Owens Lake Information and Events

Owens Lake 2016 Spring Big Day - Tuesday, April 19th

Owens Lake birders

The 2016 Owens Lake Spring Big Day will be Tuesday, April 19th. We are looking for birders with at least some experience to help out in this intense bird census of Owens Lake. Contact Mike Prather to sign up. Small groups of citizen scientists will join with LADWP staff to spread across the lake and count EVERY BIRD WE FIND. Expect to see over 100,000 birds! Owens Lake is an Audubon Important Bird Area (IBA) with tremendous importance. It hosts tens of thousands of shorebirds and waterfowl and is the largest nesting location for Snowy Plovers in California. Our data collected on Big Days is used by LADWP, State Lands, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District, and Audubon in the management and planning at Owens Lake.

To join in, or for more information, please contact Mike Prather at 760-876-5807 or mprather@lonepinetv.com. We will meet at 7AM at the Diaz Lake parking lot three miles south of Lone Pine on Highway 395.

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2016 Owens Lake Bird Festival - April 22-24, 2016

Register Early in order to secure the trips you want!

Owens Lake Bird Festival

Join Friends of the Inyo and our partners for the second annual Owens Lake Bird Festival in Lone Pine, CA. The festival will celebrate migrating shorebirds as they move between hemispheres at Owens Lake Important Bird Area and will highlight the significance of the Owens Lake story and the return of a threatened habitat.

There are many new additions to this year's festival. Again there will be a Friday evening meet-and-greet reception at the Lone Pine Film History Museum followed by two days of field trips and more on Saturday and Sunday. "Crack of dawn" trips have been added, as well as trips away from the lake, talks on migration and shorebirds, history of Owens Lake, photography trips, geology and more! See the festival website for all the details and registration! See you there.

See the Friends of the Inyo Owens Lake Bird Festival page for more information.

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Conservation Reports:

Owens Lake Conservation Update from Pete Pumphrey and Michael Prather

December 2015

Members of California’s Little Hoover Commission, Audubon California Board of Directors members and Audubon California staff, including Executive Director Bridgett McCormick  toured Owens Lake on October 15 and 16.  The trip was organized by Audubon California's Andrea Jones and escorted by Mike Prather and Pete Pumphrey from Eastern Sierra Audubon.  The group came to Owens Lake to learn about the habitat protection strategies which have been developed through the Owens Lake planning process.  They were looking for ways in which the Owens experience could suggest potential approaches to stakeholder participation and collaboration and habitat assessment and protection at the Salton Sea.  The Salton Sea is overseen by the Little Hoover Commission and California Audubon has made the avian habitat at the sea a priority concern.

Cartago Springs Wildlife habitat at Owens Lake, Photo by Mike Prather

Cartago Springs Wildlife habitat at Owens Lake, Photo by Mike Prather

Accompanied by biologists from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the group started out with an overview presentation at the Interagency Visitor Center, moved to the pump back station for an explanation of the mechanics of the lakes hydrology and the dust control project, and then drove along levee roads on the lakebed until reaching its final tour stop at the visitor access facility being constructed as a part of Phase 7a of the dust control project.  ESAS representatives emphasized the importance of recruitment of a broad spectrum of stakeholders and persistence in the process.  In addition, there was much discussion of the need to look at the wildlife habitat at Owens Lake as an integrated entity rather than as a series of disconnected small scale “projects.”  This discussion focused on the development in the Owens Lake process of the Habitat Suitability Model and  the use of that model for assuring the retention of habitat value as project implementation is begun.

Of course, with this group, there was also a lot of birding.  Beginning with a vermillion flycatcher at the visitor center, sightings included peregrine falcon, golden eagle, northern harrier, white-fronted and snow geese and hundreds of ducks and shorebirds of various species.

ESAS is proud of its participation in shaping the future of the birds of Owens Lake and the habitat which sustains them.  Hopefully, the lessons learned from more than seven years if work in the Master Plan/Master Project process will prove valuable at other critical spots such as the Salton Sea.  

