Snowy Egrets at the Merced National Wildlife Refuge
Thousands of Sandhill Cranes are already in residence, but tens of thousands of Ross's Geese and Snow Geese have yet to arrive. So the Merced National Wildlife Refuge doesn't feel particularly crowded at the moment. As a result, the year-round denizens still stand out a bit, especially if they are pure white. The Snowy Egret (Egretta thula) is one of them.
The Snowy Egret is one of the most elegant and graceful birds to be seen in our area. Their beautiful delicate feathers were once worth more than their weight in gold, and that almost led to their extinction a century ago. They were one of the first birds to receive protected status back in a time when such things simply weren't done (the wild Turkey was another early benificiary of protection after being hunted to near-extinction).
When the other migratory birds arrive in a few weeks, the egrets will still be seen wandering alone through thunderous flocks of geese and cranes. They seem pretty unflappable, as I've seen tens of thousands of geese panic and take flight all at once, while the few egrets look up for a moment, and then resume feeding in the water.