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Merced offers oasis to cranes, geese along Pacific Flyway

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Merced offers oasis to cranes, geese along Pacific Flyway


POSTED June 22, 2012 6:42 p.m.

MERCED - The Merced National Wildlife Refuge encompasses 10,258 acres of wetlands, native grasslands, vernal pools, and riparian areas. It was established in 1951 under the Lea Act to attract wintering waterfowl away from adjacent farmland where foraging ducks and geese were causing extensive damage to crops.

The refuge hosts the largest wintering populations of lesser sandhill cranes and Ross' geese along the Pacific Flyway. Each fall approximately 20,000 cranes and 60,000 arctic nesting geese terminate their annual migrations from Alaska and Canada to make the refuge home. Here they mingle with thousands of other visiting waterfowl and shorebirds to make the refuge a true winter phenomenon. [

The refuge provide important breeding habitat for Swainson's hawks, tri-colored blackbirds, marsh wrens, mallards, gadwall, cinnamon teal and burrowing owls. Coyotes, ground squirrels, cottontail rabbits, beaver and long-tailed weasels can also be seen year round.

Refuge wetlands are intensively managed for a diversity of plants beneficial to waterbirds. Thousands of acre-feet of water are distributed across the wetlands by an intracate system of pipelines, ditches and pumps. Natural waterfowl food plants such as wild millet and swamp timothy are produced in the seasonally-flooded wetlands. Refuge crop fields produce a bounty of corn, winter wheat, and open pasture, for use by sandhill cranes and geese. These migratory birds rely upon this valuable food supply to ensure that their return flight to the northern breeding grounds is made on a "full stomach."

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