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Owens Lake Conservation Update from Pete Pumphrey

October 2015

Owens Lake, Photo by Robin Black

Avocets and Sierra Wave Cloud, Owens Lake
Photo by Robin Black, whose Owens Lake Project was on display at the 2015 Owens Lake Bird Festival. See the Owens Lake Project Facebook page for more updates.

The master Owens Lake Project California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) preparation continues. The initial release is expected after the first of the year, most likely in February. The document will have input from Point Blue Science, a group doing the peer review on the Habitat Suitability Model for the CEQA, as well as modeling and analysis on the vegetation presence at the lake, information that will be used to develop resource protection criteria and be applied to any proposed groundwater pumping guidelines in the Master Plan. There is also language being developed to provide guidance to LADWP on how they notify the Habitat Work Group of any actions it plans to take or feels compelled to undertake on the lake bed. This final language will help to provide a long comment period to the greater community on actions taken regarding the lake.

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Owens Lake Big Days

Owens Lake Spring Big Day 2012

Birders at Owens Lake Big Day, April 25, 2012
Photo by Michael Prather

2015 Owens Lake Big Day Count Reports

Owens Lake Provides Refuge for Waterbirds during Record Drought

Despite record drought, participants in the 2015 Owens Lake “Big Day” Bird Counts for both Spring and Fall documented continued high bird use within the Lake’s dust control ponds. The numbers are especially encouraging given that several ponds were temporarily off-line due to the ongoing construction of Phase 7A of the Owens Lake Dust Mitigation Project, including some ponds that are typically quite productive during the bird count periods.

The Owens Lake counts are hosted by the Eastern Sierra Audubon Society and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) each year to determine how many birds visit Owens Lake and help guide LADWP staff and stakeholders in the understanding and management of bird habitat within dust control areas.

The Spring 2015 Owens Lake Big Day, held on April 22, 2015, recorded over 97,000 birds and 57 different species – numbers comparable with previous non-drought year spring counts. Some species of note found during the Spring survey include Red-breasted Merganser, a Semipalmated Sandpiper, several Franklin’s Gull, and a lone Cattle Egret.

At almost 60,000 birds, shorebirds comprised approximately 60 percent of the overall Spring total, more than have ever been recorded before during a Big Day count. Waterfowl and diving waterbirds, typically found in lower numbers in spring, totaled approximately 3,000 and 4,000 respectively.

For the Fall 2015 Count, held August 20, 2015, in the midst of one of the state’s most severe droughts on record, over 14,000 birds were seen. This is particularly impressive given that late summer is always a tough time for waterbirds in the Eastern Sierra as water resources are typically at a minimum for the year. For the Fall 2015 Count, held August 20, 2015, in the midst of one of the state’s most severe droughts on record, over 14,000 birds were seen. This is particularly impressive given that late summer is always a tough time for waterbirds in the Eastern Sierra as water resources are typically at a minimum for the year.

As a drought mitigation measure “dynamic water management” was implemented for the first time on Owens Lake. Under dynamic water management, water releases were delayed to areas identified by Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District (GBUAPCD) as not requiring a wetted surface to control dust until later in the year. In order to help offset potential impacts to wildlife due to drought and dynamic water management, LADWP released water to the lakebed in late summer. This was the first time in history that water was released on Owens Lake outside of dust mitigation periods specifically for the benefit of migrating birds.

The technique seems to have worked given that total bird numbers in August were higher than the last three years. Shorebirds were the most abundant and diverse group as 21 species and over 11,000 shorebirds were recorded. The most notable species found include a Red Phalarope and a Pectoral Sandpiper.

Although all bird species are recorded during the surveys, the populations of specific bird guilds, including shorebirds, waterfowl and diving waterbirds, are of particular interest to stakeholders. Data from Big Day surveys track trends in bird use of the Dust Control Project area, helping guide wildlife habitat management decisions while water conservation efforts are implemented at Owens Lake, and while dust control requirements continue to be met.

