Birds and Blossoms: Two Gems in California’s Central Valley

Snow Geese in flight at Llano Seco Wildlife Refuge – February 2019

As I write this post, we are preparing to leave California tomorrow for Arizona with Tucson as our destination. We had originally hoped to get there several weeks earlier, but Mark’s dental appointments kept us longer. We now leave at a stressful time with all the life changes and uncertainty this country and of course the world is facing over the Coronavirus. We had hoped to travel to Southern California first to visit with our son/daughter-in-law and see some other relatives as well, but had to put that off for later when things are more stable. While in Tucson we will be staying at the same mega RV park (even the same space) as last year. We really liked the park a lot because they have an abundance of activities, clubs and events. In addition, we really enjoy the desert scenery. We are going to look into buying what is called a “park model” which is stationary and bigger than an RV but smaller than a mobile home. We could be “snow birds” and stay during the winter months and then continue to travel around the U.S. with our trailer when it warms up. We will see what awaits us when we reach Tucson, as the situation with this virus changes daily as new requirements are put into place.

Luke and Levi looking for birds on the boardwalk at Cosumnes River Preserve

In this post I thought I would share some thoughts and photos on two bright spots in California’s Central Valley. Hopefully this will give a bit of a break from all the virus news and bring some cheer to our readers. Since I have written a number of other posts about my interest in birding, it should not be a surprise that I have more to share today. Each November they come along the Pacific Flyway as wildlife refuges and wetlands fill with geese, ducks, shorebirds and sand hill cranes. Going out to see the birds was a winter ritual for me every year when we were living in California. On our recent stay we hit a few of our favorites to see how the birds were doing.

Levi tries on some antlers at the Cosumnes River Preserve Visitor Center

It is always fun to help the younger generation learn about birding and our two grandsons Luke and Levi seemed to enjoy a few trips to Cosumnes River Preserve near the town of Galt. We checked out the small visitor center and then took to the trail wandering through an oak forest and by wetlands before ending up at the largest marsh full of ducks and white fronted geese. Luke and Levi did great learning how to use the binoculars and identify some birds they had not seen before. They also diligently marked off our finds on a list.

Checking off the bird list
Greater white-fronted Geese
Black-necked Stilt in flight
Green-winged Teal

We stayed for the sunset and to watch the sand hill cranes fly in, one of the most exciting birding sights. Unfortunately, I had left my long camera lens at home during our sunset visit, so missed getting a shot of them landing.

Shannon, Luke and Levi enjoying a rest on the boardwalk before sunset
Watching for the sand hill cranes

One afternoon Mark and I headed south to the Merced Wildlife Refuge to drive the auto tour route. We saw a variety of shorebirds, ducks and the highlight – hundreds of snow geese blanketing the water. For us, this has been the best place in the Valley to see these geese.

Mark on the observation platform at Merced Wildlife Refuge

When the sun was setting they lifted from the water to a neighboring field for the night.

Snow geese filling the sky at sunset

One of my favorite ducks is the Northern Pintail which was in great abundance when I visited Llano Seco Refuge near Chico with my parents the day after Christmas. We had also hoped to see snow geese as they are frequent visitors but on this day there were none around.

Northern Pintail – the most elegant duck

It almost never snows in the Central Valley, but there is a snow like quality here each February when thousands of almond trees burst into bloom. It is quite a sight driving the roads and seeing all these orchards of white. Blossom time was one of my favorite “seasons” when we used to live here. Sometimes when I was still working I would take my lunch break by driving the nearby country roads, pulling off at a good spot to admire the beautiful trees.

Miles and miles of orchards like this one fill the Valley with “snowy” blossoms

Almonds are one of the biggest crops in this part of California which still relies heavily on agriculture. Blue Diamond Almonds is a name most people recognize and they have a large plant here.

As I close, wishing all of you the best of health and stability in the weeks ahead! We will be thinking and praying for you as our world heals.