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254. Owens Lake, Lone Pine, California

This restored lake between the High Sierra and Inyo Mountains attracts avocets, stilts, plovers, and many other birds.
By Mike Prather | Published: 2/22/2017

Only the sounds of birds flying and feeding break the silence at Owens Lake. I have found 20 species of shorebird at the pond and along the muddy shoreline at the central Plover Wing Plaza as well as in the surrounding wetlands and flooded areas. Scanning from a single spot, I have identified 14 duck species. Nearby habitats support many waterfowl species and birds of prey.

I have birded the area many times at dawn and in the evening, accompanied only by 20-mile-long shadows of mountains. The setting is dramatic. The High Sierra crest at 14,000 feet to the west, the Inyo Mountains at 11,000 feet to the east.

Water diversions and exports by Los Angeles caused the lake to dry up in the 1920s, but both the water and wildlife have returned due to a large-scale dust-control project undertaken by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. It has been great news for birders.

I’m often awed as flocks of peeps undulate over the water and mudflats while thousands of American Avocets carpet the lakebed below. An occasional Peregrine or harrier may pass through, flushing all birds at once. — Mike Prather

Mike Prather is past chair of Eastern Sierra Audubon and currently is chair of the Inyo County Water Commission and a board member of Friends of the Inyo.

254. Owens Lake, Lone Pine, California

Directions

Owens Lake covers 110 square miles at the southern end of Owens Valley, 90 miles west of Death Valley National Park. From the junction of Hwy. 395 and Hwy. 136, just south of Lone Pine, drive east 10.3 miles and turn right onto a well-maintained unpaved road. It leads to the artistic shade structure known as Plover Wing Plaza, a great spot to begin.

Downloadable Files

At a Glance

Click on the coordinates below to view location:
36°30’20.24″N 117°55’33.92″W

Habitat

Wetlands, meadow, mudflat, and ponds.

Terrain

Flat.

Birds

Ponds: Northern Shoveler, Cinnamon and Green-winged Teal, Ruddy Duck, Northern Pintail, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, Red-necked and Wilson’s Phalaropes, California Gull, White-faced Ibis, Eared Grebe, five swallow species. Mudflat/shoreline: Least and Western Sandpipers, American Avocet, dowitchers, Snowy and Semipalmated Plovers, Dunlin, Long-billed Curlew, Whimbrel, Greater Yellowlegs, Black-necked Stilt, American Pipit, Horned Lark. Wetland/meadow: Solitary Sandpiper, Sora, Virginia Rail. Rarities: Lesser Yellowlegs, Sabine’s and Franklin’s Gulls, Baird’s and Pectoral Sandpipers.

When to go

Best from March through May and August through November. Shorebird numbers peak in last two weeks of April and August. Ducks peak October-November. Best time of day is morning to avoid possible wind, but all day is normally fine.

Amenities

Four miles of walking paths, overlook areas, and land art installations. Eastern Sierra Visitor Center, at junction of Hwy. 395 and Hwy. 136., has restrooms, bookstore, and information. Owens Lake Bird Festival, April 28-30.

Access

California State Lands Commission property. No fee or permission required. Day use only. Park only in parking areas.

Tips

Terrific birding from the car. Bring water and sun protection, and dress for the weather.

For more info

Eastern Sierra Audubon
Eastern Sierra Birding Trail
Owens Lake Trails (PDF)

Sites nearby

Diaz Lake County Park
1.9 miles south of the Eastern Sierra Visitor Center, on the west side of Hwy. 395. Open water and riparian areas. More than 200 species.

Death Valley National Park
90 miles east of lake. The valleys, canyons, and woodlands of this, the hottest and driest national park, attract more than 320 species.

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