte’s Thrasher. Sage Sparrow. Black-throated Sparrow. Checkout Jim Boone’s website www.birdandhike.com for more detailed information and fabulous pictures.
1. Tecopa area, about 40 minutes west of The Bunkhouse. Take NV 160 north or NV 372 west to CA127 south.
Grimshaw Lake is visible from CA127 at the Tecopah turnoff, about 48 minutes from The Bunkhouse. Take NV372 to CA127 and turn left on 127.
Grimshaw Lake is the heart of Tecopah Hot Springs and a perfect spot to bird watch. The year-round riparian habitat attracts both birds and other desert animals to the area.
Surrounded by delicate mud hills, it is truly a peaceful nad relaxing spot to watch a sunrise or sunset, or take a desert stroll. It is located 1/4 mile north of the Tecopah Hot Springs Campground.
Tecopa Hot Springs 6 miles off CA127 on Tecopa Hot Springs Road 760.852.4414 www.deathvalleychamber.org
Originally Tecopa Hot Springs was the largest Native settlement in the region because of its natural hot springs, wildlife and wetlands, and proximity to the trading routes that became known as the Old Spanish Trail. It’s was called “Yaga” then.
A series of hard-rock mining camps in the late 1800s were named Tecopa after a Paiute leader who was famous for negotiating peace during those rough and tumble days. In 1908, the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad built the Tecopa station, running through the spectacular Amargosa Canyon.
Today’s traveler can take advantage of pristine desert landscape, viv sunsets and Tecopa Hot Spring’s healing mineral waters at three different resorts with private baths and campgrounds with full RV hoo-ups, the Poo-Ha-Bah Native Healing Center or the Inyo County cambround, with separate bath houses for men and women.
Tecopa Marsh uoccupies the east edge of a broad, dry lake bed (playa) on he edge of a broad, flat, sparsely vegtated valley. The marsh sits up against mud hills and a rocky hill. Atop the hill is the town of Tecopa Hot Springs. Birding from the road is the only practical option.
In spring and fall, vast flocks of migratory birds take advantage of the marshes and surrounding canyons, particularly Grimshaw Lake, a grea birding locale and protected wetland. Spring wildflower viewing, photograph, bicycling, gliding, and hiking in the Kingston, Tecopa, Ibex and Sheepshead muontains are also excellend activities. (www.birdinghiking.com)
2. Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. about 50 miles or 30 minutes north west of The Bunkhouse. Click here for more info and a map of Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge.
“Water and vegetation in the desert provide good habitat for waterfowl, hawks, migrants, and desert species. The area was set up to protect several species of endemic fish, so check the springs and running water for the endangered pupfish,” says Prof. Jim Boone (www.birdandhike.com).
Ash Meadows includes over 22,000 acres of the Mojave Desert with wetlands and more than 30 seeps and springs that produce more than 10,000 gallons of water per minute. The springs provide water for wetlands, creeks, lakes, mesquite and ash thickets, cottonwood trees, meadows, and salt flats, all of which are surrounded by saltbush flats and Mojave Desert Scrub habitat. These wetlands in the desert support the greatest local-area concentration of endemic species in the US, with 24 species of endemic plants and animals. There are 13 threatened or endangered species on the refuge, including 4 endangered fish and 1 endangered plant.
Crystal Reservoir is a remarkably clear, 70-acre reservoir that attracts waterfowl and other water birds, plus provides drinking water for other species. The low dam is a good place to watch birds on the water and in the thickets and marshland below the dam.
“The floor of Death Valley is an extremely dry place with little vegetation. Concentrations of birds can be found around springs, thickets, palm trees, meadows, and other places (e.g., the golf course) that provide water or cover. Death Valley is good for migrants and desert species. Be sure to visit Badwater, the lowest point in North America,” says Prof. Jim Boone.
Death Valley National Park, the largest national park in the U.S., encompasses some 3.3 million acres of the Mojave Desert in eastern California. The land is diverse, with elevations ranging from -282 feet at Badwater (the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere) to 11,049 feet at the summit of Telescope Peak. In this arid land, great differences in elevation lead to great differences in topography and habitat. The overwhelming impression, however, is that this land is extremely hot and dry and unencumbered by the burden of dirt and vegetation. To the untutored eye, the entire area might even look barren, and while it is true that some areas appear lifeless, most areas support at least a few species of plants and animals.
Where to look for birds
When birders visit Death Valley, traveling to a variety of representative habitats will prove to be the most productive. Visiting the following areas provides an overview of the diversity of Death Valley habitat and avian species:
- Saratoga Spring (60 ft. elevation)– a low desert oasis.
- Furnace Creek Ranch (-200 ft. elev.) – exhibits a variety of habitats; visit the bird viewing platform next to Airport Road, the golf course is on private property – do NOT go on it.
- Scotty’s Castle (3,000 ft. elev.) – a riparian habitat.
- Wildrose (4,000 ft. elev.) – riparian habitat.
- High Panamints: Charcoal Kilns to the top of Telescope Peak (elevations from 7,000 – 11,000 ft)– this challenging drive / hike passes through pinyon-juniper habitat through bristlecone pines communities (recommended during clear / non-snow conditions only).