Connecting you with nature
I don’t travel anywhere these days without my photography gear, and that includes a recent trip I took to Las Vegas. I’ve been to Vegas several times. I know that -- despite the Bellagio fountains, swimming pools available in nearly all resorts, and lots of flowing beverages everywhere -- Las Vegas is a big place in a very dry desert -- the Mojave Desert. On my latest trip to the strip, I was looking forward to the possibility of seeing desert wildlife that don’t exist where I am on the eastern side of the US. My research found several excellent birding and other natural areas within a 20 to 40-minute drive from where I was staying, just a block off the Las Vegas strip. What I discovered when I got there, is that while these good wildlife photography locations looked very promising in writing, they were spectacular in person.
What made these areas so spectacular was the diversity and numbers of species I observed and was able to photograph – in the great bright light of clear desert days. In this blog, I’ve shared some of my favorite photographs. However, the species I observed were far more and some numbered in the hundreds. For example, I observed a few hundred Northern Shoveler ducks at Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve. I’ve never seen that many Northern Shovelers in a single location at the same time – and the only other location I’ve seen a higher concentration of waterfowl –anywhere -- is during winter along areas of the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. I haven’t yet been everywhere in my life, but it’s an understatement to say I was stunned at the number of waterfowl I saw out in the desert.
What brings birds to the desert? The same thing that brings birds to the east coast, Midwest, central plains and many other places – water and other suitable habitat where they can spend the winter or rest during long migrations. There’s water in the desert? Yes – but like with so many of our natural resources – there’s not as much as there used to be. The southeastern part of the Mojave Desert where Las Vegas is located is also home to Lake Mead. Lake Mead, located 24 miles from Las Vegas, is the largest reservoir in the United States. It provides water to more than 20 million people in the region. Because water is such a premium in desert environments, the various water authorities in this region are mindful about water use and conservation measures. Much of the water is recycled or reclaimed and used water (wastewater, urban runoff, stormwater) is conserved and put back to use again. An interesting side note – while watching the local news out of Las Vegas one evening there was a story about fines for watering residential lawns on days that weren’t allowed. The Las Vegas Valley Water Authority has a mandatory schedule for watering that comes with fines for violators. They also have many other important and necessary conservation requirements on water use. Take note -- those of us who live in environments where enforceable water restrictions are unheard of.
There’s an urban river that runs through the Las Vegas valley called the Las Vegas Wash. The Wash, which is connected to Lake Mead, carries more than 200 million gallons of water per day and is fed by reclaimed water, urban runoff, shallow groundwater and stormwater. Along the Wash are wetlands. Wetlands are areas where water covers the soil, or where water is present either at or near the surface of the soil all year or for varying periods of time during the year, including during the growing season. In simple terms, wetlands are marshy, swampy areas that are normally wet all year long, but can be dry at times. Wetlands – everywhere -- provide critical benefits to humans and wildlife. They protect and improve water quality, provide fish and wildlife habitats, and store floodwaters – helping to manage the impacts of flooding, among other benefits. In the Las Vegas Valley, wetlands at the Wash serve as "nature's kidneys," cleaning the water that runs through them by filtering out harmful contaminants. However, they also provide habitat for diverse wildlife. Many of the bird-wildlife find this area because they travel one of the major north-south migration flyways that run through or next to Nevada -- the Pacific and Central Flyways. And this explains the spectacular wildlife viewing that happens right outside Las Vegas.
I visited three locations along the Las Vegas Wash – Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve, Clark County Wetlands Park, and part of the Wash that runs through Lake Mead National Recreation Area, and I also visited the Lake itself. There was even more scenery and wildlife at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area and Rainbow Owl Preserve, which I also visited. Enjoy these photos!
Burrowing OwlRainbow Owl Preserve, Nevada Northern Harrier - ImmatureClark County Wetlands Park American AvocetHenderson Bird Viewing Preserve American CootLake Mead National Recreation Area Common Merganser - MaleLake Mead National Recreation Area Common Merganser - FemaleLake Mead National Recreation Area Ring Necked Duck - MaleClark County Wetlands Park Ring Necked Duck - FemaleClark County Wetlands Park Red Head Duck - MaleLake Mead National Recreation Area Common Goldeneye - FemaleLake Mead National Recreation Area Red Shafted Northern FlickerClark County Wetlands Park Greater RoadrunnerClark County Wetlands Park Gambel's QuailRed Rock Canyon National Conservation Area - Calico Springs Vermillion Flycatcher - MaleHenderson Bird Viewing Preserve Phainopepla - MaleRed Rock Canyon National Conservation Area VerdinClark County Wetlands Park
Desert CoyoteLake Mead National Recreation Area White Tailed Antelope SquirrelRed Rock Canyon National Conservation Area Desert Cottontail RabbitRainbow Owl Preserve - Nevada Red Eared SliderClark County Wetlands Preserve
Anna's Hummingbird - MaleClark County Wetlands Preserve Canada GooseHenderson Bird Viewing Preserve Great Horned OwlClark County Wetlands Park Northern Shoveler - MaleHenderson Bird Viewing Preserve
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