I decided that today was a great day to drive down to the Merced National Wildlife Refuge to see what was hanging around there. The temperature looks a bit chilly (31 degrees) but there’s no fog and no rain until later on in the week. My target bird for the day was a reported and well-photographed Eurasian Wigeon a couple of weeks ago.
As I pulled in to the refuge, the first bird that posed for me was a Loggerhead Shrike, sitting on a refuge sign.
These tenacious little predators can take on some pretty large prey, including snakes, insects and even other birds. They have earned the nickname “Butcher Bird” for their habit of impaling their prey on thorns and on the barbs on barbed wire. Their tiny perching feet just don’t compare in grasping efficiency to the other hawks and falcons. I edged a little closer to get a better shot, and as birds often do before taking flight, he let loose a white liquid nitrogenous deposit that is quite visible in this image.
I first learned about this refuge back in college while taking Biology courses at CSU Stanislaus (actually then it was just a college). I would tag along with Wally Tordoff and Dan Williams when they would come out the the refuge and to the greater San Luis Complex to meet up with the staff management and biologists, Gary Zahm and Dennis Woolington. It is one of my favorites to visit as there is no hunting in the vicinity of the auto tour route. It now sports two sets of outhouses (very clean and well maintained) and two observation platforms along its 4 1/2 mile driving route. A quick look at the sun’s position told me I needed to get to the south end of the loop so as to get the best lighting, looking north into the wetlands.
I could see lots of waterfowl way at the back and flying about the middle of the refuge, but there wasn’t much nearby, at first… I took an obligatory shot of the distant geese, because, why not?
I noted more diving ducks than usual at this location; Canvasbacks, Ring-necked Ducks and Bufflehead.
As I looked up ahead to the south observation platform, I saw another stalwart photographer braving the cold morning air.
As I got closer, I took a few shots of American Wigeon, Black-necked Stilt and a pair of Northern Pintail.
I parked at the platform and tried walking quietly up the walkway, hoping to not scare away any birds this guy was photographing. Well, I did pretty much scare everything away and I was feeling kind of bad for the photographer. He was all bundled up for the cold weather with a camo jacket, hood and gloves. He looked kind of familiar, so I asked, “You from around here?” He replied, yes and I knew it was Gary Zahm, the refuge manager I met way back in the early 80s! We chatted a bit and I was glad that the birds started coming back in closer. I took a few shots of the waterfowl and seemed to be getting a lot of BUTT-SHOTS. I guess they call them dabbling ducks for a reason!
BIRD BUTT QUIZ – How many could you ID?
It was a truly beautiful morning with great views of snow on both ranges and lots of geese, ducks and cranes. In fact, the Sandhill Cranes were putting on a jumping contest.
Here’s a few more images of the bountiful wildlife easily observed on this natural oasis. In all I tallied 60 species in 2 1/2 hours of birding. Link to ebird species list.
From the Merced NWR website:
“Wild beasts and birds are by right not the property merely of the people who are alive today, but the property of unknown generations, whose belongings we have no right to squander.”
Theodore Roosevelt — American President, outdoorsman, naturalist, and leader of the early conservation movement.
Gadwall – female
Gadwall – male
Northern Pintail and Gadwall