A visit to Merced National Wildlife Refuge
Sanhill cranes, Sunrise I spent the last two days of 2013 exploring the Merced National Wildlife Refuge in San Joaquin valley, central California, about 2.5 hours of drive from Palo Alto. Winter is a peak migration time and the preserve has very good numbers of Lesser Sandhill Cranes, Ross's Geese, Snow Geese apart from the usual waterfowl and shorebirds.
After reaching the preserve on the evening of 30th December, I drove couple of times on the auto tour route. Somehow our avian friends are much less afraid of a car than allowing a closer look sometimes (car acts as a blind). I saw a pair of red-tailed hawks courting, white faced ibis apart from the commonly observed Blacked-necked Stilts, Northern Shovelers, Cinnamon Teals, Mallards etc. The sunset was beautiful and it was fun to watch a host of sand-hill cranes, flying in beautiful patterns, silhouetted against a colorful sky. A good place to photograph the sunset is from the observation desk near the Marsh Bittern trailhead. At my way out, I ran into a ranger and inquired about Snow Geese and got reassured that in the morning, I will be able to see some. Both Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese roost in ponds at night and fly out early morning (snow geese a bit later than the cranes). So the best time to catch them is at dawn and so there I was at 6:45 am on the morning of 31st December.
Sunrise was absolutely gorgeous (one of the best I have seen in 2013) and I was among 2 more photographers in the refuge that morning. The geese were mysteriously less in number (a ranger told me later that due to very dry conditions, they are more scattered this year) and I was not able to witness the amazing spectacle of thousands of them taking off at once. Work permitting, this will serve as a good motivation to visit the refuge again this winter (there is always hope). For now, let me share some photos, from this trip.
(Tip: hover the mouse on the images to enable captions)
Dawn reflections on 31st December 2013
Sanhill Cranes, Sunset
Snow geese flying in formation Take off, Snow geese
White Faced Ibis Red-tailed Hawk
American coot at sunset
Great Blue Heron flying over the landscape
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