The data are also used to refine the Owens Lake Habitat Suitability Model. The Habitat suitability model will be used to guide management and monitor habitat availability during implementation of the Owens Lake Master Project, a long-term collaborative project with the goal of reducing the water usage for dust control while preserving habitat for shorebirds, waterfowl, and diving waterbirds.

Eastern Sierra Audubon Society’s Mike Prather and LADWP Watershed Resources Specialist Debbie House organized the Spring and Fall 2015 Owens Lake Big Day surveys. Participants represented a team effort and included nine LADWP staff, local volunteers, Friends of the Inyo, and staff from Great Basin Air Pollution Control District, Inyo County Water Department, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Click here for the official results for both 2015 Owens Lake Big Day Bird Counts

For information on future Owens Lake Big Days, contact Mike Prather at mprather@lonepinetv.com.

Results of previous Owens Lake Big Days: Owens Lake Spring Big Day Counts Compared (pdf).

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2015 Owens Lake Bird festival - a Great Success!

There were over 130 people in attendance at the first Owens Lake Bird Festival, with 10 different tour options that ranged from Birding for Beginners to Aquatic Habitats of Owens Lake. The Owens Lake Bird Festival is a unique bird festival with tours of different areas of Owens Lake and tours that focus on more than just the birds themselves, although the birds were amazing out there! It is important to get a look at what has brought the birds back to Owens Lake after so many years, and what the the birds are feeding on. Owens Lake is a unique place, and the number of birds out there really matter. They are part of the reason why the LADWP dust mitigation project has been successful.

If you are interested in having a great birding opportunity and want to learn more about Owens Lake, keep an eye out for the next Owens Lake Bird Festival.

(from the Friends of the Inyo newsletter)

Owens Lake Spring Big Day - Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The 2015 Owens Lake Spring Big Day was Wednesday, April 22, just before the first annual Owens Lake Birding Festival. We are looking for birders with at least some experience to help out in this intense bird census of Owens Lake. Contact Mike Prather to sign up. Small groups of citizen scientists will join with LADWP staff to spread across the lake and count EVERY BIRD WE FIND. Last April we had 115,000 birds! Owens Lake is an Audubon Important Bird Area (IBA) with tremendous importance. It hosts tens of thousands of shorebirds and waterfowl and is the largest nesting location for Snowy Plovers in California. Our data collected on Big Days is used by LADWP, State Lands, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District, and Audubon in the management and planning at Owens Lake.

To join in, or for more information, please contact Mike Prather at 760-876-5807 or mprather@lonepinetv.com. We will meet at 7AM at the Diaz Lake parking lot three miles south of Lone Pine on Highway 395. Come prepared – food, water, sunscreen, hat.

Owens Lake Bird Festival - Save the Date! April 25, 2015

Friends of the Inyo is planning the 1st annual Owens Lake Bird Festival for April 25, 2015. Audubon will be involved in helping with this event at the lake, which is an Audubon Important Bird Area (IBA). If you are interested in volunteering in any capacity, please contact event coordinator Ursula Esser at Friends of the Inyo (see contact information below), or for volunteering to lead a field trip, contact Michael Prather (760-876-5807), and/or Barbara Kelley who will also be coordinating with Friends of the Inyo on the event. Or email all three to help with coordination of volunteers. Below is the information from Friends of the Inyo (from their website) on this exciting event:

Mixed Shorebirds at Owens Lake

Mixed Shorebird Species at Owens Lake

Please join us for our 1st Annual Owens Lake Bird Festival on April 25th, 2015, and an Opening Reception on Friday, April 24th at the Lone Pine Film History Museum.

The Festival promises to offer a variety of field trips and showcase the unique habitat and significance of Owens Lake at the height of spring migration.

Designated as an Important Bird Area (IBA) by the National Audubon Society, Owens Lake offers world-class wildlife viewing in the southern Owens Valley.

