Merced National Wildlife Refuge
Bargains on buffel heads,
Clearance on coots,
Reductions on all red tail hawks.
Low prices on pin tales,
Pre-sale now on pipits,
Great deals on all gadwalls and geese.
Half price on the harriers,
Big deals on the teals,
Huge discounts on all sandhill cranes.
A white sale on widgens,
Rebates on great egrets,
And savings on cinnamon teals.
A flash sale on flickers,
Grab up a cheap gadwall,
Many specials on shovelers galore!
Black Friday’s for blackbirds,
No credit card needed;
Area beyond this sign - CLOSED.
My National Audubon Society card-carrying, membership paying, time donating, husband and I were not interested in shopping.
We were not looking for bargains.
We were looking for birds.
Hundreds of sandhill cranes honk above us while a frog hidden in the reeds croaks “are you my mother?”
For some, the day after Thanksgiving was a day of bargain hunting and credit card crunching. The cover of the Fresno Bee spewed text and photos of frantic shoppers looking to save a buck by urgently spending money. Countless emails exclaimed "save all week by shopping our Black Friday deals."
For us, it was a day for a Wetlands Walkabout to enjoy the quiet of the San Joaquin Valley. The wildlife refuges are some of the remaining glimpses into what the Valley looked like before agriculture became today’s driving economic engine.
The Merced National Wildlife Refuge is 10, 262 acres west of US highway 99 along Sandy Mush Road. It was established in 1961 and is surrounded by agriculture development. There are six cattle feed lots, one poultry ranch and a juvenile correction facility along the drive. The road is littered with potholes, worn down by the heavy farm equipment, a regular sight along the way.
The refuge is mostly closed to foot and car access, which is a good thing, because birds are actively using the closed areas. There are three short hikes, and several pull out stops along the drive tour. In the winter hunting is allowed, so you need to set appropriate expectations - expect to hear gunshots.
The weather was un-seasonably warm. “This is November in California!” we declared as we put sunscreen on our noses. Bright yellow composites flowers, in full bloom watched our moves to make sure we are staying on the road and not disturbing the wildlife.
We weren’t the only ones enjoying the warm weather. Raccoon footprints were in the mud. White face ibis, snow geese, gadwalls, ruddy ducks, cormorants, and herons were abundant.
A group of photographers from Los Angeles and San Francisco were lifting big glass photographing the fowl in flight.
Checking out their cameras and lenses, I asked, “Have you ever seen so many sandhill cranes in flight so late in the day?” And they too were surprised, and offered that it was because “the cranes have a wayward leader – like North Korea.” I thought that you don’t need to look very far to find a leader that is crazy off-course, flying in the wrong direction.
We like to travel in style, so we packed a picnic lunch of Thanksgiving leftover turkey sandwiches and a short bottle of chianti classico.
At Mid-day, it all went quiet under the autumn sun. Everyone hunkers down, and it was time for us to make our way back home. Our credit cards were still safe and secure in our wallets.
We spent zero dollars on Blackbird Friday and we got a great bargain on birds!