Folks from Audubon California once again joined volunteers from Eastern Sierra Audubon and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) at the Owens Lake Important Bird Area this August to count birds. This is part of an annual one-day effort each spring and fall to count all the birds on the lake, both breeding and migrating. The data provides us with an important measure of how birds are responding to the habitat that has been created as a result of LA DWP’s rewatering of the lake. Temperatures can soar this time of year in the Eastern Sierra, and this year was no exception.
LADWP warned us that water level lakes were low this year so the count would not take too long. The low water level was a result of it being the dry season, a pipe broke, and LADWP needed some areas drier to obain aerial radar imagery of the lake’s surface to help guide future management efforts. This is also the time of year that lakes naturally recede in the desert, and the exposed mudflats provide important food and habitat for shorebirds along the pacifc flyway.
However, LA DWP has just turned back on the pipes and the lake is starting to fill – in preparation for the dust season this fall. It turns out this corresponds with bird migration as well. Mother nature was also helping out – as we counted birds, clouds gathered over the high sierras, bringing moisture from the Gulf which dropped onto Owens Valley that evening –bringing welcome relief I am sure to the valley.
While continually amazed by the numbers of birds at the lake (we are still awaiting the final tally by LA DWP), I am also intrigued by the individual bird. Watching a Western Sandpiper I wonder if it was the same bird I saw in the spring? These birds nest in the high arctic and winter all the way into Panama and beyond. Where did this bird go, did it raise young this year, and has it now engraved in its brain that Owens Lake is a critical stop on the pacific flyway both spring and fall?