Concomitant with Festival, we are sponsoring a photography exhibit by Robin Black at the Interagency Visitor Center. The exhibit entitled "Second Chance: The Owens Lake Project" will run from March 1- April 30, 2015, with an exhibit reception and closing event for our Festival day on Saturday, April 25th.

Our Festival partners include Eastern Sierra Audubon, California Audubon, Eastern California Museum, Eastern Sierra Interpretive Association, Interagency Visitor Center, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and the Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce.

Save the Date and reserve your Lone Pine Motel room now for the weekend of April 24-26th, 2015!

For more information, please email Ursula (info@friendsoftheinyo.org) or call 760-873-6500.

Registration: Online registration and field trip sign-ups is available now on the event webpage.

Mixed Shorebird Species at Owens Lake

Mixed Shorebird Species at Owens Lake

Check back for additions and updates here and on the Field Trips page of the ESAS website.

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2014 Owens Lake Big Days

Report: Owens Lake Fall Big Day, August 21, 2014

Birders on Owens Lake, Photo by Debbie House

Birders on Owens Lake, Photo by Debbie House

Our Owens Lake Fall Big Day Thursday, August 21 went well. There was a good turnout of volunteers who partnered with LADWP biologists to census all birds on the lake. This is sometimes called "dip sticking" or a "snapshot" of bird populations. There are six lake-wide surveys each year and the data collected is used to manage wildlife habitat as part of the LADWP Owens Lake Master Project. Eastern Sierra Audubon helps in April and August and in fact, began the Big Days. Owens Lake is officially closed to the public due to heavy construction, so we all wore our hardhats and vests and dodged double trailer trucks hauling 20 tons of crushed rock.

Wilson's Phalaropes were common in all flooded cells. They will double their weight via fat in about two weeks and then fly non-stop to the Altiplano of Bolivia and the salt lakes of Argentina. The Wilson's were spinning furiously while feeding and also running in shallow water and along the shore chasing brine flies. In one cell there was a tight group of American Avocets and Wilson's Phalaropes in a feeding frenzy. Looking more closely we learned that they were eating brine shrimp! A few Red-necked Phalaropes were just arriving from the north as well. They will leave and spend this winter as pelagic (open ocean) birds offshore of Peru. Least Sandpipers were the most abundant "peep." There were smaller numbers of Western Sandpipers and a scattering of Baird's Sandpipers. Baird’s Sandpipers migrate in the spring north through the Midwest, but every fall many juveniles fly south through the West. We noticed their wing tips folded back beyond their tails - long wings for long flights.

Black-necked Stilts over Owens Lake, photo by Ali Sheehy

Black-necked Stilts, aka "tuxedoes with sunburnt legs" over Owens Lake, photo by Ali Sheehy

Male and female American Avocets with their slender bills scythed the water searching for invertebrates. The "tuxedo with sunburned legs" Black-necked Stilts walked and picked while Long-billed Curlews probed nearby with impossibly long curved bills. Marbled Godwits, down from their pothole country breeding areas, talked among themselves. Willits flashed jet black and white underwings, Dowitchers imitated sewing machines, White-faced Ibis preened iridescent plumage and the ghostly Snowy Plovers scampered and then stopped on a dime – such ploverness. An immature Peregrine Falcon was in the area. We often see raptors hunting among the flocks of birds at Owens Lake.

See the complete list of birds seen during the Spring Count on e-bird: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S20539108

Also see LADWP Report on Fall 2014 Big Day, by Debbie House, here: http://www.ladwp.com/OwensLakeBirdCountResults

The breaking news is that Eastern Sierra Audubon is beginning the nomination of Owens Lake to be a part of the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN). It appears to meet the criteria for approval due the large numbers of American Avocets, Least Sandpipers and Snowy Plovers. The three designations in WHSRN are Hemispheric, International and Regional. Owens Lake easily qualifies as an International site. The process of nomination and approval will take a few months, but should be a rewarding project in partnership with LADWP, State Lands and Audubon-California. We give a loud shout out to our members and friends who have worked (played really) on behalf of the birds at Owens Lake for so many years. It’s paying off! Visit the WHSRN website to learn more about this excellent program at www.whsrn.org.

