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.
Closer in size to the Snowy Egret than the Great Egret, they look like a Great Egret
with a shorter, stockier neck.
Even the orange beak
and black legs
are similar to the Great Egret.
When they take flight, they are “egret”
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.
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.
I’ve always thought Sand Hill Cranes were gray, closer to these cranes
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.
There turned out to be quite a few juveniles, and most were still surrounded by two very attentive parents.
It was rather rare to see a young bird with a single parent.
By the time we left the refuge, hundreds, if not thousands, of Sand Hill Cranes
had returned to the 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
and their precision
we had hoped to see more of them and to get some close-up shots of them.
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.
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.
Although I had been stationed in Ft. Irwin in the Mojave Desert, I couldn’t remember ever seeing these plants before.
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.
They inspired to make a trip to Joshua Tree National Park later this year while getting a break from our rainy winters.