Field Trip Summary: Thrashers and Wildflowers

By Steve Doughill

Red Rock Audubon Society's field trips are fun. Case in point, our recent birding excursion to The Country's nascent National Monument, Avi Kwa Ame, close to the community of Searchlight.

Abutting Highway 95, the sandy plane is covered in creosote bushes with scattered Yucca and cholla cactus. It's a harsh environment where some very special birds are found. 8am found 22 birders, bundled up from the cold next to a dirt road searching, searching, searching …. It"s windy and it seems that there are no birds. A distant Kestrel with its distinctive leisurely turtle-like flight action; glimpses of Black-throated Sparrows; a distant Loggerhead Shrike perched on top of a spiky yucca. And then, Alex looks very focused and reaches for the scope; There he is! On top of a scrubby mesquite is a robin sized bird, the same color as the sandy dirt, a silver / sandy sheen, with a long decurved bill. A beautiful LeConte’s Thrasher. What a treat. One of the few birds that thrives in such dry conditions: they can go for days without drinking; instead obtaining almost all of the moisture they require from insects; and they even have extra strong and developed neck muscles and fused vertebrae that enable them to dig deep into the soil to find bugs.

Still with 22 people, no one left behind, an hour later finds the group in the Wee Thump area. We have driven about 7 miles west of Searchlight but the desert has changed. Abruptly the Joshua Trees dominate the landscape, spikey blackthorn and creosote bushes form a patchwork below and native bunch grasses are common.  We take a short walk through this beautiful environment... in the distance Spirit Mountain rises up, The New York Mountains, the McCullough Range, Castle Rock across the border into California… Wow!  We learn about the designated Important Bird Areas, the importance of the contiguous habitat, and bird surveys in the area … We spread out walking and talking and birding and enjoying each other"s company. It's still chilly, hat and gloves weather.  Birds are not being too cooperative. Suddenly blazing blue, orange … fluttering down to the ground. A group of Western Bluebirds. A thermaling group of Turkey Vultures, heading north in a follow-the-leader line.  A Red-tailed hawk soaring over its territory, maybe searching for an antelope ground squirrel.  And what looks like a tortoise burrow … no sign of its occupant, likely resting several meters back in the dark 

Our final stop is the small town of Searchlight to meet Kim Garrison Means, a community organizer, artist, educator… and one of many responsible for the creation of the Avi Kwa Ame National Monument. We met up at the thrift store where a beautiful mural is being created. Celebrating the local environs there are Joshua trees in flower, yuccas, a desert tortoise, a kit fox, a Gambel’s Quail … all taking form … and we all grab paint brushes and follow the color-by-numbers guide on the wall surrounded by community members, chatting and laughing… Finally a picnic lunch in the local park. It's still chilly but the flaming colors of a Hooded Oriole as it flies through the elm trees reminds us of warmer weather on its way. What a great way to finish the day.    

Like I said, a super fun day. It wasn"t all about amassing a lengthy bird list. For me it was about being a part of Avi Kwa Ame and sharing the experience with such a wonderful group of people. Thank you everyone for creating such enjoyable memories. Until next time.