Honey Lake is one of the largest of several large natural alkali lakes of the Great Basin (remnants of ancient Lahontan Lake), lying just inside the California-Nevada border about 70 miles north of Reno, Nevada. The ownership of the lake and surrounding valley is complex, with the Sierra Army Depot (DoD) dominating the eastern end of the lake, and the 8000-acre Honey Lake Wildlife Area (State of California) at the northwestern end. On the south, the Jay Dow, Sr. Wetlands (private) protect about 1500 acres of wetlands in large impoundments. Several private holdings, mainly dedicated to alfalfa production, are found along Hwy. 395, beyond which lie the heavily-forested Diamond Mountains, essentially a spur of the Sierra Nevada. The broad sagebrush ocean of the western Great Basin extends to the north and east. Major bird habitats of the Honey Lake Valley include the vast alkali mudflats around the margins of the lake; grassland and sagebrush flats; and extensive constructed wetlands (impoundments) on the wildlife area and within the Jay Dow, Sr. Wetlands. Lake Leavitt, just to the northwest, is a 2500-acre natural depression that supports wetland and riparian (willow thicket) habitat, managed by the local irrigation district with assistance from DFG (F. Hall, pers. comm.). Other riparian habitats are limited to scrub associated with the Susan River in the north, and large rock outcrops are found in the Diamond Mtns. to the west.

Updated December 2008

Ornithological Summary

The Honey Lake Valley is situated along a major transition area between the Sierra Nevada and the Great Basin, and supports a very high diversity of breeding species. Huge numbers of waterfowl and shorebirds utilize the wetlands from spring through fall, including breeding Snowy Plover, which maintained one of its largest nesting aggregations in California here (200+ birds) during the 1970s (Page and Stenzel 1981). Together with Goose Lake in Modoc Co. and Oregon's Summer and Abert Lakes, Honey Lake comprises one of major natural wetland complexes of the western Great Basin, sharing 300,000 shorebirds (that commute among the four sites), based on recent surveys in spring and fall (Warnock et al. 1998). Interior species such as American Avocet and Wilson's Phalarope are particularly numerous, and are joined in summer by large numbers (1000+ pr.) of breeding California and Ring-billed gulls (Shuford and Ryan 2000), as well as one of three large Caspian Tern colonies in northeastern California (Shuford 1998). The Honey Lake shoreline supports a handful of overwintering Mountain Plover. However, much of the shoreline is inaccessible, thus these few records hint at the possibility for a larger winter presence of this species. (T. Manolis per email) Hartson Reservoir was identified by Shuford (1998) as a key site for the reestablishment of a breeding population of the widely-extirpated American White Pelican in California, which last bred in the 1970s. Leavitt Lake has supported one of the largest White-faced Ibis colonies in northern California, with up to 1000 pr. in recent years (D. Shuford, pers. comm.). Greater Sage-Grouse have maintained a traditional lek just northeast of Honey Lake in the Amadee Hills/Skedaddle Mountains (W. Broadhead, via email). This area is tremendously important for raptors year round. A breeding population of Long-eared Owls occurs here, nesting under sagebrush (BD), and a colony of Burrowing Owl persists on the Sierra Army Depot (W. Broadhead, via email).

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Conservation Issues

Honey Lake itself is dependent on rain and snowmelt flowing into the Susan River, and during dry years, it shrinks considerably. Many of the productive wetlands rimming the lake are dependent on increasingly expensive water piped out of the Susan River, and compete with agricultural uses (e.g. alfalfa) in the region. During droughts, the amount of wetland habitat is reduced considerably, and land that would be islands become connected to land, allowing predators access. Although Honey Lake is still remote, increasing numbers of second homes are being constructed along Hwy. 395 as Susanville's popularity as a vacation destination increases.

Ownership

The ownership of the lake and surrounding valley is complex, with the Sierra Army Depot (DoD) dominating the eastern end of the lake, and the 8000-acre Honey Lake Wildlife Area (State of California) at the northwestern end. On the south, the Jay Dow, Sr. Wetlands (private) protect about 1500 acres of wetlands in large impoundments. Several private holdings, mainly dedicated to alfalfa production, are found along Hwy. 395.

Habitat

Major bird habitats of the Honey Lake Valley include the vast alkali mudflats around the margins of the lake; grassland and sagebrush flats; and extensive constructed wetlands (impoundments) on the wildlife area and within the Jay Dow, Sr. Wetlands. Lake Leavitt, just to the northwest, is a 2500-acre natural depression that supports wetland and riparian (willow thicket) habitat, managed by the local irrigation district with assistance from DFG (F. Hall, pers. comm.). Other riparian habitats are limited to scrub associated with the Susan River in the north, and large rock outcrops are found in the Diamond Mtns. to the west.

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