Written By: Jennie Johnson, Wetland Restoration Outreach Coordinator
Many people associate birding with warmer weather, but birding in the winter can be quite rewarding. Local species still need to obtain nutrition in the winter and can be spotting foraging, even in the cold. Additionally, clearer spotting is sometimes possible in the winter due to less foliage and bright snowy lighting. Finally, our area actually hosts ecosystems that support migrating species through the winter. In fact, some bird species can only be seen in our area in the winter.
The Swan Lake Nature Study Area in north Reno is a protected wetland habitat. For most of the year, the Swan Lake Nature Study Area is a peaceful refuge for local animals, however, each winter for
several weeks, the lake is filled with thousands of its namesake swans spending the winter here in Reno. Swan Lake has been a stopping point for migratory Tundra Swans (Cygnus columbianus) for hundreds of years. Settlers in the area report seeing the swans gather for the winter at Swan Lake from as far back as the 1800s. The Tundra Swans arrive each year around November from the far north coasts near the arctic where they breed. These beautiful birds can only be seen here in Reno in the winter until around March. The large white or gray swans look similar to the more commonly known mute swan (Cygnus olor) but Tundra Swans have darker bills, smooth plumage, and gather in large, honking groups.
Other wintering bird species can be spotted at Rosewood Nature Study Area. The Snow Goose breeds and spends most of its time in the far north, hence, its name. But they can be spotted in the winter in Northern Nevada. In January during a bioblitz at Rosewood, snow geese were among the species documented by our volunteers. Other recently spotted species include Black Crowned Night Heron, Canadian Geese, American Coots, California Quails, Mourning Doves, Mallards and Red-tailed Hawks. Sometimes, more rarely, you can even spot Bald Eagles or Great Blue Herons.
If you are interested in documenting your bird finds, there are several ways to keep track of birds you see while out winter birding in Reno. You can observe and enter your sightings online at iNaturalist.org and ebird.org or you can even download their apps! Plus, if you ever see a species that you are unfamiliar with, you can use the Merlin Bird ID app or visit merlin.allaboutbirds.org. The Audubon Society even offers a website that lets you view migrating birds by area. Apps and tracking can help identify migration patterns and make it easier for hobby birders to find winter birds in Reno, Northern Nevada and beyond.
Some birders choose to feed and support birds throughout the winter to help encourage sightings. If you choose to feed local birds in the winter, please be mindful and consistent as you may be a source on which they come to rely. Researching proper winter food and needs can help ensure that birds in our area stay healthy and happy.
While Swan Lake has been known to be a birding hotspot for decades, the Rosewood Nature Study Area was more recently established in 2021. Outside of these two locations, there are actually dozens of birding hotspots in Northern Nevada like Ft. Churchill, Peavine Peak, Oxbow Nature Study Area and more.
To see the tundra swans at Swan Lake, you can visit the park until March. From Reno, drive north on 395 and take the exit for Lemmon Valley. From Lemmon Valley Drive, take a left onto Military Road, and a right onto Lear Blvd. The park entrance is a long dirt road to the left along a small canal. Currently, the area is impacted by construction and the entrance road is a bit hard to spot. A small parking lot and Swan Lake sign will let you know that you’ve made it to the right spot.
To see the snow geese and more at Rosewood Nature Study Area, you can drive east of Reno on I-80 towards Sparks. Exit at Sparks Blvd. and head south until Veterans Parkway. Follow Veterans Parkway to Pembroke Drive and Rosewood Nature Study Area is at 6800 Pembroke Dr, Reno, NV 89502.
For more images and information from us at the Parks Foundation, check out ourPark of the Week video on Swan Lake Nature Study Area or read our old blog posts on Swan Lake and Rosewood Nature Study Area.
Photo Credits Irene Dickinson, Lead Wetland Restoration Technician at Rosewood Nature Study Area and Jennie Johnson, Wetland Outreach Coordinator.
About the Author:
Jennie is serving her second Americorps VISTA term as the Wetland Restoration Outreach Coordinator. She is from right here in Reno and went to the University of Nevada, Reno for a degree in Cultural Anthropology. She’s excited to use her marketing background to teach people about the parks and opportunities in their community. She enjoys running, hiking, sunshine and events such as Moms on the Run and the American River Half Marathon.