Monday, February 20, 2023

Merced Federal Wildlife Refuge

Our bird-nerd holiday weekend adventure.  My friend Kim recommended this place; otherwise I am not sure I would have known of it.  However, in researching, I learned that it is part of a series of wildlife refuges in California's huge central valley, designed both for the wildlife and to provide nature breaks for those traveling long distances.  

I am always fascinated by California's really remote spots and this was exactly that - smack in the middle of Hwy 5 and 99, accessible by nearly empty two-lane roads through vast fields.  We saw a trio of white pelicans in an agricultural canal when we were en route, got out of the car to see them better, and had nearly no traffic pass us in the ten-minute stop.  There were a few more people when we got to the Refuge, but not very many, especially remarkable on a holiday weekend.  Hunters are allowed in parts of the Refuge and we could hear gunshots occasionally.  The birds were there in massive quantities - hundreds of thousands?  Millions?  Hard to say.  The Refuge is structured almost like a driving safari, with a five-mile dirt road in a one-way loop.  We saw Sandhill Cranes, which I'd never seen before - spectacular huge gray birds with red crowns.  The mallards seemed to be in an eternal Valentine's celebration, with gorgeous, bright couples everywhere.  My favorite is the bright yellow Meadowlark, or maybe the "commotions" of coots we saw - they seem like silly birds, somehow.   Or the elegant Avocets!  Hard to pick.

Unusual day for us and thus a fun adventure.  Even the sky was amazing, both with teams of birds close to the ground (geese and cranes and maybe more) and with the vast numbers of them flying in merging formations high above the Refuge. Wow!  When we came home, K and I watched Hitchcock's "The Birds," which I'd never seen before.  Technically, it is a horror movie and thus my first.  Glad I saw it afterward!