Yesterday, January 27, David and I braved the heavy fog of the San Joaquin Valley to visit the Merced National Wildlife Refuge. We had both seen a post in photographer Michael Frye’s blog about this preserve and felt we had to see this special place ourselves. This is a wetland preserve where migrating birds visit or spend the winter. The entire day was foggy. Around 1pm the fog lifted from the ground but never dissipated enough to find where the sun might be located. The ‘auto tour’ road weaves and winds along water ways with so many twists and turns that I couldn’t have told you the direction of North to save my life. When we returned to the beginning of the circular route I felt we approached from the wrong side and couldn’t for the life of me figure out how we got to where we ended. I need to see a map!
We arrived at the wildlife refuge at 6:45am and left at 4:45pm. When we entered the preserve in the dark thick fog, our headlights lit up bunnies scampering along the road. There must have been 3 dozen little bunnies between the gate and the first quarter mile inside the preserve. We saw a couple of owls in the predawn light and then began noticing all the hawks. As soon as you reach water there are birds everywhere. Coots, ducks, waders, ….I don’t know my birds but you get the picture. It was such a magical day with the fog creating such a dramatic atmosphere. I took a few pictures of birds but I don’t have the lens for birding. I’m used to shooting landscapes, not critters that constantly move. Instead I observed them, reveled in their beauty and sounds and looked them up on my iPod Audubon Birds app. There were so many varieties of birds to watch. My favorites were the Northern Pintail, White-tailed Kite, various egrets and heron, and lastly, the Lesser Sandhill Crane. Unfortunately they were at a distance and the fog never cleared enough for a good viewing. It was thrilling to see them taking flight and landing, flying overhead and listening to their calls. Occasionally they’d characteristically jump up and down as if filled with pure joy. I certainly was while watching them.
The temperature was 41-43 degrees with a very wet fog and breeze. The dampness and breeze made made the temperature feel more like 33 leaving my gloved fingers stinging with cold.
11am This stretch was one of my favorites for composing scenes with trees in fog.
2pm Look! A very exotic bird in the crouching position.
3:15pm ‘Four Water Fleas on a Day Trip’ The reeds were so much fun to photograph since the water was mirroring the reflections with such crispness. We saw all sorts of wild shapes and figures that made us laugh.
5:40pm We rose above the fog as we left Cathys Valley on Highway 140. We were treated to a spectacular sunset on an ocean of fog. This was the only sunshine we saw all day.