Owens Lake

Owens Lake

Owens Lake

Mike Prather, Board Member

“We work for the young ones that follow us. It matters. Simple as that.”


“A feathered current flowing north and south,” I whispered while looking through my spotting scope during this year’s Owens Lake Bird Festival. Once again thousands of shorebirds and waterfowl migrated through Owens Lake as they do each spring and fall: a California wildlife heritage that was lost has returned. As they fly marathon distances from as far away as South America and the Arctic, the awe of seeing these birds is overwhelming. They pause at Owens Lake for rest and to put on fat because the next leg of their journey north or south will stretch hundreds, if not thousands of miles. They will fly it non-stop.

Flocks of thousands of American avocets and sandpipers can be seen feeding on the lakebed or wheeling through the sky. Birds of prey can sometimes be seen flashing among the flocks looking for a meal. Friends of the Inyo members partner with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and conduct Big Day bird counts every April and August. LADWP biologist Debbie House, while leading one of the Owens Lake Bird Festival tours, said, “Our highest single day total was 115,000 birds in 2013! That is amazing. Just like the old days.”

Owens Lake is an Audubon Important Bird Area of global importance owing to the large number of migrating birds and high number of snowy plovers, a Species of Special Concern in California. Set in the southern Owens Valley at 3,600 feet near Lone Pine, the lake is framed by the 14,000-foot Mount Whitney Crest to the west and the 11,000-foot Inyo Mountains to the east. This is a world-class landscape on the western edge of the Intermountain West. This year, Friends of the Inyo’s Stewardship Crew help build a section of the Alabama Hills Trail connecting Lone Pine to Whitney Portal.

I’m joined by my two year old granddaughter Kestrel, my “tiny falcon.” We both have binoculars and count carefully as high as ten sandpipers at a time: the third generation of my family working together at Owens Lake and many other wild places. I live in Lone Pine, am a member of the Friends of Inyo board, and have worked on wildlife, water, and land issues here in the Eastern Sierra for over 30 years. We defend the things we love and we work for the young ones that follow us. It matters. Simple as that.

*Photos courtesy of: Ben Wickham, Tom Knudson, and Mike Prather.