Thursday, November 27, 2014

Blue Goose ~ Day 182

November 25, 2015 ~ Lost Hills, CA to Ridgecrest, CA

I woke up early which I do every day. I was in the truck stop at Lost Hills along I5, an hour west of Bakersfield, pretty much out in the wide open with no nearby towns. I had intended to go to the coast. Hopper Mountain NWR, along the way, is closed to the public, but this is where the condor recovery program is located, and there was a slim chance one could see condors in the area. I would then have gone down the coast through Santa Maria, Santa Barbara, checked out Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes NWR, navigated through LA down to San Diego to the Tijuana Slough and Sweetwater Marsh NWRs; however, I changed my mind, and decided to move east instead. While researching Guadalupe, I read that it is only accessible by a hike from the beach:

WWW.FWS.GOV
Road access to the Refuge is not available. Visitor access is only permitted from the beach, and requires a rigorous 4.0-mile or 4.5 -mile round trip hike through soft sand to reach the Refuge boundaries. Access hikes also require crossing at least one stream. 
Then there was the traffic issue, and while I loved the names of the San Diego refuges, this was not enough for me to endure the insane spaghetti mix of freeways in LA, although I would have if the chance of seeing a wild California condor was greater than 50%. I had dipped on condors at the Grand Canyon a few springs ago, so was tempted but the odds just weren't compelling enough.

Since the sun would not rise for hours, I first went into the Love's store (slightly grubby), and then across the street to the Pilot truck stop store which was actually impressive, starting with beautiful (relative, I know) clean, modern and completely functional bathrooms, as far as locks and doors and flushability and faucets and countertops (notes from my course in Public Bathrooms).

I started the day with coffee and a warm frosted Cinnabon. The young girl who waited on me was above-average pleasant, asked questions to which answers she actually listened and wished me well. In fact, all the staff were that agreeable, much more so than usual but not obsequious. Most were non-Caucasians. The whole store was several grades above Love's. I could have Christmas-shopped in the gift section and almost bought a small glass rooster for someone (Livy maybe?) and die-cast metal trucks for Joey. The place was bustling with male truckers, although there were a few women, who may or may not also have been drivers. Some girlfriends / wives do accompany their men I know. And there were the travelers like me, getting gas and munchies, even this early. I sat and drank coffee at the attached Wendy's and watched the activity and people. To me, the Christmas music was the surprise here. Many of the selections were the old traditional sacred songs. I could have been at a church Christmas program or back in my childhood home where we listened to this music on vinyl records for a month before the holidays. There were the occasional interruptions: "Traveler #4, your #7 shower is ready; traveler #4, shower #7 is ready..." or "Professional truckers, there is currently no wait for showers; get out of your truck and come in for a nice hot shower..." and then the music would resume. It was a mix with some of the more popular secular songs but not the horrid obnoxious ones. And there was very little evidence of merchandise (books, magazines, clothing, toys, videos) catering to violence or sex.

After this truck-stop concert, I went next door to McDonalds (I needed protein) which featured young families traveling for Thanksgiving, stopping for breakfast, with a couple of small sleepy kids in pajamas, carrying stuffed animals. "We're almost halfway there honey; we'll be there soon...." "Mommy and Lizzie went to the bathroom so it's just us boys now...." and the adorable little kid looked seriously at his dad, repeating, "It's just us boys, right..."

Trash littered the edges of the parking area and a few feral cats were roaming about, but it was early morning, the sun was shining and far enough above the horizon so I could drive east without being blinded.

I passed vineyards with white plastic covers stretched tautly over the tops of the vines. I learned these were to protect the grapes from rain which seemed hopelessly optimistic here...as well as expensive. The life of a farmer is sometimes just a roll of the dice. As always happens, as soon as I googled this, I could have followed threads to an abundance of new information. While driving by the covered grapes, I had thought it was to protect them from heat, never thinking about protection from water, which is ironic.

The skies around Bakersfield were bright and hazy with dust, oppressively so. I followed the Kern River east through the southern Sierra Nevadas, mountains of rock and dirt with no greenery at all on the western flanks. The river was low, flowing between massive boulders like Rocky Mountain rivers but with much less water and very little flora. The road was narrow and winding and my van was close to scraping giant slabs and cliffs of rock on the right.

