a bit of the California Prairie being returned to a "pre-European" condition with the purpose of preserving a viable part of the migratory flyway for birds in the midst of their journeys between the Arctic and the Equator. It's the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge Complex, a fascinating combination of riparian habitats, marshlands, wetlands and grasslands that is both a permanent home for many birds and other animals, and a stopping place for millions of others.
The other day we just followed a short auto trail, but some research told us that the refuge had much more to offer. The park recently added an excellent visitor center, and offers a number of other auto tours and hiking trails. It's not the prime part of the year to see the migratory birds, but there were plenty of other interesting things to do.
San Luis National Wildlife Refuge complex is very geological in nature. It's not just a layer of sediment. The four environments in the complex (riparian, marsh, vernal pools, and grassland) are all related to activity along the ancestral floodplain system of the San Joaquin River, which has recently started to flow through the refuge again due to legal agreements designed to maximize conditions for the migratory birds and to restore the salmon fishery. There was once a complex intermixing of these environments that was destroyed by the diversion of water for irrigation, and plowing for agricultural development. Groundwater conditions changed radically. It is taking a concerted effort at understanding the dynamics of streamflow and groundwater distribution that is making it possible to restore this complex prairie and riparian environment. It's a multi-decade project, with clear progress in many areas. I was impressed with what I saw!
To my local friends who teach: this refuge is just a few miles from Modesto, Turlock, Los Banos, and Merced, and is a perfect destination for class field trips. Kids will be fascinated with the place, both indoors and out.
Next, the big mammals that live on the complex...