A good way to learn about birds is to spend time with those who know more than you do, an option I took advantage of recently on a bird walk led by Tahoe Institute for Natural Science (TINS) experts, Will Richardson and Kirk Hardie. These walks took place beginning at the Aspen Grove parking lot in Incline Village, spreading into the nature area surrounding the Village Green.
The group of about twelve of us set off onto the green as, Will, the leader of the day, assisted by Sarah Hockensmith, Outreach Manager for TINS, showed us a flock of orange-crowned warblers, a bird I had never heard of, much less seen.
This is a rather drab olive-colored bird with a yellow belly, measuring about 5 inches from the tip of its thin pointed bill to the end of the tail. The orange crown is rarely visible.
They flit about so quickly it is hard to get them in the sight with binoculars, which is why it is beneficial to go bird watching with someone like Will who is able to point them out. As with most any bird, it is useful to be familiar with its song, which you can listen to at allaboutbirds.org, where you can also obtain the free Merlin Bird ID App for your smart phone.
Amongst the willows lining the green we spotted and heard the Audubon’s warbler as well as the Wilson’s warbler. Will told us that he had seen MacGillivray’s warbler with yellow belly, olive back and distinct grey head on previous morning outings.
After admiring the yellow warblers for a bit, we turned into the wooded path. We came across a male black-headed grosbeak, singing quite exuberantly, spreading his wings and dancing for the female who was nearby.
Next we found a Western wood pewee, a medium-sized olive flycatcher, sitting stationary high up in a tree branch, conveniently in the open so we were able to observe him through the scope that Will brings along for the bird walks. He was singing his signature song, periodically breaking to fly about the perch, eating bugs, before alighting again on the same spot.
Will tore us away from the flycatcher to point out a robin’s nest, deftly camouflaged among the bows of a pine tree, but low enough to the ground that we could see the young. A member of our group, Jan Potter, had her camera out and was able to capture the image, despite the tricky lighting, as the male came to join the female on the nest.
I’m always interested in how people became interested in bird watching, so, as I admired Jan’s photos, I asked her how she and her husband became involved and, as it turns out, it was somewhat by accident.
Jan remembers clearly that is was Mother’s Day 10 or 12 years ago and she and her husband, Gil, were wondering what to do with their day, when they noticed a small paragraph in the paper talking about Spring Wings in Fallon, a bird festival taking place that weekend. They decided to go and they were hooked.
This festival takes place annually in mid-May and includes bird watching at the Lahontan Valley wetlands. See springwings.org for more information.
Many people use the Village Green for dog play, but perhaps many of us are not aware that it is also an amazing bird habitat. Kirk Hardie explained on one of the walks that the combination of the slow water on one side resulting in a mini-wetland combined with the fast-moving water on the other side of the grassy area creates a small habitat with characteristics of a much larger one, attracting a vast array of birds.
We saw dozens of swallows, cruising along the grass, snapping up insects. We were treated to aerial displays by the violet-green swallow, which is only found in the West as well as the more common barn swallows.
The spring bird walks ended June 10 but coming up this weekend, hosted by TINS in partnership with the U.S Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, is the sixth annual Lake Tahoe Bird Festival at Taylor Creek Visitor Center in South Lake Tahoe. See tinsweb.org for details.
And next time you visit the Village Green with your dog, remember to bring binoculars!