Oasis Valley Birding Hotspot
Located in Nye County conveniently situated along Highway 95, two hours north of Las Vegas, Oasis Valley stretches several miles upriver from the town of Beatty, the "Gateway to Death Valley." Several spots are accessible to birders and nature lovers.
Torrance Ranch Preserve is a great place to look for Oasis Valley birds. This Mojave Desert valley along the Amargosa River hosts many diverse habitats: cottonwood and willow groves, marshes, grasslands, and desert upland scrub. The river usually runs underground except after storms, yet the valley is lush with many springs, some bubbling out of the ground at 100 degrees Fahrenheit, creating a true oasis amid the arid rhyolitic hills.
Any time of year can produce interesting bird sightings: summer warmth brings Western kingbirds, the occasional Vermillion flycatcher, abundant Lesser nighthawks, and singing Yellow warblers, Blue grosbeaks, and Bullock's orioles. Winter rains fill river pools and ponds that attract ducks and sandpipers, and upland birds during this time include Northern flickers, Ruby-crowned kinglets, Water pipits, Mountain bluebirds, and White-crowned sparrows.
But the wetland and riparian habitats create "migrant traps" during spring and fall, the best times to visit the area. Waves of warblers, vireos, flycatchers, tanagers, hummingbirds, and other migrating birds travel through, resting and feeding in the thickets and trees.
Blue grosbeak in willow, a summer breeder.
Many parts of Oasis Valley are private ranches or holdings, and permission must be sought to enter. But fortunately areas are open to the public.
Torrance Ranch Preserve is run by The Nature Conservancy, and is located about 7 miles north of Beatty along Highway 95, on the east side. Go north past Boiling Pot Road just a bit, and the next dirt road on your right is the access to the preserve. You will see a sign. Please close the gate when you enter to park in the small staging area (feral burros roam the valley and will get in), then head for the trees to look for songbirds and owls, or the spring-fed marshes to listen for rails. Follow trails and a boardwalk.
Another prime birding area is at the "Amargosa Narrows" just south of town. Head a mile south on Highway 95 from the stop sign, and turn left on a dirt road that crosses a cattle guard and the river (usually dry). This road heads up into the Bare Mountains, but you can park by the cottonwood and mesquite riparian woodland and walk along the dense thickets either way. In spring, Yellow-breasted chats, Black-headed grosbeaks, and occasional Bell's vireos sing noisily here. You can drive up into the Bare Mountains to bird the creosote hills for Loggerhead shrikes, Roadrunners, and the secretive LeConte's thrasher.
A tenth of a mile to the south of this stop along Highway 95, try looking for waterbirds at "Pombo's Pond" behind rows of tamarisks along Vanderbilt Road on the right.
Cottonwood and Willow Riparian Groves
Oasis Valley and the Amargosa River have rare groves of trees in the Mojave Desert, requiring well-watered soils. These are hotspots for migrating birds and nesting species. The diversity is high, with warblers, vireos, flycatchers, woodpeckers, owls, and many others.
Orange-crowned warbler, a common spring and fall migrant.
Northern parula, a rare migrant.
Black-and-white warbler, a migrant. Photo: Dale Southern.
Western kingbirds are summer breeders, nesting in tall cottonwood trees.
Dusky flycatcher. A migrant along with other small flycatchers.
Western wood-pewee, a common migrant.
A rose-breasted grosbeak forages with a black-headed grosbeak on the forest floor. Both are migrants.
Northern flickers are common winter residents.
Red-naped sapsucker on cottonwood trunk.
Yellow warblers are a common breeding bird in the willows and cottonwoods, singing in the tree canopies. Photo: Dale Southern.
Flocks of pine siskins visit the cottonwoods in late winter and early spring to feed on buds and flowers.
Cooper's hawk hunting birds in the cottonwood groves.
Cassin's finches visit the area in winter and spring to dine on cottonwood buds.
Thickets and small bosques of honey mesquite and screwbean mesquite grow along the Amargosa River corridor. These harbor many migrants and breeders, such as verdins, warblers, gnatcatchers, and the rare Bell's vireo.
Verdin. Photo: Dale Southern.
Lucy's warbler. Photo: Dale Southern.
Mojave Desert Uplands
The Oasis Valley and Beatty are surrounded by Mojave Desert scrub with a rich variety of shrubs such as Creosote (Larrea tridentata), Bursage (Ambrosia dumosa), Nevada Mormon tea (Ephedra nevadensis), Fremont pepperbush (Lepidium fremontii), Wolfberry (Lycium andersonii), and Budsage (Artemisia spinescens)--home to Black-throated sparrows, Sage sparrows, Horned larks, and Prairie falcons. After wet winters some years have spectacular wildflower displays.
Black-throated sparrow in saltbush.
Indigo buntings are rare in this area, but migrants can be seen, this bright male in a creosote.
Chukar roam the desert uplands, a partridge introduced from Eurasia.
The elusive LeConte's thrasher lives in arid open scrubland with creosote and saltbush.
River Pools and Saltgrass Meadows
Shallow river water flooding a saltgrass channel. Ibises, Willets, dowitchers, and curlews sometimes visit these habitats in springtime.
White-faced ibis. Photo: Dale Southern.
Black-necked stilt. Photo: Dale Southern.
Killdeers next on the river channel.
