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Birding Around Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge
Birding Around Las Vegas, Outside the Las Vegas Valley, Pahranagat Valley
Birding Around Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge
Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge

Description

Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge, administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, covers 5,380 acres along a ten-mile section of Pahranagat Valley. The refuge includes a spring-fed riparian valley corridor with a series of broad, shallow lakes, brushy thickets, bulrush and cattail marshes, native grass meadows, and large cottonwood trees, all of which are surrounded by Mojave Desert scrub. These wetlands in the desert support a great variety of wildlife, and the refuge is an important stopping point for waterfowl and other migratory birds, and it can be a good place for watching dragonflies. Visitors to the refuge can stop at the visitor center to talk with refuge personnel and learn about the area.

Link to map.

Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge
Lots of water and trees in the desert!

The refuge, located in the Pacific Flyway, was established in 1963 to provide and protect riparian habitat for migratory waterfowl and other migratory gamebird species in this arid area. In this respect, the refuge has been great a success, and more than 230 species of birds have been recorded.

Historically, the White River flowed through the Pahranagat Valley, but now the riverbed generally is dry and water in the valley comes from large, thermal springs. Water is captured on the refuge in four main impoundments: North Marsh, Upper Pahranagat Lake, Middle Marsh, and Lower Pahranagat Lake. Maynard Lake, a narrow lake in the canyon at the southern edge of the refuge, occasionally has water during wet years.

Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge
Upper Pahranagat Lake (view S)

Recreational opportunities on the Refuge include birding, wildlife observation, camping, fishing, and hunting. Camping and picnicking are permitted along the east shoreline of Upper Lake. Birders need to realize that this area is hunted and fished.

There are few trails in the refuge, and birding at Lower Lake and Middle Marsh is only from the roads. The access road to these areas gets little use, but use the pullouts and watch for traffic. At North Marsh and Upper Lake, there is good viewing from many of the campsites along the access road. There is also a dike separating North Marsh from Upper Lake where birders can walk out and get views up and down the lake. There is a service road on the dam at the south end of Upper Lake. The service road is a good place to walk out and view the lake, the trees on the far side, and the marsh below the dam.
Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge
Upper Pahranagat area (view S)

Location

The Pahranagat Valley is located about 90 miles northeast of Las Vegas on Highway 93 in Lincoln County.

To get to Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge from Las Vegas, drive north on Interstate 15 to Highway 93. Turn left onto Highway 93, and drive north for 58.2 miles to the southern boundary of the refuge at Maynard Lake (Table 1, Site 700). Continue north past Lower Lake (61.6 miles), Middle Marsh (65.6 miles), and Upper Lake to the turnoff to Upper Lake (69.5 miles), which is just past the lake itself (Site 701). If you are watching the highway signs, this turnoff is 3.7 miles before (south of) Alamo.

Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge
Middle Marsh during late summer (view S)

With a 70-mph speed limit on this 2-lane road, it takes about 1 hour to get to Upper Lake from the Interstate. There are several viewpoints along the highway were you can safely pull off the pavement, park, and look down on the lakes. Each of the lakes has an access road (the old highway) that parallels the main highway. Access to Middle Marsh and Lower Lake is prohibited during some times of year.

Hours

Always open.

Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge
Lower Pahranagat Lake (view S)

Fees

None.

Specialties

Birding is best during the spring and fall migrations when large numbers of songbirds, waterfowl, shorebirds, wading birds, and raptors can be seen. Winter waterfowl birding is good too. Common ducks include Pintail, Cinnamon and Green-wing Teal, Mallard, and Redhead.

Hours  Always open.
Southeast end of Upper Lake (view N)

Coots always seem to be abundant. Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, and White-faced Ibis can be found around the lakes and in the marshes. Black-necked Stilts, American Avocets, Spotted Sandpipers, Wilson's Phalaropes, and other shorebirds are found feeding in shallow water and on the edges of the lakes. Greater Sandhill Cranes can be seen during spring (February and March) and fall (October and November) migrations. Hawks are common during winter, as are Bald and Golden Eagles. During spring and summer, the cottonwood and willow trees provide habitat for nesting warblers, orioles, and flycatchers. Open fields in and around the refuge attract Loggerhead Shrikes, Western Meadowlarks, Mourning Doves, various species of blackbirds, Gambel's quail, Greater Roadrunners, and various species of sparrows. Watch for unusual species too, such as the Reddish Egret seen during September 2004.

pahranagat nwr
Campsite on North Lake (view NW)
Other species of wildlife are common on the refuge. Predators include kit foxes, coyotes, and mountain lions. A variety of rodent species inhabit the refuge. Mule deer are most abundant during winter months. Various species of lizards are common on the refuge; watch for desert spiny lizards, zebra-tail lizards, and western whiptails. If the number of fishermen is any guide, there are many fish in the lake too.
Hours  Always open.
Watch for more than birds in the water!

For More Information

Visit the refuge website, call 775.725.3417, or write the refuge manager at: Refuge Manager; Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge; Box 510; Alamo, NV 89001. Visitors to the refuge can stop at the visitor center, located between Upper Lake and Middle Marsh (watch for signs along the highway) and learn about the area.

A bird list is available online (snatch a PDF copy here), and copies are placed at the visitor center and information kiosks around the refuge.

Pahranagat NWR
The new Pahranagat NWR Visitor Center is open
Pahranagat NWR
Friendly volunteer inside Pahranagat NWR Visitor Center
Pahranagat NWR
Outdoor exhibit at the Pahranagat NWR Visitor Center
Pahranagat NWR
Indoor exhibit at the Pahranagat NWR Visitor Center

Table 1. GPS Coordinates for Highway Locations (NAD27; UTM Zone 11S). Download Highway GPS Waypoints (*.gpx) file.

Site Location UTM Easting UTM Northing Latitude (N) Longitude (W) Elevation (ft) Verified
0442 Lower Pahranagat Lake 670047 4121341 37.22492 115.08332 3,205 Yes
0443 Upper Pahranagat Lake 666221 4129922 37.30292 115.12451 3,334 Yes
0486 Hwy 93 at Pahranagat HQ Rd 667045 4126892 37.27547 115.11591 3,335 Yes
0491 Pahranagat NWR HQ 666693 4126123 37.26860 115.12005 3,304 Yes
0700 Maynard Lake 675178 4117750 37.19162 115.02637 3,130 Yes
0701 Hwy 93 at Upper Lake Rd 665801 4131460 37.31685 115.12891 3,430 Yes
0871 Hwy 93 at Tikaboo Rd 666809 4127433 37.28039 115.11845 3,326 Yes
1527 Hwy 93 at Lower Lake Rd 669712 4121826 37.22935 115.08699 3,202 Yes
1528 Hwy 93 at Middle Lake Road 667683 4125668 37.26433 115.10899 3,287 Yes
1529 Middle Marsh Rd at Dike Trailhead 668243 4123684 37.24635 115.10312 3,213 Yes

Happy birding! All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate.
copyright; Last updated 150313

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