Modoc County is located in the most remote NE corner of California with plenty of interesting topography. Weather conditions vary greatly from season to season and sometimes within the same day. Road conditions also vary with many of the gravel or dirt back roads becoming impassible during inclement weather. Please be advised to prepare for back country conditions when traveling in Modoc County. The Basin and Range Birding Trail follows mostly paved roads with some gravel roads. Some options in the recommended journeys include dirt roads that require high clearance four-wheel drive vehicles. Whenever high clearance vehicles are necessary, that notation will be made. Each journey takes from one half day to a full day depending on how long is spent bird watching at each site.
Journey 1 - Modoc National Wildlife Refuge and Beyond
The Modoc National Wildlife Refuge (Site 1) makes a great first stop, just over a mile from Alturas. The auto loop leads to an information kiosk, walking trail and great, close-up viewing of wetland birds. A stop at the Refuge Visitor Center provides an opportunity to see informative displays. Exploring the Refuge may take as little as a half hour or as much as a half-day.
The next stop at Dorris Reservoir (Site 2) is another portion of the Refuge with open water and water fowl.
Continuing east on Co Rd 56 and then Road 31 goes to Pepperdine Campground (Site 9). The diverse conifer and meadow habitat provides excellent bird watching and a nice camp site. One high clearance vehicle option is to continue on Road 31 to Surprise Valley and onto Road 1. This option requires a Modoc National Forest map as other dirt roads in the area can confuse travelers. The paved road option requires backtracking from Pepperdine Camp to County Road 56. Turn right onto County Road 58 and then right on Hwy 299 to Cedarville.
From Cedarville, go south 9 miles to the Surprise Valley Wildlife Area (Site 6). Exploring the tall sagebrush may result in sighting a Sage Sparrow or raptors.
Return north to Cedarville. If you arrive near lunch or dinner time, local restaurants offer food and refreshment. Lodging is also available in Cedarville and the surrounding area. If you're ready to continue with Journey 1, then head north on Hwy 1 towards Fort Bidwell.
From Fort Bidwell, go east on Road 6 to Fee Reservoir (Site 7). The upland lake and sage habitat offers interesting birding. Backtrack west on Road 6 to a 'Y' that goes northerly on County Road 201.
Travel on County Road 201 3.4 miles toward Big Mud Reservoir (Site 8). A rough, rocky track goes east toward the 'lake.' Walking the half mile to the lake is recommended. Much of the year, the lake appears marshy or dry. Remote upland sage and juniper combine with lake edges for good birding.
Backtrack to Fort Bidwell. If you're nearing the end of the day or need to stay on paved roads, continue south to return to Cedarville and west on Hwy 299. Going north on Hwy 395 takes you to New Pine Creek. If you have over two hours and a high clearance vehicle, then another option is to follow Forest Service Road 2 from Fort Bidwell to New Pine Creek. Be advised that Rd 2 goes through the Warner Mountains gaining and losing elevation quickly. The narrow, single lane road takes as long to negotiate as the longer but paved route. From New Pine Creek, proceed west one mile on Stateline Road to Goose Lake State Park (Site 3). An evening sunset may be punctuated with Pelicans or Grebes.
For a full circle journey, return south to Alturas on Hwy 395. As described, Journey 1 requires at least a half-day and more likely, a full day or more to complete.