Greasewood (Sarcobatus vermiculatus)
Areas of saltbrush, rabbitbrush, greasewood, cheesebush, and other shrubs around the edges of Oasis Valley, in washes, fans, and on disturbed ground. They often lie between marshes and desert uplands.
Brewer's sparrow in four-wing saltbush. These sparrows migrate through and breed in mountain ranges to the north.
Chipping sparrow juveniles migrate through in fall.
Orange-crowned warbler migrating through in fall on a bee flower.
Red-winged blackbirds nest in tules in a pond, Oasis Valley.
Summer-green ribbons of springfed marsh fill areas of the valley, composed of Threesquare bulrushes (Schoenoplectus pungens), sedges (Eleocharis spp.), rushes (Juncus mexicanus), cattails (Typha spp.), and other plants. Here you can see blackbirds, marsh wrens, rails, son sparrows, and other marsh birds.
Lush new bulrush marshes emerge after a controlled burn on Torrance Ranch Preserve. Marsh vegetation is very well adapted to fire, and in the past lightning strikes lit occasional blazes, and Shoshone and Paiute people set fires to improve hunting areas and manage basketry plants.
Marsh wren. Photo: Dale Southern.
The Amargosa River flowing after a winter storm. Dabbling ducks such as Mallards can often be found in these shallow waters, as well as migratory sandpipers.
Mallard. Photo: Dale Southern.
Greater yellowlegs. Photo: Dale Southern.
Great egret in marsh vegetation along the Amargosa River.
Stockpond on a ranch, surrounded by tules. See diving ducks and grebes here, swallows skimming the surface, and herons and egrets.
Female bufflehead. Photo: Dale Southern.
Juvenile black-crowned night-heron.
California and ring-billed gulls are occasional visitors to the area, but seldom stay long as they travel to large interior lakes and the pacific Coast.
Meadows and Grasslands
Grasslands of native Nevada bluegrass (Poa secunda ssp. juncifolia) with tall stems dried like hay in late summer. These areas are often shallowly flooded in winter. Meadowlarks and Savannah sparrows favor such habitats. Northern harriers forage over these areas, nesting in taller marsh vegetation. Kestrels hunt grasshoppers, and nighthawks catch insects in summer over these habitats.
Female Northern harrier.
Vesper sparrow in a saltgrass meadow.
American kestrel perching on a wire surveying for grasshoppers and rodents. Photo: Dale Southern.
Turkey vultures migate through in spring and fall, some summering in the area soaring over a variety of habitats searching for carrion.
Ranches, Yards, Buildings, Weed Fields
These edge habitats and built environments host a different set of birds, many often adapted to disturbed areas. Ask permission before you enter private property; many locals are often interested in birding.
Mourning doves are a common summer resident.
Mourning dove chicks in a nest, mesquite thicket in Oasis Valley.
Eurasian collared doves were released as pets in Florida, and over a few years sperad across the U.S. We noticed them in our yard for the first time in 2005.
Anna's hummingbirds migrate through in spring. Photo: Dale Southern.
Rufous hummingbirds are common spring and fall migrants visiting hummingbird feeders. Photo: Dale Southern.
American goldfinches are common in spring, summer, and fall, visiting seed feeders, thistles patches, and weed fields.
Lesser goldfinches visit feeders and native thistle patches.
House finshes breed in the area commonly.
Native pink thistles groqw in meadows in Oasis Valley, and attract goldfinches.
Rarely and irregularly Lawrence's goldfinches wander through the area, usually in spring. Photo: Dale Southern.
Old weedy fields atrract uncommon birds to the area, such as this female indigo bunting dining on hay grass seeds.
Gambel's quail on old farm machinery on a ranch in Oasis Valley.
Brewer's blackbirds favor ranches and towns.
Gambel's quail and chicks in a yard. Quail can also be found in denser upland desert scrub.
A varied thrush visits a yard during the fall migration.
A little saw-whet owl perches in a yard. These are very difficult to see and this was a lucky view.
Ravens are ubiquitous hunters and scavengers across many habitats. They often patrol roads and highways in pairs. They mate for life.
Yellow-breated chats breed in dense thickets around springs and in riparian groves in Oasis Valley, and also venture into gardens.
Fall southbound Yellow-rumped warbler in a flowering rabbitbrush.
Many birds migrate through Beatty and Oasis Valley in spring and fall taking advantage of the water and varied habitats. Other birds irregularly wander through the area.
Western scrub jay, an irregular visitir to the area.
A few olive-sided flycatchers migrate through Oasis Valley.
The acute observer will sometimes notice unusual birds visiting the area, well outside of their normal ranges, often seen only once in a decade or more (such as this male bronzed cowbird, left). This can make for fun birdwatching, and can attrract birders from outside of the area. Here are a few seen in Oasis Valley over the years.
A bronzed cowbird visited a yard for two springs in a row in Oasis Valley, then not again.
The bronzed cowbird male singing and displaying. Brown-headed cowbirds are usual in Oasis Valley, but this was a rare sight in Nevada.
One spring an immature Inca dove showed up in a yard in Oasis Valley.
Magnolia warbler singing, spring in Oasis Valley. Wandering warblers from eastern North America are a regular occurrence outside of their typical migratory pathways, but seeing these unusual warblers locally is always a treat.
A Canada warbler visits cottonwoods along the Amargosa River by Beatty one spring.
A Ross' goose visits the Amargosa River.
Rare Ross' goose on the Amargosa River.