Lake Isabella, a reservoir created when the Kern was dammed, was also low with only a few lonely RVs at out on the sand this time of year.
Lake Isabella - CA

Driving on, I flew past a sign for the Audubon California Kern River Preserve so turned around. It was a place that immediately made me think of Deborah. It was her kind of spot - idyllic, very peaceful, birds active at a couple of feeders and the sun shining through giant golden Fremont cottonwoods. But the signs warned visitors about all the dangers on the trails, including one that a mountain lion and cubs were in the area, drawn to the river because of the drought and cautioning hikers to not walk alone.


Kern River Audubon Preserve
The VC was closed for renovation so I wandered about (not far on the trails) and finally saw Oak Titmice (life bird) along with juncos and finches, doves, Lesser Goldfinches and a nice Hermit Thrush. The sky was blue, the cottonwoods along the river were stunning, and I was relieved to be out of the unfortunate Central Valley.

Continuing east through increasingly sparsely vegetated land, I left the Kern Valley and eventually came out of the mountains to desert, but this is land that has lived with aridity always so the population has adapted to living with very little water.

The town of Ridgecrest is adjacent to the China Lake complex:

EN.WIKIPEDIA.ORG

China Lake is the United States Navy's largest single landholding, representing 85 percent of the Navy’s land for weapons and armaments research, development, acquisition, testing and evaluation (RDAT&E) use and 38 percent of the Navy’s land holdings worldwide. In total, its two ranges and main site cover more than 1,100,000 acres, an area larger than the state of Rhode Island. As of 2010, at least 95 percent of that land has been left undeveloped. The roughly $3 billion infrastructure of the installation consists of 2,132 buildings and facilities, 329 miles of paved roads, and 1,801 miles of unpaved roads. The 19,600 square miles of restricted and controlled airspace at China Lake makes up 12 percent of California’s total airspace. 

I considered going to the US Naval Museum of Armament and Technology to look at bombs and missiles, etc., but didn't. In retrospect, I wish I had. Obviously, the area is super-serious in the way of things military, and the town of Ridgecrest benefits. It is busy and modern, even though essentially a desert town, and so unlike the spooky half-ghost towns with marginal dwellings and major detritus in yards that I passed through on the way here.

I ate at the Tokyo House with a choice of seating at the sushi bar, at just a regular table or at a U-shaped hot grill. When I paid, I was given a nice Japanese wall scroll. I asked if the waitress if she was giving this to me??? and she replied, smiling, "No, it's a gift."

I saw on my map app that there was a large regional park close by so I checked it out as there were eBird reports from the general Ridgecrest area, and I imagined trees, but the park was totally open dirt with occasional widely separated palm trees. At night, it was fully lit with people playing soccer and out walking. In the predawn the next day though, it was totally dark.

The Trail of Hazards - Kern River Audubon Preserve - CA

Oak Titmouse - Kern River Audubon Preserve - CA




Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Blue Goose ~ Day 181

November 24, 2014 ~ Los Banos, CA to Lost Hills, CA

The days are cool in the mornings but as soon as the sun rises, the temperatures rise quickly to a very pleasant high 60s or 70s. But, as I keep mentioning, the daylight hours are fewer and fewer.

What happened today was the realization of exactly how awful this drought is and how it is affecting the Central Valley. Since I mostly drove past fields, I could see the effects of not enough water. Hearing there is a water shortage in California while living in Holland, Miami or Shady Side, or even Grand Rapids or Indianapolis or Eugene is just more news but seeing an increasingly barren landscape is an ugly reality. There are still some green crops and vineyards and orchards, but there were also barren, empty fields, with sparse weedy areas, or orchards with drying trees or one place where a mile of trees had recently been chopped down. I saw many signs and billboards with messages about water and jobs and food costs. I heard discussions on the radio. One show told how people do wake up, turn on their taps and nothing comes out as their wells have gone dry. Or of the contention amongst the farmers and the various city, county, state and federal agencies that have authority to regulate water. And some areas are not even in a defined water allocation zone.

The largest historical controversy has been (and continues to be) between Los Angeles' water needs and the water available from the Central Valley.  I read that President Obama came to Los Banos in February of this year, toured a farm and announced federal aid. (I can't help but think about those voters who want less government in their lives but who benefit from such aid.)

WWW.LOSBANOSENTERPRISE.COM

California is in its third dry year, and this winter so far is one of the driest on record. Both state and federal water projects have told farmers to expect no water this year. Prior to the president's arrival, the White House announced several steps that the president will take to deal with the drought. The drought assistance includes speeded-up livestock disaster assistance for California producers, provided under a newly signed farm bill, as well as targeted conservation assistance, watershed protection funds, additional summer feeding programs and emergency community water grants. By directing Agriculture Department staff to make the livestock assistance a "top priority," officials say they expect to provide California producers an estimated $100 million for 2014 losses and up to $50 million for losses in previous years.

