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Memories of June Lake

Western Wood-Pewee - Contopus sordidulusThe Eastern Sierra District, as some call it, is a wondrous region. It stretches over 150 miles from Bridgeport to a few miles south of Lone pine. I see it as comprising two sections; one is low and the other high. The lower elevation section is between Lone Pine and Bishop, where elevations vary between 3700’ to 4200’. The higher elevation section is between Lake Crowley and Bridgeport, where elevations vary from 6500’ to over 8000’. June Lake is midway in this high section, and only 12 miles from Lee Vining (Mono Lake) in the north, and 12 miles from Mammoth Lakes to the south. The region is rich with promising birding locations.

The first time I chased birds at June Lake was August 2014. Friends had bought a “cabin” outside of town and invited me for a visit. I’d passed through the area before, but nearby Mono Lake seemed to have a stronger pull and I let June Lake pass by. But on that August visit I took the time to explore and hunt for birds here.

The “June Lake Loop” begins a few miles from US-395 just north of Mammoth Lakes. The loop road follows a glacier carved valley and a string of natural lakes. Starting with June Lake at the upper end of “Reversed Creek”, the stream flows west into Gull Lake and later into Rush Creek. Silver Lake is the last natural lake on this stream, but the man-made Grant Lake is the final impediment to the free flow of Rush Creek’s waters into Mono Lake. The confusing geography, with Reversed Creek flowing towards the steep slopes of the Sierra-Nevada Mountains and not away, stems from the prominence of Reversed Peak, which causes the flow of water to circle in a clockwise path before draining out of the valley in Rush Creek. Studies show that glaciers were blocked from moving by Reversed Peak until the Sierra glaciers moved down Rush Creek and the Reversed glaciers could follow.

The best bird encounters I’ve had here have been at the “top” of June Lake, where sage meets the eastern lake shore. The beach here is accessed from the June Lake Loop road (CA-158) via Oh Ridge Road, one mile west from US-395. Drive north on this road and follow the signs to the Oh Ridge Camping facility and go past the campgrounds to reach the beach. Bird encounters can be variable, depending on migrations and the breeding period.

From the beach I heard Clark’s Nutcrackers across the lake, so I drove a mile and a half to the rocky prominence at the northwestern shore above the lake and met the nutcrackers, along with warblers and jays. Nutcrackers are the gypsies of these woods and wander far looking for food, so they may be anywhere in the area that satisfies their need to feed.

Another nearby spot is a burned area 0.6 miles north June Lake Junction on US-395, but the highway is divided, and requires a drive 2.35 miles further north to West Portal Road to cross over the divided road to southbound US-395 and park at a pullout 0.63 miles south. Here you may find various woodpeckers, sparrows, towhees and thrashers. Your mileage may vary with the season, but the surrounding countryside will not disappoint.

The gallery below shows a sample of the encounters you might expect.

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