|Many Elks and Huge Number of Wintering Snow Geese
in San Joaquin Valley
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這些國家生態保護區 位於候鳥遷徙越冬的 Pacific Flyway 太平洋遷飛路線，冬季濕地茂
Huge number of snow geese on a huge grassland area next to Merced National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) located
at 7430 W Sandy Mush Rd, Merced, CA 95341 in San Joaquin Valley in California.
On January 24, 2018, we came to tour Merced NWR and San Luis NWR in San Joaquin Valley in California to
see huge number of migratory birds, such as snow geese, wintering in these NWRs.
In other seasons, these snow geese are in their breeding ground in arctic tundra in northern Canada. In winter
season when the arctic tundra is frozen, these snow geese migrate south to their wintering grounds such as
Merced NWR in California. So, winter season is the best time to see huge number of such migratory birds in
action in these NWRs in California Central Valley including San Joaquin Valley.
Another benefit of bird watching in winter season in NWRs is that there is no mosquitoes to bother bird
watchers in the cold winter season. (In other seasons, the wetlands in NWRs tend to have lots of mosquitoes
and other bugs that can be troublesome for bird watchers.)
Some more snow geese in the air coming to join the huge group on the grassland area.
Beside snow geese, there are also many other kinds of birds and ducks in Merced NWR and San Luis NWR,
(such as Red-tailed Hawk, American Coots, Great Egrets, Blue Heron, Snow Geese, Nortern Pintail, Black
necked Stilts, American Avocet, Mallards, Northern Shovelers, American Wigeons, Greater White-Fronted
Geese, Kestrels, Owls, etc.)
If you are taking a long and boring drive on Interstate Highway 5 between San Francisco and Los Angeles in
winter season, this is one area where you can stop for a short detour to enjoy nature at its best. Winter
Wonderland! If you love nature, come here! Awesome! Enjoy golden sunset view from the observation
Platform with everything mirrored in the ponds. Birds and ducks everywhere! So much to see...keep your
eyes open. This is the place to slow down, to soak it in, and to enjoy.
But if you come here on a hot summer day when all the ponds are dry up, you may be the only one here, no
geese, no ducks and no other people.
There are many Tule Elks (麋鹿) in San Luis NWR located at 7376 S Wolfsen Rd, Los Banos, CA 93635 in
San Joaquin Valley. San Luis NWR has a 5-mile Tule Elk Auto Tour Loop (觀景環狀道路) for visitors to drive
their own cars, to remain in their cars as "blind" to watch and to photograph many elks. Interpretive panels
along the Tule Elk Auto Tour Loop tell the story of Tule Elks in California.
Magnificent Bull Elks with huge racks of antlers. They were often more than 100 yards away from the auto tour
loop. I had to use 65X optical zoom of my compact super-zoom camera to zoom in to get such pictures. Bring
your highest power binoculars, spotting scope, or longest telephoto lens.
There is an observation platform with a telescope along the Tule Elk Auto Tour Loop. But when we were on
that observation platform, there were no elks in sight as viewed from that platform.
More bull elks in San Luis NWR.
There are also some female elks with no antlers.
Merced NWR is supposed to have thousands of red crowned sandhill cranes (丹頂沙丘鶴) in the winter
season as shown in the following YouTube websites:
This is the largest wintering populations of lesser sandhill cranes and Ross' geese along the Pacific Flyway.
But we did not see any sandhill cranes in Merced NWR in this trip. We waited until sunset time, but still did not
see any sandhill cranes in this NWR.
On the other hand, in the winter of 2015, we did see many Sandhill cranes wintering in Isenberg Crane
Reserve near Lodi in San Joaquin Valley as shown on my web page at:
When we were driving on Highway 152 on our way going to San Luis NWR, we were happily surprised to see
this beautiful San Luis Reservoir with fog in the background. We also saw some elks in this area.
One of several hawks seen in San Luis and Merced NWRs.
Both Merced and San Luis NWRs have Auto Tour Loop (觀鳥環狀道路) for visitors to drive their own car, to
remain in their cars, using their cars as a “blind” while observing and photographing wildlife throughout various
habitats. The point of an auto tour route is that the car acts as a "blind" so the wildlife don't get spooked. If
you want to see wildlife up close, stay in your car. Do not get out of your car to scare off the birds.
Auto tour routes also include elevated observation decks with spotting scopes that allow even closer views of
wildlife, and interpretive panels that provide information about wildlife, habitats, and refuge management to
further enhance visitors’ experiences. The Waterfowl route guides visitors through seasonal wetlands providing
the opportunity to see large concentrations of waterfowl, shorebirds, and other birds.
Recommend driving around Auto Tour Loop several times, as you'll see difference things each time.
One of several great egrets seen in these NWRs.
One of several great blue heron seen in these NWRs.
Many shorebirds are busily feeding in the ponds in these NWRs.
Lovely Auto Tour Loop to enjoy watching many ducks of various kinds are on the ponds in these NWRs.
The Visitor Center at San Luis NWR is first class and very impressive, including first class rest room located
inside the Visitor Center, lots of excellent exhibits and Interactive stuff for kids and adults alike. The visitor
Center has a great spot for sitting and viewing the elk through the window. There are additional outside pit
toilet facilities next to the Visitor Center.
But there is no Visitor Center at Merced NWR.
It is very nice to see such large green grassland in the winter season. The snow geese love to feed on such
Mind-blowing Birding Experience! There were just countless snow geese on the grasslands and more kept
These elks are fenced in. But the fenced in area is so big that it takes 5 miles of Tule Elk Auto Tour Loop to go
around such big fenced in area. The elk in San Luis NWR are visible throughout the year.
Often right at sunset large flocks of snow geese leave the NWR and head out into the nearby huge
Grasslands Area to feed overnight.
We may visit San Luis Reservoir Visitors Center in the future to learn more about it.
Relive what Central Valley life was like in California pioneer times.