[Originally appeared in the Sierra Wave newsletter, Vol. 25, No. 5, May-Jun 2007 – click here for original with photos]
One of the most beautiful jewels in Inyo Countys crown is China Ranch, a hidden oasis in the southeast corner of the county near Tecopa and the Amargosa Canyon. The privately owned date farm shares China Ranch Wash with Willow Creek and is an emerald of Fremont cottonwoods, tree and streamside willows, honey and screwbean mesquite, and date palms surrounded by the Mojave Desert. The owners, Brian and Bonnie Brown, have developed the land both as a commercial property and a unique natural history preserve. Interpretive signs explain the history of the canyon and farm and provide information on dates they grow. The Browns encourage everyone who enjoys the outdoors to come to China Ranch; long and short-term scientific studies are welcome. They ask that they be copied on any data collected for their archive. This will allow them to gain a better understanding of the complexity of the biosystem they have chosen to protect and allow them to provide additional information to visitors and researchers.
From a birders perspective, this is a stunning location with a wonderful collection of birds. China Ranch hosts a suite of regular breeders whose range just barely reaches the southeast corner of Inyo County. Least Bells Vireo, an endangered species, still breeds there as well as nearby Amargosa Canyon, West Talc Road and several other nearby locations. While there are isolated reports of non-breeders to the Owens Valley, one should plan a visit to the Ranch between April and early September to see this plain plumaged but personality packed species. The Black-tailed Gnatcatcher is a permanent resident and hides in the mesquite thickets. The Crissal Thrasher sings from the top of trees and shrubs in early spring when easy to see. Later they are seen scooting across the trails or roads disappearing in the dense understory. The Brown-crested Flycatcher is sometimes reported to Owens Valley as a vagrant but is a regular breeder, usually seen in the cottonwoods and willows. The Summer Tanager is another species that is widely reported over the county as a vagrant but is a regular summer visitor to China Ranch. The Yellow-billed Cuckoo has also been found with some regularity in the riparian of China Ranch between June and September. Other widespread species are easily found at China Ranch, such as Gambels
Quail, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Phainopepla, and Lucys Warbler. Then there are the vagrants that are unexpected anywhere in the county that have been found at China Ranch: White-winged Dove, Common Ground-Dove, Least Flycatcher, Eastern Phoebe, Vermilion Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, White-eyed Vireo, Philadelphia Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Gray Catbird, Prothonotary Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Blackpoll Warbler, Pine Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Hooded Warbler, White-throated Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, Le Contes Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Bronzed Cowbird, Baltimore Oriole, Orchard Oriole, and Purple Finch. And this list was garnered with minimal coverage by birders!
Trails reveal the ridges and recesses of the farm and signs explain much of what you will see on trails from a couple hundred yards to four miles long. After a hike, treat yourself to the gift shop where dates, date bread, and the famous date shakes can be purchased. Tables and chairs are just outside where one can enjoy the hummingbirds and orioles that visit the nectar feeders April to September. A B&B is available for those who wish to enjoy China Ranch for longer than a day. This precious gem is priceless and guaranteed to take your breath away! Website: www.chinaranch.com.Tags: crow, dove, finch, flycatcher, gnatcatcher, hummingbird, kingbird, oriole, sparrow, thrasher, thrush, vireo, warbler