October 22, 2016

We left Antelope Island (see Utah Blog post) and headed to Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Nevada.  We have visited this refuge before during our year-long trip around the U.S.   Last time we were here we woke up to snow.  I hope we don’t experience that again.  I suspect it will be cold night, however, being as we are at 6,000 feet in elevation, its October, and we are in the mountains.


Ruby Mountains

We arrived at our campsite, located adjacent to the refuge (well okay across the road) mid afternoon.  This is a U.S. Forest Service campground.  Not a bad campground for $4.00 per night (with the old geezer pass, as Jack likes to call his Golden Age Pass).  They have two loops, but only one (the smallest) was open.  Without a campground host they keep only the one loop only in the fall.  There were four other campers in the campground with us – I think all hunters.


View of the refuge from our campsite

Upon arrival, we decided to just hang out around the campsite and head down to the refuge in the morning.

October 23, 2016

We drove the Ruby Lake NWR auto-tour route during the morning.  It was a picture perfect day.  The auto tour is on top of dikes through the northern half of the refuge.  We did walk a short distance (2 miles) of the diked roads.  Good way to see the birds, although vehicles really do serve as bird blinds.  The waterfowl were skittish, even though the area we were in was closed to hunting.

The Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1938 and consists of 39,926 acres of mixed habitat.  The refuge has been identified as one of 500 Globally Important Bird Areas by the American Bird Conservancy.   It definitely is an oasis for birds, wildlife, and man within the Great Basin Desert.

One of its signature bird species of the refuge is the Canvasback and luckily we saw a few.  And why may you ask is it a signature species?  Because the refuge supports the densest breeding population of Canvasback ducks in the lower 48 states, west of the Mississippi River.  Now I wonder what area has the densest breeding population east of the Mississippi River.






Not all of the refuge looks like these photos.  There is a large part of the refuge that consists of dry scrub-shrub habitat.

During the fall season the refuges plays host to up to 25,000 waterfowl.  I think most have made their way south – maybe to the Pahranagat NWR? – as we didn’t see a lot of waterfowl.   Those waterfowl remaining were very skittish – guess I would be also if someone was shooting at me.


female Northern Shoveler


Non-breeding Rudy Duck

The refuge, located in the Ruby Valley, along the eastern portion of the Pacific Flyway, regularly has 220 species of birds.  And during the summer, there are 15 different waterfowl species present on the refuge.


Common Raven


American Pipit


American Coots


Eating aquatic vegetation or just playing?

Birds Species Observed or Heard on the Ruby Lake NWR or in the South Ruby Campground (adjacent to the refuge):

  • Woodhouse’s Scrub Jay
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Western Meadowlark
  • American Coot
  • Mallard
  • Eurasian Starling
  • Northern Flicker
  • Northern Harrier
  • Common Raven
  • Gadwall
  • Canvasback
  • Marsh Wren
  • Ruddy Duck
  • Canada Goose
  • Lesser Scaup
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Eared Grebe
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Bufflehead
  • Horned Lark
  • Song Sparrow
  • American Pipit
  • Savannah Sparrow
  • Mourning Dove
  • Dark-eyed Junco
  • Great Horned Owl

We also saw a coyote, but that is it for mammals seen on the refuge.  Not even a single mule deer – again it is hunting season.  Tomorrow we head toward Reno and a visit to the Stillwater NWR.  Was suddenly quiet when all the hooting and yipping stopped – well except for a few cows mooing.

October 24, 2016

We got up before sunrise to the sound of two Great Horned Owls serenading along with a beautiful sunrise reminiscent of the Homer fall/winter sunrises – colorful.  As the sunrise colors faded the owls stopped hooting, but then several coyotes decided to take up where the owls left off – serenading us with their yips.


We broke camp and headed to Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge near Fallon, Nevada.



Our route took us over the “loneliest Highway in the U.S.” – Highway 50.  Over this 178 miles we traversed a lot of the Great Basin desert with its many mountain ranges.  A few towns are interspersed along the highway – far and few between.  We enjoyed the ‘lonesome’ drive,  just glad we didn’t have vehicle trouble and became vulture food…


The sign can’t be wrong, right?


Eureka Nevada Thrift Store, Antiques, Volunteer Fireman Club House, and more


The “MAN BUS” in Eureka, Nevada


Sign above door to Thrift Store

At one spot along this highway we stopped to let Doodlebug (Joey) out for a break.  I saw a bird up on a cliff and excitedly thought –  Golden Eagle!  I had been hoping to see a Golden Eagle since we started the trip.  Of course my mind is telling me the bird is a little too small to be an eagle, but I wanted so bad to believe.  I took a photo of the bird even though it was a fair distance away and I knew my photo would be poor – but better than the naked eye.  Well when I looked at the photo, after zooming it in, I told Jack “the beak looks like a pigeon”.  But I discounted a pigeon because while the bird looked too small for an eagle, it looked too large for a pigeon.  So off down the road we went for all of a couple hundred yards when I asked Jack to turn back so I could look at the bird through the scope.  So back we went, got the scope out, and looked up to see, to my chagrin, a Rock Pigeon on the cliff.   Photos don’t lie.  The mind, however, does.



Okay once you look closely at the photo you can see a pigeon beak.

We stopped for another break at Sand Mountain, a  600-foot high, 2.5-mile long,  “place” for off-road enthusiasts located near Fallon, Nevada.  As the second photo shows, there were a lot of people camping at the base of the dunes and charging around in their dune buggies.




Very dry countryside near Sand Mountain

We made it to Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge by mid-afternoon.  This is our first visit to this refuge – life list.  The 163,000-acre refuge was created in 1949 and provides important habitat for resident and migrating birds, especially migrating waterfowl and shorebirds.  The refuge is a Globally Significant Important Bird Area (IBA) and a Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN) site.


