A wetland area east of Reno where you can find shorebirds, waterfowl, raptors, and more.
By Audrey Medina | Published: 2/13/2015
On hillsides along the way to the Stillwater refuge, you can still see the bathtub ring left by ancient Lake Lahontan, the ice-age sea that covered much of northwestern Nevada long ago. It persists as an isolated maze of wetlands at the terminus of the Carson River.
The high-desert oasis is a designated Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve. Half of the Pacific Flyway’s Canvasback population stops here, Snowy Plovers are regular nesters, and Nevada’s largest number of Bald Eagles spends the winter.
I like the wide-open skies and the raised levee roads for spotting distant hawks and for watching deer and other desert wildlife. I stopped recently at flooded alfalfa fields along Stillwater Road to look at White-faced Ibis and Great Egrets. During spring visits, the Russian olives and tamarisks that line the irrigation canals are often dotted with migrant warblers. The wooden boardwalk at Foxtail Lake leads into cattails and bulrushes filled with Yellow-headed Blackbirds. And the floating platform at the lake’s edge is a great place to wait and watch for birds. I was treated to close-up views of Western Grebes, American White Pelicans, Black-crowned Night-Herons, and a Ruddy Duck showing off its mating dance. — Audrey Medina
Audrey Medina is a freelance travel writer. She also wrote about the Presidio in San Francisco, Hotspot Near You No. 180.
At a Glance
Click on the coordinates below to view location:
Wetlands, open water, irrigated pastures, semi-desert grasslands.
Flat, open. Good birding from car.
250 species. Year-round: American White Pelican, White-faced Ibis, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Common Yellowthroat, Black Tern, Least Bittern. Spring and fall: Long-billed Dowitcher, Dunlin, Wilson’s Phalarope, Snowy Plover, Redhead, Ruddy Duck, Northern Pintail, Canvasback, Eared and Western Grebes, Tundra Swan, Snow Goose. Summer: Wilson’s Phalarope, Sora, Virginia Rail, Franklin’s Gull, Forster’s and Black Terns, American Bittern. Winter: Bald Eagle, Rough-legged Hawk, Northern Shrike, Short-eared Owl.
When to go
Year-round. Shorebirds from late April to mid-May and July through September. Waterfowl arrive in late fall.
Auto tour loops, hiking trails, boardwalks, observation decks, restrooms, boat launches, photo blinds, camping. Spring Wings Festival held each year; this year it’s on May 9. Refuge headquarters is in Fallon at 1020 New River Pkwy., Ste. 305; open 8-5 Monday-Friday. Information kiosk and maps available after business hours.
National wildlife refuge. Open 24 hours. No fees. Roads are well marked.
Bring water, food, sunscreen, and a hat. Cell-phone service is sketchy. Dirt roads can be muddy when wet.
For more info
Carson Lake Wetlands
Nine miles south of Fallon on Hwy. 95, turn east on Hwy. 120, and drive two miles to Greenhead Hunting Club sign. Shorebirds, waterfowl, and raptors.
East of Fallon on Stuart Rd. Look for Black Tern, American Bittern, Sora, Virginia Rail, and warblers.