Avocets, Stilts and Peeps on Owens Lake

Tuxedo'd Stilts with their sunburnt legs, Avocets scything the water, and "Peeps" - lots of peeps (small sandpipers)
Photo by Mike Prather

Further shorebird reading:
Wind Birds by Peter Matthiessen
Living on the Wind by Scott Weidensaul
www.shorebirdplan.org

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2014 Owens Lake Spring “Big Day” Bird Count Records Second Highest Total Ever

Reprinted from: www.ladwp.com/ladwp/faces/wcnav_externalId/a-w-laa-owenslake-bigdayrecords

Almost 50,000 shorebirds comprised of 20 different species and an overall total of more than 75,000 birds, the second highest total number of birds ever recorded, were counted during the seventh annual Owens Lake Spring “Big Day” on April 23, 2014. Big Day bird counts have been done annually since 2008. The most birds ever recorded in the Dust Control Project area was 114,155 recorded during the Spring Big Day count in April 2013.

LADWP staff, Eastern Sierra Audubon volunteers, and other agencies recorded all bird species and individuals spotted in the entire 42-square mile Owens Lake Dust Control Project Area. Shorebirds comprised 66% of the overall total of 75,550 birds counted during the census. Waterfowl and diving waterbirds, which are typically found in lower numbers than shorebirds in spring at Owens Lake, totaled 1,520 and 3,793 respectively.

Eastern Sierra Audubon Society Education Committee Chair Mike Prather and LADWP Watershed Resources Specialist Debbie House organized the Spring 2014 Owens Lake Big Day. The 21 participants in the census included eight LADWP staff, nine volunteers, and staff from California Department of Fish and Wildlife and Inyo County Water Department.

Although all bird species are recorded during the surveys, the populations of specific waterbird guilds, including shorebirds, waterfowl and diving waterbirds, are of particular interest to stakeholders. Data from Big Day surveys tracks trends in bird use of the Dust Control Project area, helping guide wildlife habitat management decisions while water conservation efforts are implemented at Owens Lake, and while dust control requirements continue to be met.

The data is also used to refine Owens Lake habitat suitability models developed by the LADWP. Habitat suitability models will be used to monitor changes in habitat availability for waterbird guilds during implementation of the Owens Lake Master Project Concept, a long-term collaborative project with the goal of reducing the water usage for dust control while preserving habitat for shorebirds, waterfowl, and diving waterbirds.

LADWP would like to thank Mike Prather, the Eastern Sierra Audubon Society and all who participated in the census. For information regarding the use of this data, please contact LADWP Watershed Resources Supervisor Jeff Nordin at jeffrey.nordin@ladwp.com or (760) 873-0431.

The results of the census are available here: Owens Lake Spring Big Day Counts Compared (pdf).

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2013 Owens Lake Spring Big Day Report

Birds on Owens Lake, Photo by Michael Prather

Birds on Owens Lake, Photo by Michael Prather

The Owens Lake Spring Day on April 23, 2013 results are in! It is a staggering number. Many thanks to the volunteer birders who came from all over the state and also thanks to Debbie House and her crew of LADWP biologists. We put teams out on the lake all day and are very pleased with the results.

This total of 114,999 birds on the lake in one day is a new high, the previous high being last April of ~75,000.  Of significance is the shorebird  total - 63,524 of 20 different species. Of course the many other species observed are also important and diverse. Results vary from year to year for many reasons so the data over time will give us the most accurate view of this amazing resource. To see the count data for the last 6 years, from 2008-2013, click here(pdf).

Owens Lake certainly has national, if not hemispheric, importance once again as a wildlife stopover. It is Inyo County's largest wildlife location and has tremendous potential for attracting wildlife viewers in fall and spring each year. Good for all of Inyo County, but especially the southern Owens Valley.