Following the roundtable meeting, Los Banos farmer Joe Del Bosque of Empresas Del Bosque, Inc. gave the president, dressed in slacks and rolled-up shirt sleeves, a tour of a field that will lay fallow because he doesn't have enough water to grow a crop. Gov. Jerry Brown, who joined the president on the tour, last month announced a statewide drought emergency.

The air was dusty even on a day without wind. All small creeks, rivers and ditches were dry. There is still water in the aqueducts that criss-cross the valley though, and I wondered about the details of how it is delivered, to whom, how much and then how exactly these mile-square crop sections are irrigated.

I heard that the earth above aquifers, once they are depleted and drawn down, compacts, thus not allowing recovery when and if that happens. Those responsible for managing water (and this is also a problem since there are so many different agencies and they don't easily agree on any plan) have started talking to the Australians and Israelis for advice, as well as other Middle Eastern countries.

Central Valley - CA
The wells on rural homesteads and even those of one small town in the Valley (East Porterville) have run dry. At a small intersection of country roads close to I5, I saw a strange sight: a large sun umbrella shading a gentleman sitting in a lawn chair surrounded by gallon jugs of water and and what were probably his earthly belongings. I think that he was selling water but I didn't want to be obtrusive and didn't stop or peer too closely (but I wanted to and he may not have minded....)

There still are trees in the towns and around some of the houses but more have dirt yards,
especially along the country roads.
Pixley NWR - CA
Of the two refuges I went to, the first was Pixley NWR where I basically just drove through the parking area and saw no water anywhere, though did not walk on the one available trail or visit the other units.

At Kern NWR, there was water and wetlands, but it was easy to see how diminished these were. One small drying pond had only two sandpipers, although there were also large impoundments with thousands of ducks. I tried so hard to see a Tricolored Blackbird in the blackbird flocks but just couldn't definitively say I saw one. It was late afternoon or I would have stopped at the offices (now closed) to ask how they are managing and how much  animosity they experience as the adjacent fields dry up and ducks and geese still swim on this refuge.
Yellowlegs at Kern NWR - CA 

One might conclude that this Valley was not intended for agriculture or that Los Angeles was not entitled to take their water. The dry lands to the east are frank deserts and do not have the history of agricultural success so have learned how to live with aridity, although the urban communities still need water.

I pulled into a very busy truck stop at Lost Hills on I5 for the night, along with a hundred semis, all the I5 travelers who stop here for gas or a motel or a quick meal, and all the additional Thanksgiving travelers. The restaurant choices were Taco Bell, Arby's, McDonalds, Denny's, etc. I had a French dip sandwich at Arby's and stayed in a Love's parking lot, put window shades up and slept until 4:00 a.m. when the morning action began. The semi noise which was nearly constant is now white noise for me.

Coyote at Kern NWR - CA


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Blue Goose ~ Day 180


November 23, 2014 ~ Los Banos, CA

Done with working and catch-up stuff, I headed to a couple of refuges northeast of Los Banos. The first was San Luis which has the refuge complex VC (open on Sunday) and where I was greeted by a beautiful large calm dog, its leash dragging on the floor. Her name was Isis; she had pale blue eyes like our dog SandyLily and had shepherd genes. A black and white cat was perched on a high display case. There were full feeders outside. I give points to refuges when I see this, instead of empty feeders (or none at all).

One of the reasons for San Luis is participation in the Tule elk program. These are small elk, found only in California, which were close to extinction in 1895 with only 28 left. But after missteps, mistakes and misfortunes, and with the help of California Fish and Game and a few private citizens, a Tule elk program was successful. Today, there are 4000. They are being re-introduced to various areas in California with the appropriate habitat. Congress decided that once the numbers exceeded 2000, they could be hunted (Wikipedia).

Three other cool sightings:
1. A smallish hovering bird that was not a kestrel. It had a black tail, was rusty underneath and I  realized it was a Say's Phoebe, which bird I've only seen once before and had no idea it hovered.
2. On the auto route, I saw a small flock of beautiful Lark Sparrows with their striking bright head pattern, not uncommon, but a bird I associated with summer grasslands.
3. A White-tailed Kite perched in the top of a tree on the road into San Luis and still there on the way out, two hours later.
White-tailed Kite at San Luis NWR - CA

There were busy Yellow-rumps and California Towhees at the VC; waterfowl and hawks, flickers and Western Scrub Jays in the fields and wetlands.

