D. and I spent a few hours at the Upper Cottonwood Creek Wildlife Area today. It is part of the Los Banos Wildlife Area and comprises 4000 acres on the northwest side of the San Luis Reservoir in Merced County, California. Hunting is allowed, but no camping, motorized vehicles, bikes or horses. Just folks on foot, some with guns, some with cameras and binoculars.
The reservoir on the other side of the highway is so low it was almost empty, a very disturbing sight as we enter a third drought year (rainfall in that area averages only 8 to 9 inches per year). The surrounding hills are brown and tinder dry.
The air is so hazy the reservoir is all but invisible.
There is a troubling lack of animal life as well. We see a beetle.
We see a butterfly.
We see a gnat.
[no photo available of gnat.]
And that is it for a long time in terms of fauna as we walk along a firebreak into the golden hills.
We see some rocks all gnarly with lichens.
We see a small outcropping of chert that had warped under mind-boggling pressure millions of years ago so that it looked almost like petrified wood.
We see -- barely -- some windmills on the ridge across the highway through the haze.
We see a few of these . . .
. . . and a couple of these.
Then we hear a bird or two out in the brush. We see a red-tailed hawk.
A few minutes later we see a couple more red-tailed hawks.
And then we see it: the bald eagle.
What a thrill! I never expected to see one, but there it is, soaring in circles right in front of us. We hear the sharp crack of a hunter's gun not too far off and see the bird wobble in the air, but it regains its composure and keeps soaring, thank goodness.
We track its flight as it circles farther and farther west and lose it in the glare of the sun standing over the hills. In my mind's eye I still see it circling and soaring on the wind, far above the rustling grasses throughout the long hazy late afternoon.