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2019-01-26 Merced National Wildlife Reserve

White-Faced Ibis
Mealtime at the Merced NWR.

After spending the week with my family in Medford, I drove away on Friday, southbound on the I-5. My first stop was in Marysville California to visit a friend I knew from my previous life (before retirement). Gary had since retired too, and he and his wife moved back here two years ago, where they each grew up. When each of us were still working, we always found no shortage of subjects to discuss. Our jobs had plenty of pauses while testing the emergency equipment for the buildings and filling the time with conversations was our modus operandi. For this meeting we had no problem picking up where we left off three years ago.

I needed gas for my RV so I could launch the next leg of the trip in the morning, so Gary and his six-month-old pup jumped in my rig to show me where to gas up. Afterwards he showed me the surrounding area where flooded rice fields hosted flocks of Tundra Swans. Swans are shy birds, and true to their nature all the birds we found were far out from the roadways.

When I left Oregon, my plan was to spend some time at Gray Lodge Wildlife Area, a few miles northwest of Marysville. I’d been there before and always found it one of the better Central Valley reserves for meeting waterfowl and shorebirds. I learned during my visit with Gary that this was the final weekend of the duck hunting season, and there would be gunners out. My plan was to drive to the Merced NWR after Gray Lodge, and I decided to skip the nearby Gray Lodge and drive 2½ hours south to Merced. Later I learned the Gray Lodge gunners would be outside the protected ponds I visit. Oh well!

The Merced National Wildlife Refuge has an Auto Tour loop road where waterfowl and other avian occupants can be viewed I arrived just after noon and took a leisurely drive that stretched into the late afternoon. On completing the loop there was still plenty of light in the day, so I set out on a second tour. By the time I did my second loop, so was I.

I’d visited this reserve in the past and was impressed that most white geese were Ross’s, not the Snow Geese I usually find with a few Ross’s mixed in. That was not the case on this visit. The Ross’s Geese were very scarce. I also had a nice encounter with an American Bittern on my previous visit. I was not so lucky this time out.

Neither was I lucky with the weather. In some situations the gray overcast skies are an asset for good image captures. When subjects can be contrasted against a ‘non-sky’ background, the diffused light can reveal details otherwise disguised by glare or shadows. On this day nearly every image included gray sky or reflections of gray sky. The resulting silhouette phenomenon veiled details in my subjects I’d have liked to of seen better.

Species captures include American Coot, American Pipit, Black-Necked Stilt, Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, California Ground Squirrel, Cinnamon Teal, Great Egret, Long-Billed Curlew, Marsh Wren, Northern Shoveler, Peregrine Falcon, Red-Winged Blackbird, Sandhill Crane, Savannah Sparrow, Snow Geese, Song Sparrow, White-Crowned Sparrow, White-Faced Ibis.

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