I then drove 20 miles to Merced NWR, through totally flat fields and over aqueducts and dried natural waterways. Yards and road shoulders are often just plain pale dirt. Weeds need water too, I guess. San Luis was more dry than wetland, so I wondered about Merced, but it was incredible! with an abundance of birds, including thousands of Snow Geese. (I was too lazy to get out my scope and search for Ross's but I'm certain they were also numerous.) The sun was low in the sky, highlighting the marshes to east and silhouetting the Black-necked stilts probing for food in silvered water on the west side of the road. In this land of severe drought, the water was an anomaly. I can only imagine the controversies and discussions and rulings on who gets it, and the aridity got much much worse the as I drove south the next day.
Near Los Banos, CA

I thought a Denny's might work for me. Only $10 for a chicken dinner with roasted potatoes and broccoli with Denny's idea of a "bourbon sauce with veggies" on the chicken. Every booth has a nutritional chart with information on all the foods they offer. My chicken entree had over 3000 mg of sodium. Jeez louise! An ENT physician once told me, "You can't eat out if you're watching your salt intake."

The good weather continued, although the temperature in the early morning is low 40s. After two motel nights, I was ready again for a parking lot. Sometimes, like tonight, I car-fidget, moving several times to find just the right spot. I like the 24 hour Walmarts better as there is always a "presence" so to speak. This wasn't  one of those, so I finally settled on a spot not so tucked away.

Snow / Ross's Geese - Merced NWR - CA






Blue Goose ~ Day 179


November 22, 2014 ~ Los Banos, CA

Los Banos (the baths) is in the San Joaquin Valley which is currently suffering from severe drought, threatening farmers and wildlife. It's the government's fault of course, and large billboards tell you that or comment on the obvious fact that water means life / livelihood. 

I spent the day here, working, shopping at Target for gifts and odds and ends and hanging out in Starbucks for two hours. While undoubtedly very hot in the summer, now at the end of November it was sunny and in the 60s. I kept hearing from Michigan about what was happening there with the cold and snow! Or Indianapolis or New York. Here were palm trees, huge aqueducts and fields to a far horizon, some newly plowed, some with fruit and nut trees growing in precise geometric grids. 

I have entered Hispanic Land where Spanish is heard more than English and the people are attractive, courteous, pleasant...One small boy was in Target and kept exclaiming loudly to his sister, "This is a piñata! See, this is piñata...a piñata!!!" The kids are beautiful. They are often with both parents. 

I am reading Lords of the Plains by Max Crawford:

WWW.AMAZON.COM

In this historical novel by Max Crawford, the U.S. 2nd Cavalry rolls into Texas in the 1870s with orders to keep the peace and persuade the fierce Comanches to move quietly onto the reservation. Captain Philip Chapman tells a tale of high adventure: the hardships of a forced cavalry march, an ambush by the Comanches, an idyllic summer camp at the Caballo Ranch, the epic trek made by Chapman and his K Troop across the Ilano estacado, and defeat of Tehana Storm, legendary half-white Comanche chieftain, in the decisive battle at Palo Duro Canyon.
It's informative, descriptive, beautifully written....

Blue Goose ~ Day 178

November 21, 2014 ~ Woodland, CA to Los Banos, CA

It was Friday, which meant I would stay in a motel so kept checking Priceline throughout the day as my destination became more clear, and eventually made a reservation at The Vagabond Inn in Los Banos.

But I first went to Stone Lakes NWR and walked on new but very short trails near the offices, around wetlands and fields with sparrows, pipits, blackbirds (no Tricoloreds yet), House Finches, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, a Northern Mockingbird.... The sky was still overcast, but the air was relatively warm so I lingered, eating a nourishing, tasty salad from Starbucks with brown rice, beets, squash, peas, tomatoes, red cabbage, carrots and a lemon tahini sauce. But even this had too much salt....

I did stop at the office. This was one of the places where the staff are coolly friendly to inquires but seem less than welcoming. Polite and pleasant but distant. In fact, the gentleman who appeared from an inner office when I walked in directed me to another place with "lots of trails" and gave me directions. I think that the refuges have a mandate to allow the public some access but don't always do it with pleasure.
Stone Lakes NWR - CA (I did visit Moosehorn in Maine)

The non-refuge place he recommended was, however, like the best refuges. It's along the only unregulated (undammed) major river in California, the Cosumnes, with headwaters in the Sierra Nevadas to the east. I spent at least three hours here, on the wetland trails and then on a boardwalk over swampy ground near the actual river.

