Wander over yonder to Carson Valley: A walk on the wild side

Withanee Milligan / Guest column
Withanee Milligan, Marketing & Communications Manager at Visit Carson Valley.
Provided / Withanee Milligan

Not far from the lake and just over the hill in Carson Valley the company can get a bit wild and a little … flighty. From around December through February, Carson Valley sees a hefty influx of birds to the area including hawks, owls, falcons, and the all-American of the lineup: the bald eagle.

Each year, these birds pack their bags and vacation in Carson Valley where the getting’s good and the good is … cows?

Let’s back up. For more than 100 years Carson Valley has been an agricultural hub fueled by watershed from the Sierra Nevada, the Carson River and good old American grit from multi-generational ranching families. The V&T Railroad helped to spur expansion and the productive agricultural lands have continued to be a main thread of the fabric of Carson Valley. As a result, the raptors anxiously await the calving season so they can dine on the delicacy of the afterbirth. To each his own palate, I suppose.

A cow in Carson Valley.
Provided / Vivian Powers

This interaction of nature is a bit of phenomenon and just another feather in the unique hat of Carson Valley. The best part is that we can watch the show as it unfolds, sort of like witnessing National Geographic without the commercials. The best way to see the raptors hitting the buffet is to attend the Eagles and Agriculture event, Jan. 26-29. Hosted by the Carson Valley Chamber of Commerce, this annual celebration draws photographers, birders, nature-lovers and the downright curious from all over. This year’s lineup includes an opening reception, photography workshop, wetland tour, guided hike, falconer’s dinner (meet the birds up close!), owl prowl, barn tours, exclusive access to area ranches and best photo contest. More information can be found on the Chamber’s website at

For those who can’t make the event there are other ways to catch a glimpse, and you don’t have to be a pro-birder to get in on the action. Carson Valley is home to some really knowledgeable locals who offer guided wildlife tours. Contact Visit Carson Valley at 775-782-8145 or go online to to link up with a seasoned adventurer.

Eagle in flight during a winter storm in the Carson Valley.
Provided / Kim Steed

Of course, you could also go it alone in search of the winged amigos. In order to hedge your bet (this is Nevada, after all), you’ll want to check out a few key areas: Centerville Lane and Highway 88, Mottsville Lane and Foothill Road along the Carson River tributary, Muller Lane and Foothill Road (across from the Van Sickle Station Ranch), Topaz Lake Park and the River Fork Ranch Nature Conservancy. It goes without saying, but don’t trespass on private ranches.

Some additional wildlife tips: best not to stop right next to the animal, drive past it and safely turn around and approach slowly. Whenever possible, stay in your vehicle or keep your motion minimal as to not scare them off. Birds are most active in the early morning or late afternoon, so plan accordingly. It is easier to capture birds on camera when they are hunting because they don’t pay as much attention to their surroundings.

A horse in the Carson Valley.
Provided / JT Humphrey

Though you’re more likely to catch the greats during winter calving, it isn’t the only time to see wildlife in Carson Valley. The west side of the region, including the Carson River corridor, is recognized as an Important Bird Area. According to Audubon, Carson Valley has the only colony of Tri-colored Blackbirds in Nevada. You may also catch a Sandhill Crane, which is rare outside of Elko County. The bird list goes on and on and if you’ve got a good eye and a gumption to unplug, you’re likely to be surprised at what you can find during any given season.

Birds aren’t the only cool critters though, and the ample amount of wide-open space is perhaps the reason why both humans and animals are fond of Carson Valley. Mountain lions, bears, lynx, mule deer, coyotes, bobcats and, a fan favorite, wild horses can all be found in the various ranches, country roads and foothills.

“Carson Valley is a magical place to experience and photograph wildlife. If you just take the time to stop and look around, you never know what you might find on the other side of your lens,” says JT Humphrey, a well-known wild horse whisperer and wildlife photographer in the valley. JT is also a guide and teacher at the Eagles and Agriculture event. You can get inspired by his incredible shots of Carson Valley on his Facebook page titled John T Humphrey – Photography or his website

There really is something about witnessing any type of wildlife doing its thing. A bird in flight can feel like watching art in motion. A wild horse running through the desert reverberates with power, strength, and elegance. Even the cows are darn cute. Suffice it to say, it is worth the short drive to come on down and explore your wild side.

Withanee Milligan is the marketing and communications manager at Visit Carson Valley.

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