Prior to leaving, we'd all agreed that one of the primary aims of the trip would be to see the large flocks of snow geese that winter around California's central valley. And boy, they didn't disappoint! First taster was a flock of a few thousand Snow Geese seen by route 12, south of Sacramento and east of Rio Vista. There were a few hundred each of Pacific White-fronted and Ross's Geese mixed in as well as a couple of Aleutian Cacklers and a scattering of Sandhill Cranes to complete the scene:
Forcing ourselves away, we continued south towards Merced NWR, taking in a fabulous flock of sixteen Mountain Plovers along the intriguingly-named Sandy Mush Road as well as the odd American Kestrel along the way.
The weather had turned pretty foul by the time we reached Merced, but the Ross's Geese more than made up for it. Many thousands were in fields north of the reserve and, an hour or so before dusk, they all took to the air in a quite amazing spectacle - we estimated 30,000+ Ross's along with several hundred White-fronts and a handful of Snow as well as three-figure numbers of Sandhill Cranes. Add to that the thousands of waterbirds littered across the floods and it made for quite a special few hours, despite the wind and rain.
Over at the nearby San Luis these American White Pelicans also provided a nice distraction from the geese, as did a few Cat C Tule Elk.