Birding in the Winter Wetlands of Central California
A Convenient Getaway for Many Californians
There are vast flat lands in California’s San Joaquin Valley west of Merced, California, where the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service maintains about 45,000 acres of habitat for migrating birds using the north-south Pacific Flyway.
A visitor center north of Los Banos, CA offers guidance on using the nearly 21 miles of one-way auto tour routes through several areas. January and February see tens of thousands of geese and other wildfowl gathering on the many flooded fields.
My husband and I recently visited on a windless, 58-degree day. There were thousands of Ross’s geese and hundreds of greater white-fronted geese and lesser sandhill cranes, as well as many other species of birds and wildlife.
I had not picked up my DSLR in years, but I wanted to return to photography.
The day was overcast and easy on our eyes.
As we continued, we observed many egrets and herons.
Nearly every pond had dozens of coots and many shovelers. The ponds are too shallow for diving ducks.
Aside from the over-wintering waterfowl, black phoebes were busy everywhere; and we saw meadowlarks, loggerhead shrikes, red-winged blackbirds, and savannah sparrows. Can you find the camouflaged sparrow?
We saw many hawks perched high or swooping across an area. We came upon the remains of a recent kill.
The northern pintails were beautiful. The cinnamon teals were harder to photograph.
I got carried away photographing the many beautiful, black-necked stilts with their bubblegum-pink legs.
We found the lesser sandhill cranes avoided human visitors by remaining far from the encircling road. One would need a tripod and long lens to make sharp images of them.
I hope we can return often to enjoy this special wildlife refuge.