Thursday, November 13, 2014

A Bird Watching Day

Last Sunday my daughter and I drove over the hills to the Los Banos area in the Central Valley of California.  There is a network of managed wetlands which, this time of year, is usually populated by migrating birds.  We had been wondering how our prolonged drought was affecting these wetlands.  The Central Valley used to have vast areas of wetland but over the years these have been drained for agricultural use.  

We visited Merced Wildlife Refuge and the San Luis area.  Before going, I had read on their website that they were receiving 50% or less of their usual water allotment.  Obviously this has a major impact on how much land can be flooded for the incoming birds.  Still I was unprepared for seeing how much land is dry this year compared to previous years.  

This is what greeted us.  This would normally be under a few inches of water as far as you can see.  It should look like this....

This is a different part of the Reserve which is flooded this year.  Here there are white pelicans, egrets and lots of shoveler and coot.  Below is an incoming pelican.

This is a beautiful ibis flying.  Sometimes they just look black, but catch them in the light and they are spectacular.  

These are lesser sandhill cranes.  This area has the largest gathering of cranes in the Pacific Flyway, approximately 20,000!  We didn't see any of their dancing behavior but enjoyed listening to them and watching skeins of them flying in.  

We also visited the Visitors Center at San Luis which was informative.  We chatted to a Ranger and drove their auto trail.  You can read a little more about the Reserve here.  We definitely noticed less variety of ducks this year and fewer cranes (but the cranes may just have been in other fields).  We also didn't see the number of snow geese that we usually see.  It was still an awesome day out though, filled with amazing birds and in our whole day there we probably only saw two other cars on the auto trails!

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