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Valley wildlife highlight of romantic outing
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The Oly and Linda Fruge spotted 30 swans and a coyote on a recent trip to the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge. - photo by Photo courtesy of Oly and Linda Fruge

Some couples celebrate Valentine’s Day with a romantic dinner, flowers and chocolate.  My husband Oly and I opted to go on a nature outing.   It was a beautiful California winter day, and we drove out to the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge.

San Luis NWR, not to be confused with San Luis Reservoir, is located off Highway 165, about 20 miles south of Turlock.  San Luis Reservoir is along Highway 152, about 10 miles west of Los Banos.  It’s day use and campground are part of the California State Park system.

San Luis Refuge consists of over 26,000 acres of wetlands, native grasslands and riparian habitat.  It is also home to a thriving herd of Tule Elk and a nice new visitors center.

While the refuge attracts an abundance of wildlife year round, it is particularly good for viewing wintering ducks, geese, cranes, and shorebirds.

Actually, you never know what you might see out there.  On our Valentine’s trip we saw 46 species of birds, which included 10 different kinds of ducks and a pair of great-horned owls.  We also got a great look at a coyote and spotted a tree recently felled by beavers.

But the absolute highlight of our day was getting to see about 30 swans.  These were scattered out over a few acres of marsh.  And, although we have been visiting local refuges for over 40 years, we have seldom seen swans—and never this many at once.  This was a special treat—a bird blessing, I like to say.

In fact, we went back a few days later, hoping to see the swans again.  But, alas, this time there were only two.  My guess is that they are starting their long migration to their nesting grounds in northern Canada and Alaska.

The visitors center and a look at the Tule Elk are well worth the drive out to the refuge.    And who knows what else you might see!