Winter is a beautiful time of year in the Great Central Valley: the grasses are green, the seasonal wetlands are full of water and teeming with birdlife, and the sun sets early at the end of crisp, bright days. And this year, we've even had rain! It's the perfect time of year to pay a visit to a nearby National Wildlife Refuge.
One of the best (in my opinion) is the Merced National Wildlife Refuge, with flocks of Snow Geese and Ross's Geese, as well as Sandhill Cranes, nearly as far as one can see. And it's particularly lovely at sunset.
The Great Central Valley was once a vast prairie, supporting abundant life: Salmon and Grizzly Bears, Pronghorn Antelope and Tule Elk, vernal pools and unchecked rivers feeding seasonal wetlands, stunning carpets of wildflowers and an abundance of small but wonderful creatures which have largely gone underappreciated and unnoticed as they have slipped away, like endangered Kangaroo Rats (Dipodomys spp.) and Blunt-nosed Leopard Lizards (Gambelia sila).
Today, nearly all of that is gone, paved and plowed, replaced by cities, roads and agriculture. But at a select and precious few protected sites, visitors can still experience a hint at the California that used to be, a fleeting glimpse of the Great Valley's former glory.