In recent times, an autumn season birding venture at the Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge has become a hit or miss proposition. Much of this is due to negative changes in environmental conditions throughout the west. Two years in a row of rampant California forest fire seasons have overwhelmed the Great Basin with thick smoke, which inhibits inherent mass bird migrations. The lack of available water along migratory pathways because of extreme drought conditions is a major factor too. What this all means is in places where the autumn season Great Basin birding has usually been reliable in the past, a visitor will have to be a bit more patient when seeking to capture images of specific bird species, especially at Pahranagat.
The severe drought conditions out west also mean mean that there will be less cloud cover, which is not exactly ideal for serious bird photographers. This is especially true at Pahranagat, because the Paiute name of this place loosely translates to "shining waters" or something of that nature. The spring fed lakes at Pahranagat certainly do glisten brightly on a sunny day. The blazing glare is like a nightmare when trying to adjust a digital camera to capture a good image of egrets or white pelicans, because the white highlights will likely be blown out anywhere close to normal settings. The bright shining waters also wreak havoc on wading heron photos, so planning on starting a day of birding before sunrise is best to do. Alternately, taking a break from the bird photography till almost sundown will be necessary too, but fortunately there are ghost towns and ancient petroglyph sites in the local area that will make the venture more fulfilling.
Patience certainly is a virtue when birding in desert wildlife refuges and some years are better than others, so it is best to never give up hope. Lakeside camping is allowed at Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge and the cel phone data signal is strong in this area, so catching up on communications can help fill in the time between the sunrise and sundown birding sessions. There are three big lakes on site with nature trails to explore, so even if the birding is temporarily a dud due to adverse environmental conditions a visit at Pahranagat will still be a pleasant experience!
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