Wayward birds make appearances at Tahoe
February 15, 2013
Birds at Lake Tahoe are a lot like people.
Some are here year around. Some are here just for the winter. And others get blown off course, unsure of how they got here at all.
And when birds find themselves in the unfamiliar environs of the Lake Tahoe Basin, people purposefully come here to see them.
Kirk Hardie, a biologist who teaches field ornithology at Sierra Nevada College and co-founder of the Tahoe Institute for Natural Science, spoke about the navigational follies of some species during a talk on winter birds at the UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center on Tuesday night.
A Long-tailed Duck, a black-and-white species with a propensity for diving, has been spotted at Lake Tahoe within the past two weeks, Hardie said. The duck breeds in the far north and should be along the coast for winter, according to The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Hardie described the species as “well out” of its expected range.
How it got here isn’t known, but the bird’s presence has brought birders up from Sacramento in search of checking another species of their lifetime identification lists, Hardie said.
The duck is hard to spot because it tends to dwell well off shore, Hardie said. It’s for good reason, as the duck is one of the deepest-diving of its kind, able to reach 200 feet deep in its search of food.
Birds deviate from their normal migration routes for numerous reasons Hardie said, including being an inexperienced juvenile, being blown off course by a storm or “being born with the wrong DNA” for the right migration. Some just get lost, the biologist said.
A Red-naped Sapsucker, a woodpecker with brilliant scarlet patches on its throat and head, was among the recent anomalies in the basin when it was spotted during an annual Christmas bird count in the Basin. A native of much Nevada and the Great Basin, the sapsucker was only slightly off course, Hardie said.
An American White Pelican was also noted among the species during the Christmas count, Hardie said. A visit from the pelican, one of the largest birds in North America, isn’t completely out of the ordinary, according to the biologist, but their appearances can be a little random. The bird winters throughout much of Southern California.
Three-hundred and five species of birds have been sighted in the Lake Tahoe Basin. Sixty-five species are here year around. Anywhere from 150-200 species will be recorded in the Lake Tahoe Basin in a typical year, depending on environmental conditions, Hardie said.
About one-third of all North American bird species can be found at the lake at one point or another during the year, according to the biologist.