I passed a bird-hike group and hung at the edges as they moved slowly, eavesdropping, but I knew as much as they did, at least about duck ID.

One common bird I've been seeing everywhere is the Black Phoebe, here also, along with Marsh Wrens making their clacking noise in the cattails, popping up very briefly, just checking things out I guess, before diving back into visual obscurity in the reeds.

On the boardwalk by the river, an adorable little Japanese boy was excitedly commenting on everything he saw, running back and forth to a grandfather, making the bridge sway with his exuberance.  I looked down on the riparian flora and saw RC kinglets busy flitting as they do, and also a group of Bushtits move by, as THEY do and waited on a drier part of the trail hoping to see an Oak Titmouse, another species I should see in California but so far haven't.



Cosumnes River Preserve - CA

The Valley Oak is a very common large oak with small round-lobed leaves. There were always 2-3-inch in diameter ball-like structures hanging from the branches and, even though the acorns can be "globular," that is not what these were. In the VC at Cosumnes, I read they are the result of gall wasps and are called oak apple galls. Wikipedia says the Valley Oak is the largest oak in North American, can live 100s of years and needs "continuous access to groundwater," which would make this a canary species, right? If water levels drop too low, won't this tree die? Cute small leaves on this massive tree...another delight of the natural world.

I thought I only had to drive 30 minutes to Los Banos; in reality it was 90 miles and 90 minutes down I5 through busy cities and the ubiquitous construction areas with pay-attention lane changes before turning slightly SE, the light brown, smooth and rounded velvety hills of the Diablo Range running to the horizon on my right. They were especially pretty in the late afternoon sun which came and went into and out of cloud layers. They are massive, spare and clean and elegant, with few roads or commerce visible.
Cinnamon Teal - Cosumnes River Preserve - CA

Los Banos is 5 miles east of I5. I stayed for two nights, working, catching up on business and eating twice in an adjacent Italian restaurant, realizing that if enough salt is added to a sauce, the food is tasty, but it took a second visit before I figured this out. The minestrone soup (which could be a healthy choice) had no beans at all, and tasted like a Campbell's veggie soup with lots of added cabbage.

My trivial issues....which do niggle with me. I read recently somewhere that a guy was hiking the Appalachian trail when he had an epiphany about what he was doing, which was essentially egocentric, whereupon he quit hiking and got involved in helping out in the world. And so I reflect on that.....
Northern Pintail - Cosumnes River Preserve - CA



Monday, November 24, 2014

Blue Goose ~ Day 177

November 20, 2014 ~ Willows, CA to Woodland, CA

Surprise! an unexpected Starbucks here (probably because Willows is along I5), so I had a place to go with computer while waiting for morning light.

I then retraced my route east to the Packer Unit of the Sacramento River NWR, which is riparian habitat along what is left of the river. I had to drive over the levee and along a primitive road to a boat launching site, along the river would barely support a kayak now.

Packer Unit of the Sacramento River NWR - CA
I sat under the trees for 30 minutes and watched sparrows, Ruby-cronwed Kinglets and a Nuttall's Woodpecker, a life bird which looks something like a Downy Woodpecker. It is a year-long resident of western California and only found here. My next quest is to see Yellow-billed Magpies and Tricolored Blackbirds, both common in this part of California. I always am on the lookout, but don't do much actual "chasing." Kenn Kaufmann (and all the other Big Year folk) I am not.
Red-shouldered Hawk - Sacramento NWR - CA

On the way to Packer, I pulled off the road and noticed a perched and sleeping Red-shouldered Hawk in a tree out my side window. It startled awake and flew when a emergency vehicle siren suddenly sounded. I saw more of these handsome hawks later in the day at Sacramento NWR (different from the Sacramento River NWR).
Golden-crowned Sparrow - Sacramento NWR - CA

Unfortunately, the regional VC for the six refuges in the Sacramento River Valley had lost power and was closed for the day, but the auto route proved productive, even in the rain, with White-faced Ibises, thousands of ducks, Turkey Vultures, cooperative Golden-crowned Sparrows....

Delavan NWR was the last refuge for me up here. It had no defined auto route, just country roads bordering the wetlands, with distant waterfowl but close-up Brewer's Blackbirds in the fields, nice males and females side by side.

