The parade of RVs along California’s I-8, towing every configuration of OHV imaginable between Southern CA and the Imperial Sand Dune Recreation Area, miss – or intentionally pass – tiny Finney Lake, which is used mostly by local fishermen. It’s easy to pass it by en route to your destination, but it would be your loss. It has two of the ingredients that are difficult to find anywhere: a bird refuge in the desert that has free lakeshore camping.
A few miles north of the farm belt town of Brawley, Finney Lake is a stopover on the Pacific Flyway for migratory birds and an ideal and protected habitat for nesting birds. Non-motorized boats for fishing or birdwatching can be launched from lakeshore campsites or from the boat launch. An adjacent pond (off-limits during nesting season) has crags and snags crammed full of Great and Snowy Egrets, Great Blue Herons, and a scattering of Cattle Egrets and Cormorants like ornaments on a needle-less Christmas tree.
Around the lake raucous Yellow-headed and Red-winged Blackbirds vie for the best spots, shy Soras poke through the shoreline reeds, Northern Shovelers, American Coots, and Green-winged Teals feed on the lake’s delectable water plants and long strings of White-faced Ibis fly in at dusk to their favorite sleeping place.
There are a few miles of level dikes to walk, bike, and bird watch and a public dump station and water fill are within a quarter mile – and it’s all free. Just sign in, kick back in your camp chair, and spend your time adding to your bird list and enjoying the sunsets.