The coast and Central Valley of California are on the Pacific Flyway, the migratory route for many species of birds. Some birds stop and rest in California before heading further south, others think it is a fine resort and stay all winter.
San Luis NWR serves a double purpose, it is host to many birds but more importantly it is the home of a herd of Tule Elk.
Tule Elk are the smallest subspecies of elk and native to California. Once numbering in the 100s of thousands, their numbers dropped to 28 know individuals before measures were taken to protect them.
San Luis was host to the first herd and now there are several more in the central valley as well as the coastal mountains and Point Reyes National Seashore. There is also a herd in the Owens Valley which I saw often as we traveled up and down Highway 395.
The Owens Valley herd roams freely over land owned by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power so I was a bit surprised to see the elk penned in by a high fence. I suppose it is not surprising, the farmers nearby probably don't want the elk grazing on their crops.
Since we visited in early December, the bulls were no longer with the cows. They still have their antlers, though, they won't loose them until February. The bull elk were near the fence where we could get a good look and poke our lenses through the wire.
The cows and calves, however, were out in the center of the enclosure so even my telephoto lens couldn't get a very good shot. It did look like there was one bull still with them.
There was not as much bird life as we would see later at the Merced Unit but I did get my best shot to date of a kestrel. He flew from fence post to fence post as we drove along, keeping his eye on us from over his shoulder.
Isn't he cute?
The Ruddy Duck's blue gray bill will turn a brilliant blue come breeding season.
Several female Northern Harriers scanned the ground looking for a meal. You can just glimpse this one's distinguishing white rump where it wraps around her flank.
We kept looking for Sandhill Cranes, we could hear their distinctive call and knew they were around somewhere.
On our way out of the refuge I spotted this belted kingfisher. So far this is the best shot I have gotten of the species. Actually, it is the only shot. I've seen them several times but they are shy and fly off before I can get my camera up.
We also saw gadwalls, northern shovelers, black necked stilts, coots and mallards. We had been told that there was a better variety of birds at the Merced unit so after a picnic lunch we headed there, about 20 miles away.
See more views of our wonderful world at Our World, Tuesday; hosted for us by Arija, Gattina, Lady Fi, Sylvia and Sandy.
See more of the world or birds at World Bird Wednesday, hosted for us by Springman.