|November 2015, A cloud of Snow Geese|
Date: November 24, 2018
Place: Merced National Wildlife Refuge, Merced, California
Address: 7430 W. Sandy Marsh Rd. Merced
Length: all three foot trail loops are under a mile and very easy. The car tour route is about 3 miles long, and is a one way loop.
Once Upon A Time the California Central Valley was a rich wetland teeming with wildlife and a home to countless birds that would darken the sky when taking to the air. It was the winter home of many migrant species that flew over from the North. It was as also the home and hunting grounds of the local Native California people.
Modern settlement changed all that. Seen as useless swamps, the wetlands were eliminated. The rivers flowing down from the mountains were dammed, the let through water was trained into s system of canals, and the rich peat soil drained and made arable. The Native people were removed or killed, and the animals hunted, some extinction. Within a few decades of modern human activity all the richness and splendor of the California Central Valley was gone forever.
Ironically, the first wildlife refuge areas in the Valley were preserved by the hunters clubs. Now there is more awareness of the need for preservation and the National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) system, as well as the State's preserves are maintaining a life line for wildlife in the Valley and a place for migratory birds to be in winter.
|Long-billed Curlew, 2016|
The Merced NWR does not have its own visitor center. There's a parking lot at the refuge's entrance, and an observation deck looking out over a flooded pond of shallow water and wetland vegetation. Naturally, this observation deck is the first place we go to when visiting the refuge.
|View from the observation deck at the refuge's entrance. 2015|
|American Coot, 2015|
|Wilson's Snipe, 2018|
The weeds were brown or green depending on the rainfall up to the time of our visit, but the trees were all turning leaf or completely bare by them.
|Meadowlark Trail, 2016|
|Kestrel Trail, 2016|
|Yellow-rumped Warbler, 2016|
|White-crowned Sparrow (left) and Black Phoebe (right). 2018|
|Say's Phoebe, 2018|
|White-faced Ibis, 2016|
|Belted Kingfisher, 2014|
|American White Pelican, 2015|
|Northern Mockingbird, 2016|
|Sierra Nevada, 2016|
|White-fronted Geese, 2016|
|Virginia Rail, 2015|
|Great Egret, 2016|
|Red-shouldered Hawk, 2018|
|Red-tailed Hawk, 2015|
Ross's Goose, 2016
|Cottonwood Trail, 2018|
|Loggerhead Shrike, 2014|
|Great-horned Owl, 2018|
Cranes feed in the harvested corn fields but they come to the flooded fields of the refuge to roost for the night where, standing in the water they are protected from land predators. We first saw this fly-in at the Sandhill Crane Festival in Lodi, and went back there several times to see it. This was the first time we've seen it in the Merced NWR.
Flock after flock they arrived, calling each other in loud voices. The darkening sky was full of movement and the air was vibrating with the crane calls. I took leave of my younger chika and went up to the observation deck, and I watched this magnificent sight of hundreds of cranes coming down for their night sleep.
|Crane Fly-in, 2018|