This enormous valley parallels the California-Nevada border from Oregon to Lower Alkali Lake, 50 miles to the south. It encompasses three other major seasonal lakes, Upper Alkali Lake, Middle Alkali Lake, and, in the extreme northeastern corner of the state, Cowhead Dry Lake. These wetlands are filled after wet winters by water draining off the eastern slopes of the Warner Mountains. Agricultural fields (mainly alfalfa) and pastureland cover the valley floor west of the lakes, and most of the bird habitat of Surprise Valley is restricted to private lands.

Ornithological Summary

A diverse raptor community (especially important for wintering Rough-legged Hawk, fide J. Sterling) and good numbers of Great Basin species that require wide, open spaces (incl. breeding Long-billed Curlew and Sandhill Crane) characterize Surprise Valley. The cranes, found to represent the second-largest breeding population in the state (14% of the total, fide Ivey and Herziger 2001), are of the Greater race that breeds in the western Great Basin. The seasonal wetlands support a full compliment of wetland breeders scarce on managed wetlands (e.g. abundant Black Tern), including the only California population of (presumably) breeding Yellow Rail near Cowhead Lake north of Ft. Bidwell (MSM). The alkali lakes in the valley floor held the largest Snowy Plover population (hundreds of pairs) in California during a statewide survey in the 1980s (DS), and support thousands of shorebirds each day during spring and fall (Shuford et al., 2002). An unusual urban-breeding population of Vaux's Swift occurs at Ft. Bidwell at the north end of the valley (JS). Though not particularly relevant to its IBA status, Surprise Valley occasionally eastern breeding species with western outposts in the riparian and meadow habitat at the northern end of the valley (e.g. Eastern Kingbird, Least Flycatcher, Bobolink).

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Conservation Issues

Despite its remoteness and due to the reliance of much of the valley's wildlife on private lands, the recent trend of rural subdivision is beginning to reach Surprise Valley, and could pose a significant threat in the coming decades. While agricultural irrigation has the benefit of providing important crops that provide benefits for birds and wildlife, the practices can be adverse to the valley wetlands. The valley has lost significant willow riparian habitat due to grazing and the practices associated with flood control and irrigation ditch management.

Ownership

Most of the bird habitat of Surprise Valley is restricted to private lands.

Habitat

This valley encompasses three other major seasonal lakes, Upper Alkali Lake, Middle Alkali Lake, and, in the extreme northeastern corner of the state, Cowhead Dry Lake. These wetlands are filled after wet winters by water draining off the eastern slopes of the Warner Mountains. Agricultural fields (mainly alfalfa) and pastureland cover the valley floor west of the lakes, and most of the bird habitat of Surprise Valley is restricted to private lands. The vast sagebrush flats of this valley support several known leks of Greater Sage-Grouse (S. Blankenship, via email).