My husband Oly and I have had a January tradition for several years. We visit the Merced National Wildlife Refuge to see the white geese.
The refuge is a primary wintering grounds for Snow and Ross Geese along the Pacific Flyway. Thousands of these white geese with black wingtips can be found in the area this time of year.
There is something very special about watching a huge flock of white geese take flight and literally glow in the sunlight. Truly, nature is good for the soul!
Merced NWR is also home to wintering sandhill cranes, other geese, and a plethora of ducks and shorebirds. At times one can find white pelicans, great-horned owls, and, perhaps, some swans or a bald eagle. A free bird check-list is available at the visitor’s station near the main viewing platform.
Another “rare” bird that is found there is the tri-colored blackbird. Similar to the red-wing, the males of this species have red shoulder patches with white borders. (Most red-wings have a yellow border.) Red-winged blackbirds are one of the most common and widespread birds in North America, while the tricolored is found almost exclusively in localized areas of California. Birders from the Bay Area, for example, have been known to get quite excited at seeing a flock of these birds.
I cannot write about the Merced refuge without mentioning the rabbits. My grandsons have been more excited about the bunnies than the birds. Cottontail rabbits live under the brush near the restrooms and the main viewing platform. This is a great place to see them.
The refuge is located southwest of Merced on Sandy Mush Road. If you enjoy nature at all, I urge you to take half a day and go out there. Take the 99 to Merced, then go eight miles south on Highway 59 to Sandy Mush Road. Turn right and go another eight miles west. The entrance is on the left. There is no charge. Take your binoculars, a picnic lunch and enjoy!