Fish Slough is a lush oasis amid an otherwise arid landscape known as the Volcanic Tableland. It is on the southern edge of the Great Basin High Desert Plateau, at the north end of the Owens Valley and about five miles north of Bishop. Less than six inches of rain falls annually on the area, and summer temperatures of 100 degrees Fahrenheit are common. The rain passes easily through the porous surface of volcanic rock and flows underground. The slough (wetland) is created by three natural springs flowing to the surface from this underground water source.
The water that defines the slough is also the key to its varied plant and animal life, including several unique and sensitive species. The slough and surrounding desert totaling 36,000 acres were designated as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) in 1982. The purpose of the designation was to recognize, maintain, and enhance the area's unique resource values.
The unusual geologic features that create the underground water basin, also create a colorful surface landscape with abrupt cliffs and volcanic terraces. The warm hues and pastel tones of these features are striking in the early morning and evening hours. Prehistoric rock carvings, called petroglyphs, are significant human features of the slough.
Picture: Part of the wetlands and surrounding mountains at Fish Slough.
Animals you may see here
- Native Fishes: Endangered Owens pupfish can be seen in a few locations. Spot the two-inch fish by the male's flashy blue-and-silver colors in the breeding season, and by their "start-stop" swimming style. Owens speckled dace are another rare native fish. See Endangered Species in Fish Slough
- Birds: Look in the marsh for cinnamon teal, mallards, pintails, ring-necked ducks, marsh wrens, grasshopper sparrows, ruddy ducks, and gadwalls. Great blue heron, American bittern and northern harrier also use the area. Look year-round for birds of prey such as the northern harrier. Songbirds appear in fall and spring.
- Other wildlife: Raccoon and striped skunk use the marshy area. The surrounding high desert habitat is home for numerous species of wildlife. You might see some of the more common animals such as coyotes, blacktail hares, antelope ground squirrels, gopher snakes, desert spiny lizards, black-throated sparrows, rock wrens and mourning doves.
Viewing tips for this area
- This is important fish habitat! Please do not disturb.
- Wetland vegetation - cattails, sedges, and wiregrass, with some cottonwood or willow trees - provides habitat for many bird species, especially during spring and fall migration.
- The boulders and cliffs of the Fish Slough scarp offer excellent perching and nesting sites for golden eagles, red-tailed hawks, and prairie falcons. The area has one of the highest seasonal densities of raptors in the Owens Valley.
- This is an isolated desert environment with no visitor services. Travelers are advised to be prepared before travelling into this area.
How to get here
From Bishop, take Highway 395 north to the "Y" with Highway 6. Drive north on Highway 6 about 1.5 miles. Turn west on Five Bridges Road and drive about 2.5 miles. Shortly after the sand and gravel plant, turn right at the information kiosk onto Fish Slough Road. Drive one mile, cross a cattle guard, and travel 5.5 miles to the fenced ponds. Marshlands will be on the east side of the road as you drive to the pond.
Size: 400 acres. The Fish Slough Area of Critical Environmental Concern includes the slough and surrounding desert totaling 36,000 acres.
Managed cooperatively by the following:
- The Bureau of Land Management, Bishop Field Office (760) 872-5000 is responsible for the balanced management of public lands and resources in combination that will best serve the needs of the American people.
- The California Department of Fish and Game (760) 872-1171, monitors and recommends management of wildlife populations on public and private lands in California.
- The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, (760) 872-1104 administers land for watershed values, electric power generation, and other multiple uses for the City of Los Angeles.
- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, (916) 978-4866, implements the Endangered Species Act and other federal laws governing wildlife conservation.
- The University of California, Natural Reserve System, (510) 987-0150, manages and makes available natural areas for teaching and research use.
- Also, the Eastern Sierra Chapter of the Audubon Society coordinates a volunteer program to help protect the area's significant resource values.
For more information, contact: The BLM's Bishop Field Office at (760) 872-5000, or one of the other agencies listed above.
Site 62 in the California Wildlife Viewing Guide.
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Watchable Wildlife Sites