I got on I5 as the sky began to clear, driving
only for a short while before stopping north of Sacramento in the town of Woodland, at one of the more upscale Walmarts close to an Applebees, etc. Obviously, I still have not made progress on not eating out, in part (my current excuse) because the sun currently sets before 5 p.m., and it's not exactly pastoral along I5,or conducive to other cheap camping options. Plus, do I want to cook in the dark? Definitely not, as I don't apparently even want to cook in sunshine. But, I continually think about how to NOT eat so often in restaurants. Or, if I do, then how to make good choices and not eat gooey Blond Brownie-type desserts after a meal high in salt and fat. I acknowledge that these issues are pathetic in the context of real problems.
Just south of Sacramento NWR with Interstate I5 its west boundary.

Sacramento reminded me of Montezuma NWR in NY which was also within sight and sound of a busy interstate. (Actually Montezuma was BISECTED by an interstate.)


Blue Goose ~ Day 176

November 19, 2014 ~ Ft. Bragg, CA to Willows, CA

As predicted, the glorious weather changed in the night and I left in intermittent rain. I found I had trouble actually LEAVING Ft. Bragg with its memories, so first went to Starbucks, then to Point Cabrillo, then to a little Seaglass Museum and then made one more trip past the Stewart Street house and the headlands across the street.

(Richard, I had no intention of doing this, but some spirit was working in me, I guess.....)

But I did finally leave, again driving through the coast range and redwood groves, on another winding road, in the rain which intensifies the dark places where the sun must shine only at nigh noon, given the tree density. The views are different in the mist and fog but still awesome.

When highway 20 exits the mountains just west of Willits, the habitat changes, first to immense soft, rounded, grass-covered hills, and then to the Central Valley of California - flat and fertile with farms and orchards. Only 5% of the historic wetlands are left in the Valley, and as water becomes more scarce, the 5% remaining is the lifeline on the avian Pacific flyway.

WWW.NORCALWATER.ORG:


Waterfowl migrate to the Sacramento Valley by the millions from as far away as Alaska, Canada, and Siberia. Sacramento Valley habitat supports approximately 44 percent of wintering waterfowl using the Pacific Flyway, attracting more than 1.5 million ducks and 750,000 geese to its seasonal marshes. 

There is a graph showing historic "megadroughts" on the USA Today website. It has been 850 years! since the west has endured a drought comparable to the current one. It's bad..... I keep looking at any water I see with a heightened awareness.  Coming from a Great Lakes state, it is easy to dismiss the urgency here.

After a quick stop at the post office in Williams, CA, to pick up my mail (thanks Dave and Ellen), I began my I5 NWR visits, the first being Colusa NWR where a 3-mile auto route showed what a refuge means in this valley.
Great Egret eating a large black something from the ditch - Colusa NWR - CA
Even though it was misting and approaching dusk, I appreciated more than ever the work and dedication and funding and perseverance that make National Wildlife Refuges a reality. There were 1000s of birds in the marshes and trees.

What I also noticed and something I hadn't seen on most refuges were signs insisting people stay in their vehicles or be subject to fines of $250. Also, more and more refuges forbid bicyclists and pets (although some allow dogs on short leashes). Usually the birds are more tame in these places, but they they still move away from humans. There are often a couple of miles of trails, but, really, the car is a good blind.
Greater White-fronted Goose - Colusa NWR - CA
At the end of the tour loop, I was driving along a diversion ditch (or maybe a small river) and saw a couple of roosting Black-crowned Night-herons and then realized there were at least 100 of them in the trees, along with a few Great and Snowy Egrets, all hunched over and settled in. Nearly every place I stop, a sight like this delights me. And they are all unique. Refuges near each other can have very different habitat and thus different fauna.

Where to sleep? I discovered that the majority of Walmarts in California discourage / forbid overnighters. But there are still a few, so I headed for Willows, passing the large, brightly lit Colusa Casino, almost stopping, but didn't. If Esther can easily win hundreds of dollars, maybe I could also??? Just kidding. I would have only eaten and slept there. It's the third time I've considered casino camping, but have driven on. The roads were perfectly straight with little traffic, heading north and paralleling the Sacramento River (hidden by levees) and then east. It was dark by the time I got to Willows, but I found a nice spot by two large RVs, under a tree, ate cheese and crackers and chocolate ice cream for dinner and slept well through this rainy night.

Two of the 100+ roosting Black-crowned Night-herons - Colusa NWR - CA