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2012 Owens Lake Spring Big Day Report

On April 25th twenty birders (citizen scientists) joined five LADWP staff to census all of the birds at Owens Lake. The Owens Lake Spring Big Day is an annual cooperative project conducted by Eastern Sierra Audubon and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. It gathers data on the number of species and individuals that use Owens Lake each spring for nesting and foraging during migration. A somewhat breezy, but mild day allowed complete coverage of the 40 square mile dust control project and the wetlands around the shoreline of the lake.

2012 was our highest number of individuals counted yet (74,511) with 81 species. Some of the birds shared by surveyors were a Sanderling, 20+ Franklin’s Gulls. Bonaparte Gulls, Peregrine Falcon, thousands of California Gulls, American Avocets and ‘peeps’ (our smaller sandpipers), dozens of Snowy Plovers and Semi-palmated Plovers and 10 American White Pelicans. You may view or download the complete list of birds from 2012 and the previous years (pdf). These numbers demonstrate the enormous return of birds to Owens Lake as a result of the Los Angeles Dust Control Project.

Areas surveyed included all Dust Control Cells, Bartlett/Carroll Creek, Sulfate Well, Cartago Wildlife Area, Cottonwood Marsh, and Dirty Socks. A total of 74,511 birds and 81 species were recorded, including over 47,000 shorebirds of 21 species. The 2012 Big Day count of shorebirds is the highest count of shorebirds recorded at Owens Lake to date since regular lake-wide surveys of the entire dust control project area were first started in 2007.

Data from the Spring Big Day is used in the management of the birds and their habitat at Owens Lake. The Draft Owens Lake Master Plan calls for the continued protection and even enhancement of wildlife habitat and wetlands. Owens Lake will once again support migrating and nesting birds and it will become an important ecotourism attraction that will help our local economy. The Owens Lake Fall Big Day is August 21st. Contact Mike Prather (mprather@lonepinetv.com) to sign up.

Red-necked Phalaropes at Owens Lake

Red-necked Phalaropes at Owens Lake
Photo by Michael Prather

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2011 Owens Lake Spring Big Day Census: 58,589 total birds

The fourth annual Owens Lake Spring Big Day was held on April 19, 2011, under perfect spring-like weather conditions. This year’s event was organized by Mike Prather, Eastern Sierra Audubon Society, and Debbie House, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP), Watershed Resources Specialist. The twenty seven participants included birders from San Diego to Berkeley, as well as locals from Lone Pine to Mammoth Lakes, and five LADWP staff biologists.

The entire 40 square miles of the Owens Lake Dust Control Project and several shoreline spring sites were surveyed. A total of 58,589 birds and 73 species were recorded. Highlights of the count include 18,978 Calidris sandpipers including Least Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper and Dunlin, 8,200 American Avocet, 153 Greater Yellowlegs, 95 Black bellied Plover, and 58 Willet. Of the over 4,900 waterfowl recorded, Gadwall and Ruddy Duck predominated, while three Blue-winged Teal and one Red breasted Merganser were among the “less frequently encountered” waterfowl species recorded for the day. It was a five gull day at Owens Lake, with California Gulls virtually everywhere (23,248 of them tallied), and five Franklin’s Gulls, a dozen Bonaparte’s Gulls, a few-dozen Ring-billed and a couple Herring Gulls thrown into the mix.

LADWP and the Eastern Sierra Audubon Society would like to thank all who participated. The information from lake-wide Big Day counts is being incorporated into LADWP’s growing database of wildlife use of the Owens Lake Dust Control Project, and will be used to help guide management decisions regarding maintaining or improving wildlife habitat, while implementing water conservation efforts and continuing to meet dust control requirements.

Birder at Owens Lake

American Avocets, Owens Lake Big Day, 19 April 2011
Photo by Ali Sheehey

Past years' count data compared

Click here for a pdf of count results for the Spring Big Day at Owens Lake from 2008 through 2014. 2014 Data has been added! Also available as a spreadsheet on request.

Coordinator: Mike Prather 760-876-5807 mprather@lonepinetv.com, Drawer D Lone Pine,CA 93545

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