Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Destination: Pixley National Wildlife Refuge


August 26, 2009

Staff reports

Editor's note: Looking for things to do? The Times-Delta spotlights one of the region's recreational destinations each Wednesday.

During the hustle and bustle of modern life, it is easy to take the simple pleasures of nature for granted.

For those interested in re-connecting with the natural world, the Pixley National Wildlife Refuge offers several opportunities to catch a glimpse of some of the most impressive winged species in the country.

The Pixley refuge is a winter home to the majestic sandhill cranes, which begin arriving in September from northern nesting grounds. By January, their numbers may peak at around 6,000 birds.

Their distinctive call blankets the refuge when several thousand birds return to the wetlands at night after a day spent feeding in nearby agricultural fields.

Sounding a lot like a frog, the cranes' call cannot be mistaken for that of any other bird.

The Pixley refuge provides a place for the cranes to roost undisturbed except for the distant noise of an occasional passing train.

The cranes return every year of their 20-year-plus life span to the wetlands.

In their mature state, sandhill cranes are silvery gray with a red cap on their heads. They mate for life.

Adult cranes in Pixley can be seen with their "colts," or juvenile cranes, in the winter after the colts have hatched and before the birds return to their nesting grounds in Northern California and Oregon.

Other birds at refuge

Several other species of birds including hawks, eagles and owls also live in the refuge. An estimated 150 species can be seen, including the horned lark, western meadowlark and various species of sparrow.

That has not always been the case.

In 1992, Congress passed the Central California Improvement Act, which supplied Pixley with a reliable water source that allowed for the creation of 300 acres of wetlands in the refuge. Until a few years ago, the public was not allowed in the refuge for fear that the wildlife would be disturbed.

The refuge eased its restrictions at the request of the Tulare Audubon Society, which helped build a viewing platform in the refuge to enhance the nature-watching experience.

Take the Avenue 56/Earlimart exit off Highway 99. Turn right on Avenue 56 and take another right on Road 88. Drive about a mile and a half on Road 88 until you reach a small sign and parking lot on the left side of the road.

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