Birding: Back in Time

23 Mar


“Looking eastward from the summit of the Pacheco Pass one shining morning, a landscape was displayed that after all my wanderings still appears as the most beautiful I have ever beheld. At my feet lay the great Central Valley of California, level and flowery, like a lake of pure sunshine, forty or fifty miles wide, five hundred miles long, one rich furred garden of yellow Compositae.”

John Muir, The Yosemite


Ever since reading this quote I have wondered what the Central Valley looked like in Muir’s time. Even though much of the Central Valley has been claimed for farmland and development you still get glimpses of its past. I’ve seen it in the beauty of the foothills below the Tehachapi pass and in the oak savannah of Cathey’s Valley. Recently I got another glimpse when my friend took me to Merced National Wildlife Refuge.

We didn’t see much of the flowers, the Compositae, that Muir described, but we did see plenty of birds.





Nothing I’ve seen before prepared me for seeing the squawking flocks of snow geese and Ross’s geese, several thousand strong. Although the wetlands at the refuge are created artificially, I still felt like I was standing in a time machine. Clearly, you can’t completely know the Central Valley just by driving its highways.


P.S. Check out this video by Michael Frye for a sample of the ruckus that an entire flock of snow geese can create.


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