THE CREAGRUS CALIFORNIA COUNTIES PROJECT
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Fresno County
all photos & text by Don Roberson
all photos taken in California
Long-eared Owl
25 Feb 2006 at Mercey Hot Springs
Fresno County is a large and unique county in the middle of California. It is the only county that has a big chunk of the Central Valley but which also includes bits of the coast ranges to the west and the Sierran foothills to the east, and continues up to the Sierra peaks. It has a huge city (Fresno) and lots of ag land in the Central Valley, but there are marshes and lakes (e.g., Mendota WMA, Lost Lake Park, Fresno wastewater ponds), oak woodlands both east and west, and plenty of Sierra coniferous forest. Kings Canyon National Park is particularly impressive. It borders 8 other counties, a record shared only with the much smaller Sacramento County. Because of the cross-section of habitats and its inland location, Fresno County has one of the relatively richest breeding avifaunas in the State: about 203 species, with is 62% of the total county list at this writing. [In contrast, the ~180 breeding species in my own Monterey County is only 36% of the county total, as seabirds and vagrants make up a much higher percentage.]
    County birding statistics and links are on Joe Morlan's site.
    For Fresno County the headline photo is of a roosting Long-eared Owl at Mercey Hot Springs in the extreme northwestern corner of the county. The resort has a few planted tamarisks in otherwise open grassy undulating plains, and each winter up to two dozen of these mysterious owls roost here ["mysterious" because we know comparatively little about the ecology of this species in California]. I find them exceptionally beautiful, and the warm colors of the roost trees add to the effect. I sacrificed the tail of the owl to get this horizontal close-up shot, but the vertical images are equally dramatic. The one below (left) shows this same owl in a posture that makes it as slim and 'inconspicuous' as possible. Birders interested in seeing these owls have so swamped this little resort that there is now a $5 per person fee just to birdwatch here [this also means the resort owners do what they can to product these owls].
    In the nearby Panoche Hills BLM land now open to the public I photographed this very attractive Lark Sparrow (below right). Ironically, there was a wintering Sage Thrasher in the bush just beyond it. It is just serendipitous that all three photos here are from the arid western foothills of Fresno County. I've had great times birding in the Sierra portion of the county as well, including Kings Canyon itself, and the fine montane forests along Dinkey Creek Road, near Shaver Lake.
All photos & text © 2006 Don Roberson; all rights reserved.

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Page created 26 Feb 2006