As I pulled into the parking area near the entrance of the Valle de Oro NWR, I saw a woman with binoculars and camera talking with a man, and he was gesturing what appeared to be directions. She took off in the direction he was pointing. By time I got out of the car with my gear, I couldn’t see either one of them and walked behind the current Welcome Center to use the porta-potty before setting out.
When I emerged, I could see the woman with the camera and headed towards her. It turns out that she was clearly lost, so I added extra walking before I found myself back on the route I needed to take. I discovered on my return that the ‘trailhead’ and map
can be found by walking behind the temporary buildings. It is also possible to park there.
The last day that the refuge could be birded from the car was July 31. I last visited on July 15 and had intended to go one more time while I could drive, but the heat kept driving me up into the mountains. When the refuge announced the road closing, I inquired about the distance to reach the new bridge that provides access to the bosque – 1.8 mi.
As I set off heading west on the road/foot path, a flock of 10 Western Meadowlarks flew over the road in front of me. Next I encountered a flock of about 13 Yellow-rumped Warblers acting like sparrows as they foraged for tiny insects on kochia, then giving a tchep call as they moved onto the next patch of weeds.
I could hear footsteps behind me. There were 6 people, including a couple of children. “Have you walked this way before?” I inquired.
“No, this is our first time.”
“This is my first time to walk also. I hope you are not following me,” I laughed.
I let them pass me while I studied some sparrows across the drain – Lark Sparrows,
and took a picture of the new Visitor Center still under construction.
I crossed to the east-west road and headed west, spotting my first Say’s Phoebe.
I had hoped to continue along the east west road to the far side to be able to enter the bosque; however, the sign indicated that I needed to turn south. As I continued south I passed one of the benches along the route, placed to face one of the illustrative murals.
It didn’t look very comfortable, but if someone really needed to sit down…
As I was walking west along the south boundary of the refuge, I passed a man on a bicycle.
When I got to the southwest corner of the refuge, I was sorry to see that there was no longer a porta potty there. I know that the sign said that the area was under construction, but the round-trip takes a long time if you are stopping to bird. Just sayin’…
I was able to see the new bridge
and flood control channel that AMAFCA completed in July.
When I was on the far side, I encountered my friend Dave striding along the levee. I hadn’t seen him for many months and we exchanged greetings. “This is a great place to walk.” he said.
When I was back on the east west road, a birder was walking towards me – Deanna. She had also decided the weather was finally cool enough to explore the refuge on foot.
“I’m not sure I would have been up to walking a three and a half mile round-trip before the pandemic,” I told her. “I have built up my endurance by walking in my neighborhood every day.”
“I’ve been walking a lot more also; “however, I wish I had not forgotten my water bottle,” she remarked.
“Me too,” I chimed back.
She decided not to walk to the far corner and instead to turn around and walk along the fence line.
As we were chatting, more cranes flew over the bosque.
“I really love hearing their rattle while they fly,” I commented. She agreed.
We watched as Swainson’s Hawks began to gather and kettle over the southeast side of the refuge.
We parted ways at the fence line and she walked south. It must have been a good choice as her eBird list showed Horned Larks and American Pipits, undoubtedly seen in that area.
As I was studying another sparrow on the fence line,
I heard footsteps behind me and I turned to look behind me. It was Dave again – not striding at this point, but bent over and trudging.
“You look like I feel,” I laughed.
“Just getting my exercise in,” he responded breathlessly.
As I arrived back at my car, a Red-tailed Hawk soared overhead.
Birding on foot at the refuge this winter will be doable, but I won’t feel the need to walk to the far southeast corner – and it certainly won’t be how I will access the bosque (I will need to figure out a better access). There will be plenty of opportunities to see birds in closer areas. It is also possible to walk north along some of the trails in the eastern portion of the refuge – I might explore them next time.
I ended the trip with 18 species. While it may be 3.6 mi. round-trip if you are driving in the car, my eBird app showed I had walked 4.24 miles (measured by GPS) and my app that measures my steps showed a whole lot more!