"This place is so beautiful, but I don't know where to go to enjoy it..." I have had so many friends say this to me that I decided to gather some information about this interesting area on the east side of Death Valley National Park, a special valley to go bird watching in southwestern Nevada.
Located in Nye County conveniently situated along Highway 95, two hours north of Las Vegas, Oasis Valley stretches several miles upriver from the town of Beatty, an old gold mining site and the "Gateway to Death Valley." Several spots are accessible to birders and nature lovers.
Torrance Ranch Nature Conservancy Preserve (above) is a great place to look for Oasis Valley birds. This Mojave Desert valley along the Amargosa River hosts many diverse habitats: cottonwood and willow groves, marshes, grasslands, and desert upland scrub. The river usually runs underground except after storms, yet the valley is lush with many springs, some bubbling out of the ground at 100 degrees Fahrenheit, creating a true oasis amid the arid rhyolitic hills.
Any time of year can produce interesting bird sightings: summer warmth brings Western kingbirds, the occasional Vermillion flycatcher, abundant Lesser nighthawks, and singing Yellow warblers, Blue grosbeaks, and Bullock's orioles. Winter rains fill river pools and ponds that attract ducks and sandpipers, and upland birds during this time include Northern flickers, Ruby-crowned kinglets, Water pipits, Mountain bluebirds, and White-crowned sparrows.
But the wetland habitats create "migrant traps" during spring and fall, the best times to visit the area. Waves of warblers, vireos, flycatchers, and other migrating birds travel through, resting and feeding in the riparian thickets and moist marshes.
^Yellow-headed blackbirds and quail.
Many parts of Oasis Valley are private ranches or holdings, and permission must be sought to enter. But fortunately several areas are open to the public, and a group of residents is in the process of organizing a birding trail and picnic area along the river. Pick up their bird list pamphlet at the Chamber of Commerce information hut by the bridge in Beatty, near the Rebel gas station.
Torrance Ranch Preserve is run by the Nature Conservancy, and is located about 7 miles north of Beatty along Highway 95, on the east side. Go north past Boiling Pot Road just a bit, and the next dirt road on your right is the access to the preserve. You will see a stonework sign. Please close the gate when you enter to park in the small staging area (feral burros roam the valley in abundance and will get in), then head for the trees to look for songbirds and owls, or the spring-fed marshes to listen for rails.
^Oasis Valley in winter.
Another prime birding area is at the "Amargosa Narrows" just south of town. Head a mile south on Highway 95 from the stop sign, and turn left on a dirt road that crosses a cattle guard and the river (usually dry). This road heads up into the Bare Mountains, but you can park by the cottonwood and mesquite riparian woodland and walk along the dense thickets either way. In spring, Yellow-breasted chats, Black-headed grosbeaks, and Bell's vireos sing noisily here. You can drive up into the Bare Mountains to bird the creosote hills for Loggerhead shrikes, Roadrunners, and the secretive LeConte's thrasher.
A tenth of a mile to the south of this stop along Highway 95, try looking for waterbirds at "Pombo's Pond" behind rows of tamarisks along Vanderbilt Road on the right.
While visiting Beatty you can stop in to eat at the Ensanada Grill to try some delicious fish tacos or fajitas. Rita's Cafe in the Stagecoach hotel and casino offers classic American faire. Groceries can be obtained at the Lost River Trading Post or the Space Station RV park and store. And of course their is the famous Death Valley Candy Company. And new this year, try KC's Outpost Saloon and Sandwich shop, with home-style potato salad -- across the street from the Rebel gas station.
^Gambel's quail and chicks.