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Birding Around Key Pittman Wildlife Management Area
Birding Around Las Vegas, Outside the Las Vegas Valley, Pahranagat Valley
Birding Around Key Pittman Wildlife Management Area
Key Pittman Wildlife Management Area
South end of Nesbitt Lake (view S)

Description

Key Pittman Wildlife Management Area includes two small lakes near the town of Hiko. The town and the lakes are located in a broad valley with mountain ranges on both sides. In the bottom of the valley, farmers use spring water to maintain fields that attract a variety of waterfowl, shorebirds, cranes, hawks, and other birds. Beyond the farm fields, the desert rises gradually to the west and more abruptly to the east. The desert vegetation is composed largely of saltbush, blackbrush, desert thorn, with some yucca and a bit of cactus mixed in. This is the edge of the Great Basin Desert, so vegetation common just a few miles to the south (e.g., creosote bush and Joshua trees) is rare or absent here.

Link to map.

Birding Key Pittman Wildlife Management Area
Nesbitt Lake dam (view E)

Key Pittman is a Nevada State Wildlife Management Area, which means that it is managed for hunting. If you visit during hunting season, be careful and read the signs before entering. The area may be closed to non-hunters during hunts.

Nesbitt Lake, the northern of the two lakes, is a broad, moderately deep lake with open water all year. There are cottonwood trees on the south end, shrub and willow thickets on the southwest side, and an extensive marshy area at the northern end. Most of the edge of the lake is bordered by cattail and reeds. Vegetation from the surrounding desert (e.g., saltbush, desert thorn, and rabbitbrush) grows down to the water in some places. Trees are also starting to grow along the east side of the lake.

Key Pittman Wildlife Management Area
East side of Nesbitt Lake (view S)

A good dirt road runs across Nesbitt Lake Dam (actually a low dike) at the south end of the lake. The road then runs north along the east side of the lake to a gate. During the breeding season (February to August), the gate is locked and access to the marshy area beyond is prohibited. I've never been here when the area was open. Restroom facilities are available along the access road on the southwest corner of Nesbitt Lake.

Frenchy Lake, the southern lake, is broad and very shallow, with open water only during some years. When it is wet, an extensive marsh surrounds almost the entire lake. A road from the south runs up along the east side of the lake, providing access to the water and views of the islands, plus access to the cottonwood grove at the northeast corner of the lake.

Key Pittman Wildlife Management Area
Northern end of Nesbitt Lake (view W)

Location

Key Pittman is located in the Pahranagat Valley, about 110 miles north of Las Vegas.

From town, drive north on Interstate 15 to US Highway 93. Turn left onto Highway 93 and drive north past the towns of Alamo (95 miles) and Ash Spring (102 miles) to the intersection of Highways 93 and 318 (107 miles) (Table 1, Site 677).

Key Pittman Wildlife Management Area
East side of Nesbitt Lake (view N)
Nesbitt Lake Unit. From the intersection of Highways 93 and 318, drive north on Highway 318 for a couple of miles. Access Nesbitt Lake from Highway 318, just south of Hiko (Site 678), but just north of the Hiko Post Office. Watch for a wide dirt parking area on the east side of the road with "Wildlife Management Area" signs. The gate is always closed, but open the gate, drive in, and close the gate behind you. Drive down the dirt road to the dam (Site 679), then drive or walk the road on the east side of the lake. You can also walk up behind the willow thickets on the southwest corner of the lake. The outhouse is near the entrance gate.
Key Pittman Wildlife Management Area
Frenchy Lake (view SE)
Frenchy Lake Unit. From the intersection of Highways 93 and 318, drive north on Highway 318 for about a half-mile. Access Frenchy Lake from Highway 318, just west of Highway 95 (Site 680). Watch for a wide gravel area on the north side of the road with Wildlife Management Area signs. Drive north on the dirt road to another parking area with more signs, an outhouse, and a closed gate (Site 681). If the gate is unlocked, open the gate, drive in, and close the gate behind you. Drive up to the southeast corner of the lake, and then continue northward along the east side of the lake to a parking area behind the grove of cottonwood trees (Site 636). The road loops around the north side of the lake, but it is washed out and impassable for vehicles. The road to the cottonwood grove is a bit rough, but it should be suitable for a sedan if the road is dry. Use your own good judgment.
Key Pittman Wildlife Management Area
Marsh at the NE corner of Frenchy Lake (view SW)

Hours

The Wildlife Management Area is always open, but it probably should be considered day-use only. There are "no camping" and "no fires" signs at the entrance to both lakes.

Fees

None.

Birding Key Pittman Wildlife Management Area
Frenchy Lake (view E)

Specialties

Surrounded by seemingly endless miles of dry desert terrain, these lakes provide habitat for waterfowl, wading birds, shorebirds, pelicans, cranes, hawks, and even elk. During migration, watch for swallows, nighthawks, flycatchers, and warblers. During summer, the willow thickets on the west side of Nesbitt Lake are said to provide nesting sites for Western Willow Flycatchers and Yellow-billed Cuckoos. Turkey Vultures roost in the cottonwood trees along Nesbitt Dam, and on summer evenings you can watch dozens of them flying in to roost.

Be sure to bring a spotting scope.

Table 1. Highway Coordinates based on GPS Data (NAD27; UTM Zone 11S). Download Highway GPS Waypoints (*.gpx) file.

Site Location UTM Easting UTM Northing Latitude (N) Longitude (W) Elevation (ft) Verified
0681 Frenchy Lake gate 656960 4155236 37.53260 115.22358 3,810 Yes
0680 Frenchy Lake entrance 656943 4155004 37.53051 115.22383 3,810 Yes
0679 Nesbitt Lake dam 656766 4158640 37.56330 115.22505 3,830 Yes
0678 Nesbitt Lake entrance 656407 4158601 37.56301 115.22912 3,846 Yes
0677 Hwy 93 at Hwy 318 657363 4154834 37.52891 115.21911 3,831 Yes
0676 Hwy 318 at Hwy 375 656355 4155179 37.53219 115.23044 3,800 Yes
0636 Frenchy Lake NE corner 657276 4156569 37.54455 115.21972 3,790 Yes
0441 Crystal Spring 656162 4155128 37.53176 115.23263 3,819 Yes
0440 Nesbitt Lake 657169 4159591 37.57180 115.22028 3,840 Yes

Happy birding! All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate.
© 2014 Jim Boone; Last updated 140313

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