This IBA refers to four large dry lakes and associated seasonal wetlands between Ridgecrest and Barstow in the northern Mojave Desert: China Lake, Searles Dry Lake, Koehn Dry Lake, and Harper Dry Lake. At China Lake, located within the sprawling China Lake Naval Weapons Center just north of Ridgecrest, most of the birds are associated with several large ponds fed by a wastewater treatment plant. Searles Dry Lake, about 20 miles east near Trona, and Koehn Dry Lake, between here and the town of Mojave, feature several spring-fed wetlands that expand after wet winters, producing lush alkali meadows and vast mudflats. Harper Dry Lake, northwest of Barstow, used to be among the most productive wetlands in the Mojave, but recent (1990s) lowering of the water table for agriculture has all but ruined habitat value there. Other dry lakes in the north Mojave, including Superior (north of Barstow) and Cronese (southwest of Baker) could also be included in this IBA, but their current resources are poorly known at this time.
Avian use of these wetlands is complex and highly variable depending on rainfall. Due to the inaccessibility of large areas of habitat (e.g. marshy borders of lakes prohibit travel), much remains to be learned. This IBA is most quiet in winter, when bird activity is confined to the constructed wetlands at China Lake, which support several hundred waterfowl, including an estimated 500 Snow Geese (Heindel 2000). Beginning in late March, a build-up of migrant waterfowl and shorebirds begins, which can bring thousands of waterbirds into the lakes, notably Eared Grebe, American White Pelican, White-faced Ibis, Cinnamon Teal, along with hundreds of Wilson's and Red-necked Phalaropes. Several species of waterfowl, including Green-winged Teal and Northern Pintail, remain to breed in the wetlands, as do marsh raptors such as Northern Harrier and Short-eared Owl, both probably regular nesters at least at Koehn Dry Lake. Koehn also supports one of the few desert-breeding colonies of Tricolored Blackbird, which, along with the raptors, also utilize the alfalfa fields in the area. Snowy Plover has been documented breeding at Harper Dry Lake (61 adults) and Searles Dry Lake in the 1970s, and likely still breed at Harper (BSSC).
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Naturally-occurring desert wetland habitat is very rare in California, and receives virtually no protection. It is threatened both by lowering of the regional water table in association with agricultural practices, as well as by non-directed recreation such as OHV use. Locally (e.g. Searles Dry Lake), runoff from chemical production supports much of the wetland and wet alkali playa habitat, and the effects of this toxic runoff on the region's avifauna have not been adequately documented. The constructed wetlands at China Lake, while secure for now, could eventually be regarded as a threat to "military preparedness", as has been the case with other wetlands at DoD properties in California (e.g. Edwards AFB; Pt. Mugu NWS).
China Lake is located within the China Lake Naval Weapons Center (DOD).
This IBA refers to four large dry lakes and associated seasonal wetlands. At China Lake, most of the birds are associated with several large ponds fed by a wastewater treatment plant. Searles Dry Lake and Koehn Dry Lake feature several spring-fed wetlands that expand after wet winters, producing lush alkali meadows and vast mudflats. Harper Dry Lake used to be among the most productive wetlands in the Mojave, but recent (1990s) lowering of the water table for agriculture has all but ruined habitat value there.