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Los Banos - Art Business, Elk, and Birds

January 9, 2017
Written January 10+
Dear Diary, Friends, and Families,

d170109_01_daytrip.jpgA new year and one trip under our belts. (Truckee snow with family)  This Monday trip was simpler:  Los Banos for me and then Marianne added a drive to Monte Sereno to see kids and her chief dentist.  I decided that I would try some more wildlife photography, despite the cold, gray skies and drizzle forecast.  Not the best day for travel perhaps, but at least the road over was about as painless as it ever gets.  Highway 99 is reportedly one of the most dangerous highways in America, so an easy drive is appreciated.  No one hit us.
The first goal was the Merced County Library in Los Banos.  This had been the scene of one of Marianne's most successful art exhibitions a couple months ago and Patty had asked if she would want to hang more pictures on the wall.  Of course, all artists need exposure.

The space was small, but Patti's enthusiasm was infectious and we did manage to display five paintings and five "mixed media" pieces.  If something sells, all the better, but it is fun to just see Marianne's artwork in a new home, at least until February 20th. (In case you need a stop in Los Banos.)

At lunch with Patti and Ned, we got to know each other by sharing stories of places from Los Banos  to Germany to Brazil and Spain.  It was nice to have an audience that didn't glaze over when we went off on our own history tangents!  And we enjoyed their new stories too.
After lunch, Marianne headed over to Monte Sereno where she had a dentist appointment the next day, after an evening of playing with grandkids, of course.  It is nice to have a real family dentist, one who lets the daughter and grandson take selfies of the process.

d170109_20_reservesign.jpgd170109_22_history.jpgI headed north to the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge.  I had been here before, and did not really expect much new, but I still find it fascinating to watch and take pictures of the majestic Tule Elk.  This is a California species that fed and clothed the original settlers, natives and then others, but by the 1870's the herds of tens of thousands of animals had been reduced to a single group of just 28.  That herd was maintained on the Miller-Lux ranch for almost 100 years, before state and federal efforts to expand the population took over.  This 800-acre paddock was created and the elk cared for until they had succeeded in spinning off 18 other herds to various California locations.  There are now over 2,500 Tule Elk, a success story.
Bachelor male elks hang around, hoping for a herd of their own some day.

Meanwhile, the one successful bull keeps a watch on his harem.

There are more animals than Elk around San Luis NWR.  I did not have time to drive the large auto tour loop, but just from the road in and out, I managed to track one bunny, shoot one Shrike and one Egret before seeing a small flock of Sandhill Cranes walking the plowed cotton fields, looking for buggy or wormy snacks.  Nothing special I guess, but a fun excuse to watch wildlife.

d170109_50_mercedpond.jpgd170109_51_standing.jpgFurther to the east, lies the Merced NWR.  Here, the fairly large but shallow pond offers the opportunity to see and photograph various birds.  Most common and easiest to photograph are the ducks, coots, and snipes that paddle or walk the shallow waters.  On a gray, cloudy day like Monday, pictures are not spectacular, but watching remains a peaceful diversion.

My favorite little bird was this guy (Northern Mockingbird?) who paused on the top of my car.  Nearby, Redwing Blackbirds stood watch on sawgrass, while pipers poked for goodies in the mud.
There were lots of colorful male ducks and gray coots.  (I guess the gray coloring gave rise to the expression: "old coot"?)  I waited for these guys to fly a bit, because it makes for better pictures, but nobody cooperated - or I just don't have sufficient patience.

The primary draw of the Merced NWR are Sand Hill Cranes, but the only ones I saw all day were the field walkers earlier, near San Luis NWR.  Merced did have plenty of Snow Geese (or Ross Geese?  Or Canadian Geese?),  just arriving as the sunlight disappeared or already settled in for the night.  I had heard of much larger arrivals of cranes and geese, but this limited display was fine for me.

d170109_80_peaceful.jpgOverall, the photography excursion was anything but spectacular.  There was no red of sunset.  Light levels generally were so low that my camera adjusted its sensitivity (ISO) into the grainy region.  Nonetheless, the process offered peace and solace. 

John (mostly) and Marianne


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