Jack Ruckdeschel got what he wanted for Christmas, and it was much more than a partridge in a pear tree.

His early present consisted of many kinds of birds wintering in the Mojave Desert, and enough time to soak in all their grandeur.

Ruckdeschel, a busy physician who is an avid bird watcher and hunter, would rather be in the great outdoors the week before Christmas than caught up in the hustle of the holiday season.

That’s why he couldn’t wait to get out his viewing scope and bird species book Dec. 19 to join the annual Christmas Bird Count, 30 miles northwest of Las Vegas in and around the Desert National Wildlife Refuge.

"That’s what birders do. They love Christmas Counts. I get out for the whole day. I don’t have to pack. I don’t have to shop. I don’t have to cook," said Ruckdeschel, who took over the reins this year of the Nevada Cancer Institute.

With him, he brought his love for birds and the long hours he has spent observing them in forests of Michigan, Maryland and Florida.

The vast Southern Nevada landscape accented with artificial golf course ponds at the nearby Paiute reservation added a new dimension to that experience.

As a surprise, in addition to resident desert birds scurrying and flitting from plants, bushes and Joshua trees, there were flocks of ducks and a few geese that decades ago wouldn’t have bothered to stop on their southward migration since there were few ponds to attract them.

As a Northern harrier stood guard on a grassy knoll looking for a wayward duck or coot to pounce on, the pond below the predator was teeming with waterfowl.

"There’s 82 wigeon and four coot," Ruckdeschel reported as observers with notebooks compiled the tally.

Just a few yards away in the other direction, the golf course terrain abruptly turned into the natural desert that is home to a variety of brushy field birds such as larks and a loggerhead shrike.

"That one is a meadowlark. It’s coming right at me," an excited Ruckdeschel said, peering through the scope’s eyepiece. "It has beautiful markings."

With perfect conditions on a warm and windless morning, the day was in every sense a bluebird day for the count. It produced a kaleidoscope of colorful birds from Western bluebirds to a red-naped sapsucker, to yellow-chested larks, white-fronted geese, and ruby-crowned kinglets.

This year, some Western bluebirds wandered inside the count area but not their cousin, the mountain bluebird, Nevada’s state bird.

Snow and colder conditions of the 1995 count drove mountain bluebirds to lower elevations. Seventeen were counted from Corn Creek to Tule Springs that year.

The tradition, going back some 70 years at the refuge’s Corn Creek station, has been expanded to include locations around Henderson, the Muddy River and Ash Meadows.

John Hiatt, who led this leg of the count for local Red Rock Audubon Society chapter, said overall the bird types and numbers are indicative of dry conditions the area has experienced during the past several years.

Other than the Northern harrier, a great horned owl, a prairie falcon and a kestrel, there weren’t a lot of birds of prey recorded — such as hawks and eagles — in the Corn Creek count. That’s probably because the dry conditions reduced rodent numbers, which are important to their diets.

Coupled with the golf course ponds that were filled eight years ago, the habitat and food sources dictated the makeup of the bird population.

"Because of the golf courses, there are a whole lot more waterfowl," Hiatt said. "But you’ve got to take into context that we’re in the desert."

For example, American wigeon are grazers that relish golf course lawns.

The wigeon flock was joined by a pair of greater white-fronted geese, probably visiting from their far-away summer haunts of Alaska’s tundra.

"Their numbers seem to be expanding," Hiatt said about the white-fronts. "They’re rather uncommon here. Four or five years ago I saw my first one here. Now I see them every year."

Near a marshy oasis at Corn Creek, Ruckdeschel was impressed with what he described as "a very productive tree," a towering Siberian elm that harbored a red-naped sapsucker and other species that scoured the trunk’s bark for bugs and sap.

Hiding in the shadows of a fork in the tree stood a stoic, great horned owl with pointed ears protruding from its blunt head and stunning, penny-size gold eyes peering from its rusty face.

Las Vegan Jennifer Mercadante, out on her first Christmas Count, spotted the owl.

"I saw the long ears and the feathered tuff," she said. "It’s so exciting. I’m so glad I found the owl. It makes such a fine hobby to last a lifetime."

Contact reporter Keith Rogers at or 702-383-0308.

VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System hosts Veterans Day Car Show and BBQ
The 4th Annual Veterans Day Car Show and BBQ is held in celebration of Veterans Day at the VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System Medical Center in North Las Vegas, Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018. (Caroline Brehman/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Wildfires in Southern California
Wildfires hit Ventura County, Calif., on Nov. 9, 2018. (Richard Brian/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Dedication of Nevada's Battle Born memorial
The state of Nevada on Friday dedicated its Battle Born memorial honoring 895 state residents who have died in America’s wars.
Las Vegas police and Sunrise Children's Hospital hope to prevent infant deaths
The Metropolitan Police Department and Sunrise Children's Hospital held a press conference to get the message out on preventable infant deaths attributed to "co-sleeping" and other unsafe sleeping habits. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
No serious injuries after car hits tree in south Las Vegas
One person reported minor injuries but wasn’t hospitalized after a Wednesday morning crash in the south valley.
Nellis Air Force Base keeps airmen fed
Nellis Air Force Bass airmen have delicious and healthy food items, and a variety of dining facilities to choose from. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Suspicious package found at central Las Vegas post office
Las Vegas police determined that a suspicious package found Monday morning at a central valley post office was not a threat.
Suspicious package found at central Las Vegas post office
Police evacuated the area around the Garside Station post office early Monday morning near Oakey and Decatur boulevards.
With husband's passing, family in limbo for workers' comp claim
Meredith Tracy's husand, Russell Tracy, died more than a year ago on his first day working for a new company when he fell 22 feet into a manhole that was not properly safeguarded. His employer was fined $82,000 in penalties for unsafe practices, but the company has denied her workers' compensation claim, leaving her with no compensation since the death. Rachel Aston Las Vegas Review-Journal @rookie__rae
With husband's passing, family in limbo for workers' comp claim
Meredith Tracy's husand, Russell Tracy, died more than a year ago on his first day working for a new company when he fell 22 feet into a manhole that was not properly safeguarded. His employer was fined $82,000 in penalties for unsafe practices, but the company has denied her workers' compensation claim, leaving her with no compensation since the death. Rachel Aston Las Vegas Review-Journal @rookie__rae
Las Vegas family shares flu warning
Carlo and Brenda Occhipinti lost their son, Carlo Jr., or “Junior,” to the flu last year.
Author Randall Cannon shares an anecdote about Stadust Raceway
Author Randall Cannon shares an anecdote about Dan Blocker, who played Hoss Cartwright on the TV show "Bonanza," and the actor's passion for auto racing at Stardust International Raceway in Las Vegas during the 1960s. (Ron Kantowski/Las Vegas Review-Journal.)
Project Neon 85 percent complete
On Wednesday morning Oct. 31, Interstate 15 northbound lane restrictions were removed opening up Exit 41 to Charleston Blvd. On Thursday Nov. 1, Interstate 15 southbound lane restrictions were removed. The new southbound off-ramp to Sahara Ave. and Highland Dr. also opened Thursday, November 1. With Project Neon 85% finished the flow of traffic on Interstate 15 has substantially diminished. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Girl killed after jumping from bridge onto 215 Beltway in Henderson
Eastbound lanes of the 215 Beltway are shut down by the Nevada Highway Patrol after a female juvenile jumped from the 215 overpass at Stephanie and was struck by a FedEx tractor trailer. Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal @Vegas88s
Kristallnacht story
An interview with 94-year-old Holocaust survivor Alexander Kuechel who survived seven concentration camps and didn’t leave Germany until after World War II was over. (Mia Sims/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
1 dead in central Las Vegas crash
An early Wednesday morning crash left at least one person dead and another injured. The crash was reported just around 3 a.m. at the intersection of Flamingo Road and Swenson Street. At least two vehicles were involved in the crash, one of which caught fire. Debris was scattered across the intersection as police combed the area as they investigated the scene. Flamingo is blocked in both directions between Swenson and Cambridge Street. Northbound Swenson is blocked at the intersection.
Richard Knoeppel named the 2018 Nevada Teacher of the Year
Richard Knoeppel, an architecture design instructor at the Advanced technologies Academy, named the 2018 Nevada Teacher of the Year on Monday, Oct. 29, 2018. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Mojave Poppy Bees
(Zach Portman/University of Minnesota Department of Entomology) Male Mojave poppy bees exhibit territorial fighting behavior. The Center for Biological Diversity wants the bee, found only in Clark County, to be added to the endangered species list.
Clark County Schools announce random searches
Clark County School District middle and high school students will be subject to random searches for weapons under a new initiative to combat the wave of guns found on campus. (Amelia Pak-Harvey/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Ron Jeremy and Heidi Fleiss React to Dennis Hof's Death
Ron Jeremy and Heidi Fleiss speak about their friend and prominent brothel owner Dennis Hof's death at Dennis Hof's Love Ranch. (Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nevada brothel owner Dennis Hof has died
Nevada brothel owner and Republican candidate for Nevada State Assembly District 36, Dennis Hof has died. He was 72. Nye County Sherriff's office confirmed. Hof owned Love Ranch brothel, located in Crystal, Nevada.
Las Vegas police investigate suspicious package at shopping center
Las Vegas police evacuated a southeast valley shopping center at Flamingo and Sandhill roads early Tuesday morning while they investigated reports of a suspicious package. (Max Michor/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Las Vegas Metro hosts the K-9 Trials
The Las Vegas Metro K-9 Trials returns to the Orleans Arena to benefit the Friends For Las Vegas Police K-9 group.
Kingman residents love their little town
Residents of Kingman, Ariz. talk about how they ended up living in the Route 66 town, and what they love about their quiet community. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Service at Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery
Twelve unclaimed veterans are honored at Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Boulder City in Oct. 9, 2018. (Briana Erickson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas house prices reach highest level in 11 years
Las Vegas house prices are rising But so is the amount of available homes on the market Still, properties priced below $300,000 are selling fast And September was the first time since June 2007 that the median house price reached the $300,000 mark Las Vegas home prices have been rising at one of the fastest rates in the country over the past year Recent data show the market is now less affordable than the national average
National Night Out
About 100 Summerlin residents gathered at Park Centre Dr. in Summerlin on Tuesday for National Night Out. Lt. Joshua Bitsko with Las Vegas Metro, played with 3-year-old David who was dressed as a police officer. Face painting, fire truck tours and more kept kids busy as parents roamed behind them. (Mia Sims/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Rural homeless issue comes to a head in Pahrump
On Sept. 12, Pahrump sheriff deputies told residents of a homeless encampment on private property that they had 15 minutes to vacate and grab their belongings. That decision might face some legal consequences. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Remembrance blood drive on October 1
A blood drive was held at the Las Vegas Convention Center on the one year anniversary of the Oct. 1 shooting. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Remembrance Lights memorial unveiled at St. Rose hospital
A dedication ceremony was held at St. Rose to unveil a memorial and to read the names of those who died on October 1, a year ago. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
News Headlines
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like