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STILLWATER NWR: A Century of Drought, Water Demand Doubles Size of Anaho Island NWR
California-Nevada Offices , May 13, 2013
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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff visit Anaho Island NWR regularly to monitor bird nests and populations.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff visit Anaho Island NWR regularly to monitor bird nests and populations. - Photo Credit: (Cindy Sandoval/USFWS)
The island supports one of the largest breeding colonies of American white pelicans in the western United States. In recent years, between 8,000 and 10,000 pelicans have returned to Anaho Island during the spring.
The island supports one of the largest breeding colonies of American white pelicans in the western United States. In recent years, between 8,000 and 10,000 pelicans have returned to Anaho Island during the spring. - Photo Credit: (Cindy Sandoval/USFWS)
The white ring around the refuge shows the decline in water level of Pyramid Lake, Nev.
The white ring around the refuge shows the decline in water level of Pyramid Lake, Nev. - Photo Credit: (Cindy Sandoval/USFWS)

By Cindy Sandoval, Region 8 External Affairs

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) manages over 530 National Wildlife Refuges across the country. Most of the refuges are open to the public to visit and experience America’s plants and wildlife first hand. There are, however, some refuges that are closed to protect wildlife and the habitat they need to survive. One such refuge is Anaho Island National Wildlife Refuge, within the Pyramid Lake Paiute Reservation, Pyramid Lake, Nev.

Founded as a refuge in 1913, the desert shores of Anaho Island see Service staff, the occasional stranded boater, thousands of nesting birds and not much else. Migrating birds choose Anaho Island NWR to rest their weary wings and raise their young away from human disturbance. From April to September visitors to Pyramid Lake can see the refuge off in the distance covered in moving white dots. These dots are thousands of American white pelicans that form one of the species largest nesting colonies in the western United States.

While the pelicans grunt like call is rarely heard, the refuge is a chorus of bird calls and crashing waves. On the island the pelicans are joined by breeding colonies of double crested cormorants, California gulls, great blue herons, Caspian terns, black-crowned night-herons, snowy egrets and many other bird species.

When not protecting their nest the pelicans of Anaho Island are often found at the confluence of Pyramid Lake and the Truckee River. There the birds catch and eat cui-cui and Lahontan cutthroat trout, the two native species found in the lake. Some pelicans leave the lake and catch fish in waters as far as 100 miles away. The returning birds fly in a straight line like a fighter jet formation only inches above the lake surface as they return with food for their chicks.

Service wildlife refuge specialist Donna Withers visits Anaho Island NWR many times a year and knows her way around. She also knows how to sneak around the boulders and sandy shores to not disturb the birds. “The pelicans are large birds but they can be scared away from the nest easily. After a disturbance the adult pelicans may leave the nest, exposing the eggs or young hatchlings to predation," Withers explains in a whisper to not disturb the birds on a recent trip to the island.

When President Woodrow Wilson declared Anaho Island a refuge for colonial nesting birds the island was 247-acres, but after a century of droughts and an increase in water demand the refuge is now more than 500-acres. From across the lake the original shoreline is seen as a sort of bathtub ring around the island, roughly 20 feet above the original shore.

While an increase in refuge size means more habitat for nesting birds, the thought of a land bridge forming makes biologists uneasy. Currently the only predators on the refuge are California gulls, common ravens, gopher snakes and rattlesnakes. Anaho Island NWR can host over 10,000 ground nesting birds because there are no predatory mammals on the island but a land bridge across Pyramid Lake could lead to coyotes and bobcats entering the refuge.

Anaho Island has no trees and most of the vegetation is small shrubs and clumps of desert grass. The isolated nesting birds would have no place to hide eggs or chicks from the influx of predators if they were granted access to the island. At the lakes present level the water depth between the island and the shore is as shallow as 30 feet in some areas.

If the refuge became a peninsula the avian inhabitants would be forced to find another isolated location for their young. Unfortunately, there are not many secluded island breeding grounds to be found in North America which make this refuge even more important to the survival of thousands of colonial nesting birds’ offspring. Service staff at Anaho Island will continue to work with partners like the Paiute tribe to ensure habitat in and around Pyramid Lake is available for fish and birds to not only survive but to thrive.


Anaho Island Photo Set
http://www.flickr.com/photos/usfws_pacificsw/sets/72157626584828992/
Contact Info: Cynthia Sandoval, 916-978-6159, cynthia_d_sandoval@fws.gov



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