When most people think of southeast Nevada images of glitzy Las Vegas first come to mind,but beyond the casinos and hotels lies a desert landscape teeming with wildlife that is mostly hidden during the day, including birds. But with persistence and a little luck, birding here can be fun and rewarding. A great place teeming with possibilities is the Overton Wildlife Management Area, located 70 miles northeast of Las Vegas off Interstate 15 near the town of Overton.
It’s HUGE — 14,000+ acres — and is made up of grain fields, wetlands, ponds the size of small lakes, and areas of mesquite and other desert flora. Due to this wide variety of habitat you can find a wide variety of bird species here, ranging from beautifully-melodious Crissal Thrasher hiding deep in the desert brush to Bald Eagles perched on tree branches, with a desert mountain for a backdrop.
There is a network of dirt roads lacing through the wildlife area that you can either walk or drive; I’ve done both and found that driving is more advantageous for viewing and photographing birds; a vehicle acts as a “blind” so birds don’t “spook” as often as when you’re walking. (Besides the fact that you’re moving faster when driving, so you cover more territory and see more birds.)
The wildlife area is so diverse and covers such a large area that you literally can see anything here; Common Crane, a Eurasian species similar to Sandhill Crane, was discovered here last year in a flock of Sandhills, and when word got out birders from all over Nevada and the West came to see it. I’ve checked off as many as 50 species during an 8-hour period there.
My wildlife camera rig consists of a Canon 7D and 500mm f/4 prime lens, usually with a 1.4x teleconverter attached, which gives a total distance of 700mm, so I can get close shots of the birds without their noticing I’m taking their picture, at which point they fly off in the opposite direction.
For instance, Prairie Falcon are notoriously skittish whenever they catch you looking at them, but this one stayed at his perch long enough for me to get good closeups though I was a good distance away. And even when you’re far away the landscape here in northeast Nevada is spectacular, so you can place birds set against backdrops such as desert mountains.
From Phainopepla singing on top of mesquite bushes to Common Goldeneye meandering on large ponds, the Overton Wildlife Management Area, between the Valley of Fire State Park and Lake Mead National Recreation Area, is truly an unsung jewel for birds and other wildlife.
Follow more of Steve’s adventures on his blog.