Yet Another Magical Place

The Merced National Wildlife Refuge is one of those magical places I will return to whenever I can. Sand Hill Cranes may be its major draw, but it’s the diversity that will bring me back. I love places that are alive, no matter what particular birds I might, or might not, find there at a particular time.

While trying to capture shots of the Cattle Egrets I’d never seen before, I saw this Wilson’s Snipe

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and urged Leslie to try to get a shot of it.

She did better than that; she got this wide-angle shot

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which captured not one, but three, snipes, and her even wider-angle shot captured this shot of the three snipes and a Killdeer.

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Though we didn’t see a single Avocet, we saw lots of Black-necked Stilts

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and even more Dowitchers,

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not to mention, hundreds of ducks and geese.

Cattle Egret, Too

Though seeing the Sand Hill Cranes was the highlight of our trip to Merced National Wildlife Refuge, I was delighted that I got to photograph a Cattle Egret for the first time.

In the distance, they look like Snowy Egret, but up close are quite distinct.

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Closer in size to the Snowy Egret than the Great Egret, they look like a Great Egret

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with a shorter, stockier neck.

Even the orange beak

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and black legs

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are similar to the Great Egret.

When they take flight, they are “egret”

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head tucked in, legs straight back; I’d be hard pressed to distinguish them from other egrets, which makes me wonder if I haven’t seen them before but just didn’t recognize them as Cattle Egret.

It’s probably silly to be so excited over a “first,” particularly when it isn’t as “beautiful” as a closely related bird, but seeing the Cattle Egret made a special day even more special.

More Sandhill Cranes

Thank goodness I took the ranger’s advice and made another trip around the Merced National Wildlife Refuge because I got the best shots I’ve ever gotten of Sand Hill Cranes.

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I’ve always thought Sand Hill Cranes were gray, closer to these cranes

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than these cranes.

I had never seen a juvenile Sand Hill Crane before I noticed that this crane didn’t look like any cranes I had seen before.

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There turned out to be quite a few juveniles, and most were still surrounded by two very attentive parents.

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It was rather rare to see a young bird with a single parent.

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By the time we left the refuge, hundreds, if not thousands, of Sand Hill Cranes

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had returned to the refuge.

Merced National Wildlife Refuge

Since Jeff was attending a reunion and Debbie had medical appointments when we arrived in Fresno, Leslie and I decided to visit the Merced National Wildlife Refuge. I’d read about the refuge a year or so before and recommended it to Jeff and Debbie but had never managed to see it myself.

The refuge is known for the large number of Sandhill Cranes that overwinter there. We were rather disappointed after our first drive through the auto tour.

Even though it's hard not to be impressed by the flight of these giant birds

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and their precision

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landings,

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we had hoped to see more of them and to get some close-up shots of them.

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Luckily we got a chance to talk to a ranger just as we were about to leave and she informed us that most of the cranes and geese were out feeding in nearby fields and that they should be returning shortly.

Though we wanted to make sure we got back to the house before Jeff returned, we decided to make one more drive around the refuge before returning. Thank goodness, because it was like visiting an entirely different refuge the second time around.

Beauty In Unexpected Places

After our two-week trip to Yellowstone, The Grand Tetons, Mesa Verde, Zion and The Grand Canyon, I was afraid the rest of our trip might be anti-climatic, that I wouldn’t see much worth photographing, certainly nothing in the Mojave Desert.

I was found wrong when I found myself pulling off the highway to get a shot of these weird trees that looked like they had escaped from a Dr Seuss movie.

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Although I had been stationed in Ft. Irwin in the Mojave Desert, I couldn’t remember ever seeing these plants before.

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In fact, we didn’t know what they were until we got to Fresno and Leslie's sister-in-law Debbie identified them for us.

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They inspired to make a trip to Joshua Tree National Park later this year while getting a break from our rainy winters.

Amazing

The most impressive aspect of North Rim Grand Canyon is the depth and immensity of the canyon. I never thought I could capture either of those qualities in photos, but I was still going to try.

This shot looking over the edge of the canyon made me a little queasy and is probably as close as I am ever going to get to conveying just how steep these cliffs are, at least until I get to the south side of the canyon.

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This shot of the Colorado River nearly indistinguishable as it runs through the canyon suggests how vast the canyon is,

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but this medium shot of this massive rock

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and this long-shot of the same rock formation

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gives an even better impression of just how vast the canyon truly is.

Fortresses Against Time

Someone I met on our recent trip said that the Grand Canyon looks like Zion upside down. Virtually all the shots I took at Zion were pointing up, while almost all the shots I took at The Grand Canyon were pointing down.

That said, the rock structures themselves were magnificent in both places, dwarfing the human imagination. For a moment, at least, they almost made me wish that I had studied geology some time during my life.

Luckily, you don’t need to understand these structures to appreciate their beauty

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in all

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their diverse forms.

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When I did think about them, I tended to think of them as fortresses

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withstanding the onslaught of time.

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Magical fortresses that will be here long after we are gone.