WHAT TO EXPECT This large, shallow lake in northern California approximately 70 miles north of Reno is surrounded by agricultural fields and sagebrush steppe. The area is well known for large flocks of migrating geese, swans, and cranes. The northern edge of the lake is bordered by wildlife areas managed by the California Department of Fish and Game, Honey Lake Wildlife Area (530-254-6644). This is a loop trip beginning at the Fleming Unit of the Honey Lake Wildlife Area, 89 miles from the I-80 & US 395 interchange in Reno.
Best time of year: Mid-October to mid-March excellent for raptors and waterfowl. Heavy migration March through late April.
Notable species: Large migrating flocks of Sandhill Crane, White-faced Ibis, Snow and Ross's Geese (check for blue morph), and Tundra Swan fill the sky in spring and fall. Scan the ponds for waterfowl in fall and winter. Check for shorebirds during migration. Wintering raptors include Bald Eagle, Ferruginous Hawk, and Prairie Falcon. Lewis's and Acorn Woodpeckers are locally common in the foothills. Greater Sage-Grouse dwell in sagebrush habitat to the north of the lake.
Precautions: From mid-October to mid-January hunting is permitted every Saturday, Sunday, and Wednesday. On off-days access areas are also closed in order to allow waterfowl to rest. Birding during these times is limited to the headquarters area at the Fleming Unit parking lot and camping area and outside of the gate at the Dakin Unit.
HOW TO GET THERE From the I-80 & US 395 interchange, drive north on US 395 approximately 69 miles to the highway rest stop, a good place for a morning chorus (restrooms). Continue north on US 395 another 2.4 miles and turn right on the road to Alturas, Lassen County Road A3/Standish-Buntingville Road.
From the intersection of US 395 and County Route A3/Standish-Buntingville Road, go approximately 8.5 miles on A3 to the intersection at Standish, where A3 rejoins US 395 (gas, mini-mart, and delicatessen on the left). Turn right (east) on US 395 and go approximately 2.3 miles to Litchfield. (Side Trip A) Continue through Litchfield another 3.5 miles to Mapes Road/County Road 305. Look for the sign to Honey Lake Wildlife Area Fleming Unit and the Wildlife Viewing sign. Turn right (south) on Mapes Road. Drive 1.9 miles, birding along the way, and turn left on Fish and Game Road/County Road 318. Continue 1 mile and turn into the Fleming Unit (restrooms) on the right.
POPULAR BIRDING ROUTE Start the loop at the Fleming Unit, the Wildlife Area headquarters. Check for birding information at the sign-in station. Register your car and continue into the unit to bird. Exit the Fleming Unit by backtracking to the intersection of Fish and Game Road and Mapes Road. Turn left (south) on Mapes Road /County Road 305.
At 2.0 miles Mapes Road meets Capezolli Lane, where Mapes turns sharply left. Continue on Mapes Road another 2.5 miles to the intersection with Galeppi Road/County Road 303, where the pavement ends. The entrance to the Dakin Unit is on the immediate left. Drive into the unit 0.4 mile to the parking lot (restrooms). Register your car at the information sign. Then proceed through the gate and follow the signs to Parking Lot 4 (2.3 miles) to access the wetlands.
To return to Reno, retrace the route to Mapes Road, turn left, and drive 2.8 miles back to County Road A3. Turn left on A3 to return to US 395. Go south (left) on US 395 to Reno (Side Trip B).
OPTIONAL SIDE TRIPS Side Trip A Greater Sage-Grouse lek: The lek is north of Honey Lake off US 395 toward Alturas. Best viewing is from late February to early April. The birds leave the lek within two hours after dawn, so it is best to arrive before dawn. The weather is often bitter, cold, and windy. A scope is recommended, and a high-clearance vehicle is necessary. The road may be muddy and impassable at times. Call Lahontan Audubon Society (775-324-2473) for directions.
Side Trip B Lewis's and Acorn Woodpecker stop: For a special treat on the return trip to Reno, stop at a dirt pullout on the east side of US 395 about 2.9 miles south of the Honey Lake rest stop and at the very end of the passing lane for oncoming traffic. The pullout is in a stand of tall pine trees on the left. Check the trees on the east side of the fence. Lewis's and Acorn Woodpeckers and Mountain Bluebird are often seen in this area.