Cooper’s Hawk eating lunch – some unfortunate bird


Up close view


I get to add this National Wildlife Refuge to my life list of refuges. I have visited at least half of the 550+ refuges.

When we got to the refuge most of what we saw was desert.  Taking the auto-tour route through an area that is off-limits to hunters, we eventually found several lakes with water and thousands of waterfowl.  In one lake, the water levels were such that shorebirds could be found feeding away (plovers, peeps, dowitchers, avocets, and willets).  I was a happy person since I love shorebirds.  Also present were a number of American White Pelicans.  I love pelicans too.

As part of the refuge complex, there is an island (Anaho) on nearby Pyramid Lake where 7,000-10,000 American White Pelican PAIRS (yes, pairs) nest, producing around 3,500 young each year.  That would be an amazing site to behold.  The island, however, is off-limits to the public and boaters must stay back 500 feet – which is a good thing.


Yes, these are refuge lands.


One of the few cottonwood trees on the refuge – this one is along a slough


Picnic pavillon


… that also houses swallows in the summer


… and hornets in the fall. I would love to see the swallow activity during the summer.


Boardwalk out to Upper Foxtail Lake


Upper Foxtail Lake


Another view of Upper Foxtail Lake. The water was quite low at the northern end of the lake and shorebirds were present.


American White Pelican in flight


Tamarisk (aka Salt Cedar) – a nasty invasive.  Quick, eradicate it before it spreads.


Foxtail Lake. There were thousands of waterfowl on this lake, but off-limits so I needed my spotting scope to get a good look at them.


Small pond adjacent to Upper Foxtail Lake

The refuge allows camping at two designated locations.  We chose the one on Division Road.  The only amenities are a vault toilet and a trash can.  At least there is a toilet.  Essentially we are camping in a large parking lot.  Luckily we are the only ones here.


Loggerhead Shrike


Area near our camp site


Canal that feeds water from Cattail Lake to other lakes and ponds.  Cattail Lake had lots of waterfowl on it as well.

We had planned to explore more of the refuge the tomorrow, however, most of the lakes are dry so we will drive into Fallon for breakfast and then head up towards Oregon.


Sunrise on the day we left the refuge

Birds Species Observed and Heard at Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge

  • Rock Pigeon (no Golden Eagle, don’t ask)
  • Rough-legged Hawk
  • Northern Harrier
  • Western Meadowlark
  • Great Egret
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Northern Flicker
  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • Great Blue Heron
  • American Coot
  • American Avocet
  • Cooper Hawk (eating a bird it had caught)
  • Marsh Wren
  • American White Pelican
  • Canada Goose
  • Mallard
  • Redhead
  • Green-winged Teal
  • Northern Pintail
  • Ruddy Duck
  • Canvasback
  • Willet
  • Long-billed Curlew
  • Peeps
  • Plover sp.
  • Song Sparrow
  • Gadwall
  • Clark’s Grebe
  • Eared Grebe
  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • Common Raven (they were everywhere)
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Eurasian Starling

October 25, 2016

We awoke to a light rain and wind with dark, threatening skies.  With the weather threatening, we went into Fallon Nevada for breakfast (fair weather birders) and ate at the Maine (yes, the state spelling) Street Café.  The food was good, but nothing special.  I keep waiting to find that hole-in-the-wall restaurant with food that is to die for.  Still waiting.  Do I sound like a food snob?  Well breakfast is the most important meal of the day, right?

After breakfast we headed north to Denio Junction where we will stay the night in a hotel.  The hotel is clean, but very dated.  The adjacent cafe closed down at 6pm but the bar stayed open late – guess that says something.  They had eight units – four on bottom, four on top.  Tonight only two rooms were rented – ours and the one next door.  Jack and I can never understand why hotel management feels the need, if you only have two rooms booked, to have those rooms be occupied adjacent to one another.  The guy in the room next to us decided to talk to someone on the phone (he had cell phone coverage, whereas we did not – hmmmm) right outside the door.  I could hear the entire conversation.  Not how I wanted to spend my evening.

On our way to the hotel after leaving the refuge we did pass a lot of beautiful countryside.












Before we settled in for the night we went to the Shelton National Wildlife Refuge located about 12 miles away from our hotel.  We wanted to check out a campground on the refuge – Virgin Valley campground.  The campground has a thermal pool. The side road to the campground had a number of small ponds with waterfowl, including surprisingly a pair of Wood Ducks.  We usually see Wood Ducks on sloughs, rather than lakes.  The sighting was a pleasant surprise.


This refuge we have visited before, but I didn’t get my photo in front of the sign that time.

The Shelton National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1931 by President Herbert Hoover, and enlarged in 1936 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  YAY for presidential authority to establish  national wildlife refuges.  The refuge consists of 572,896 acres as of 2013.    We only saw a small portion of the refuge this visit.






Northern Harrier in search of dinner – yes not the greatest photo composition wise but those darn birds just don’t sit still






Old structure at the Virgin Valley campground




Bufflehead pair


Northern Shoveler – as you can tell from the pond water the winds were a whipping good







Yes, all that is refuge lands – hooray!!!



Bird Species Observed or Heard at Shelton National Wildlife Refuge

  • Wood Duck
  • Common Raven
  • American Coot
  • Ring-necked Duck
  • Bufflehead
  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • Northern Harrier
  • Northern Flicker
  • Eurasian Starling
  • American Robin
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Song Sparrow
  • Ruddy Duck
  • Ring-billed Gull
  • Savannah Sparrow
  • Northern Pintail
  • American Wigeon
  • Mallard
  • Green-winged Teal
  • Northern Shoveler

Next stop – Oregon…