Get out your pith helmet. Time to go on safari in Reno. Take in Sparks, too,
and while youre at it, explore the wildlife hotspots outside of town,
such as Washoe Valley, Pyramid Lake, and Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge
in Fallon. Theres more to be seen in our waterways than youd ever
imagine, right here in our own back yard wildlife preserve.
We have outstanding opportunities to see wildlife within a mile of downtown
Reno, from mule deer on the Truckee River to having to stop for a covey of California
quail as they cross the street, says Adrienne Forbes, regional wildlife
education coordinator for the Nevada Division of Wildlife.
Forbes is headquartered at Oxbow Nature Study Area, within 10 minutes of downtown
Reno, where birdwatchers mingle with fishermen and lunchtime walkers looking
for a respite from city life.
Under the canopy of tall trees, including Fremont and black cottonwoods, with
the hypnotizing sounds of the ever-present Truckee River and a variety of fluty
and melodious bird calls, Oxbow is jungle-like.
We have lots of birds here, with an active Coopers hawk nest ...
and visitors often see our mink from the park, even as they jump and dive in
Oxbow Pond, Forbes says. Ive been here 13 years, and we first
saw the mink four years ago, and we werent sure what it was then, because
we hadnt seen it here before. Another mammal that came recently
to Oxbow is the river otter, thought to have been washed in during the New Years
Day Flood of 1997.
We think they came in from Verdi, Forbes says. We see them
quite often now, and see their tracks in the mud, too. We also have muskrat
very typically, and other animals including the Western Pond Turtle, bullfrog,
Pacific tree frog, cottontail rabbit, and a mule deer family beds down in the
Birders love Oxbow for its quick access and outstanding avian possibilities.
Nearly every day, the Lahontan Audubon Societys Internet service has postings
from birders visiting this urban oasis for native wildlife.
Audubon members, Rose Strickland and husband, Dennis Ghiglieri, have been
birding Oxbow and all of Reno since the 1980s, after Rose took an ornithology
class from Dr. Fred Ryser at University of Nevada, Reno. Both love birding the
Especially the Truckee River trail, which has good access any time of
year, Strickland says. Weve done it several times. You can
go from near Idlewild Park through the valley all the way through Sparks
maybe 12-15 miles and see many, many different species of birds along
the way. The annual Audubon Christmas Count, done in December, generally
yields more than 100 bird species from the Truckee Meadows, she says, adding
that in summer, there could be twice that number.
And, here we have American dippers nesting under the Center Street bridge,
cormorants and gulls nesting on the island in Virginia Lake, and thousands of
Mexican freetail bats under the East McCarran bridge coming out in the summer
at dusk, she says.
Strickland says other good Reno area birding hotspots include Paradise Park
ponds in Sparks, Rancho San Rafael Park near UNR, Swan Lake Nature Study Area
north of town; Pyramid Lake, Thomas and Galena creeks in the Mt. Rose area for
mountain birds, and the lakes at Rosewood Lakes Golf Course in east Reno.
For much of the wildlife in any water feature, fish are a main attraction
for sustenance. While the majority of fish in the Truckee River are wild, tens
of thousands of trout, including Lahontan cutthroat, rainbow and brown, are
released into Renos waterways each year, according to Kim Tisdale, fisheries
biologist with NDOW.
This is a great place for fishing and the Truckee River actually got
65,000 angler days in 2003, she says. Its a big river system,
and well used. Tisdale says the recent changes made to the rivers
course in the downtown Reno Area for the Whitewater Park actually have helped
Theyre freer now that they have that low flow channel, which is
better for the fish, since they like cool temperatures found in deeper waters,
There also are many urban ponds in Reno and Sparks with wild and
stocked fish, Tisdale says. The Sparks Marina, an abandoned quarry converted
to a lake and filled with one billion gallons of Truckee River and tributary
water during the 1997 New Years Day Flood, is stocked with channel catfish
and is the seventh most heavily fished water in the state.
Virginia Lake and Paradise Park ponds also are stocked with the channel catfish,
she says. Other urban ponds with stocked fish, but not catfish, include Rancho
San Rafael Park, Davis Creek south of town, and Wilson Common pond in Washoe
Valley. High mountain creeks such as Thomas Creek, Whites Creek, and Galena Creek
have rainbow and wild brook trout for ambitious anglers, Tisdale says.
And if you want to see the endangered cui ui fish, dont forget to visit
its only home, Pyramid Lake, which also boasts one of the biggest North American
nesting populations of the majestic white pelican. There, on your own exotic
Nevada desert safari, you can search for the crowds of white pelicans feeding
on the spawning cui ui near Nixon ... the sight of a lifetime for any explorer
and wildlife lover.
Linda Hiller is a journalist and zoologist living in Jacks Valley. She
teaches bird identification at Western Nevada Community College, Douglas; and
has been writing about Northern Nevada wildlife and other subjects since 1994
for local publications.
NDOW 688-1500, ndow.org/fishing
licenses and wildlife information.
Oxbow Nature Study Area 344-3808, 8 a.m. to sunset daily, 3100 Dickerson
Road, at the end of Second Street off Keystone Ave.
Lahontan Audubon Society, nevadaaudubon.org
Good online area birding map.
Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge, www.fws.gov/stillwater/ Directions,
maps, and bird lists.