Sunday, December 31, 2017

Birds Aren't the Only Thing to See at a Great Valley Wildlife Refuge

River Otter at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge
California's Great Valley (called by some less proud people the Central Valley) is the most agriculturally productive place on the planet, producing something like a quarter of the nation's nuts, fruits and vegetables on about 2 percent of the land. The agricultural and accompanying urban development has altered 95% of the original savanna landscape. Prior to the arrival of the Europeans in the 1800s the valley was a vast prairie/grassland that stretched for 400 miles, broken up here and there by a vast network of rivers and wetland marshes fed by numerous streams flowing from the Sierra Nevada.
Raccoon at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge
For several million years the valley was the wintering ground for millions, maybe billions of migratory birds that spent their summers breeding in the Arctic. The arrival of humans and their alteration of the landscape disrupted this intricate ecosystem. The birds continued to migrate in reduced numbers and with their natural food sources gone, they started going after the crops being grown by farmers. This became an untenable situation, and there were those who advocating shooting the birds to extinction, but cooler heads prevailed, and work began on establishing a chain of national and state bird refuges at strategic locations up and down the valley. These refuges provide us an idea of the primeval appearance of the valley.
Deer at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge
It turns out of course that birds weren't the only creatures displaced by human development. The original valley was a savanna with multitudes of grazing animals and their predators. There were elk, deer, and pronghorns, along with wolves, coyotes, foxes, bobcats, mountain lions, and bears. Prior to 12,000 years ago, there were mammoths, mastodons, giant sloths, saber-tooth cats, and giant short-faced bears. To a degree, the refuges that were originally meant for birds also provide shelter for the remnants of this incredible ecosystem. In my travels, I've seen the elk and deer pictured in this post along with river otters, raccoons, foxes, and coyotes.
Tule Elk at the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge

Today's post was prompted by my sighting yesterday of three River Otters crossing a road at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. They were moving so fast that by the time I was able to raise my camera, only one was left, and I got but a single shot.