Every National Wildlife Refuge has a defined vision that helps guide management. This is Modoc NWR’s vision statement:
“Located near the confluence of the north and south forks of the Pit River, Modoc National Wildlife Refuge will conserve, restore, protect, and manage a mosaic of seasonal wetlands, semi-permanent wetlands, wet meadows, riparian, and sagebrush-steppe habitats. These habitats will provide important resting, feeding, and nesting areas for ducks, geese, and other migratory birds. Modoc Refuge’s high quality habitat will play a key role in the long-term recovery of Central Valley Greater Sandhill Cranes (Grus canadensis tabida).” Click on photos for full sized images.
The vision statement continues, “As an integral part of the surrounding community, Modoc Refuge will provide high quality wildlife-dependent recreation including hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, photography, and interpretation. The Refuge will continue to be known for its high-quality environmental education program offered to generations of students. Visitors will develop a greater understanding and appreciation for the mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System and refuge management programs and for the importance of protecting lands for wildlife conservation1.”
This is a visitor services map of the Modoc National Wildlife Refuge (click map to see a full Google map).
Limited hunting is allowed on the refuge. Notice the hunt area on the west side of the refuge along highway 395. Only ducks, geese, coots, gallinules and common snipe may be hunted. All other species of wildlife, including pheasant, quail and dove, are protected and may not be killed. Hunting regulations can be viewed here.
If you look closely at the map above, you may have also noticed that Modoc National Wildlife Refuge offers a photo blind located near the beginning of the three mile auto tour route which encompasses Teal Pond. The photography blind offers multiple slots for a 360 degree viewing window. It is available year round and may be reserved by calling the refuge at (530) 233-3572.
I will be following up on this post later in the summer and will give a full report on the blind (I plan on reserving it in May) and photo opportunities on the refuge. Looking at the refuge’s habitat map below, you can see that the photography blind is located between the Upper and Lower Duck Ponds.
The Modoc National Wildlife Refuge visitor center is open Monday through Friday from 7am ’til 3:30pm and the staff is very knowledgeable about the refuge and what wildlife may be seen, and where.
I arrived at the refuge too early to stop at the visitor center and instead snapped several photos of the sunrise from a parking area where the entrance road first meets Teal Pond. My favorite shot is the featured image at the top of this post.
The auto tour route has several interpretive signs placed strategically around the refuge. This one educates the public on why birds migrate. The view on the sign is from the east side of Teal Pond facing the visitor center.
This is a view looking west across Teal Pond from the auto tour route.
Modoc National Wildlife Refuge encompasses 7,021 acres on the western edge of the Great Basin, a high elevation, cold desert environment. In the spring its wetlands and adjacent uplands are an important nesting area for ducks, geese, Greater Sandhill Cranes, and several other species of marsh birds that travel the Pacific Flyway.
In 1983 the State of California listed the Greater Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis tabida) as threatened, and the refuge system committed resources to ensure Crane conservation.
These charismatic birds are among the oldest living birds in the world. The oldest unequivocal Sandhill Crane fossil is 2.5 million years old, over one and a half times older than the earliest remains of most living species of birds.
Near the end of the auto tour route there is a parking space and paved walking trail through the “Wigeon Pond Area” (see habitat unit map above) which is a great place to get out and stretch your legs while walking in a wetland setting. Unfortunately due to the extreme drought in California, at the time of my visit, near the end of February, the water levels in those areas were very low so I was unable to appreciate that part of the refuge. I will make sure I check it out when I return in May.
Beyond where the walking trail comes back to the auto route, these Mule deer were seen on a small island on Teal Pond. Mule deer are common on Modoc NWR, often seen grazing in small herds from refuge roads.
There was also a small group of Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula) that were pairing up.
I shot this video of the the Goldeneyes engaged in their courtship displays. Courtship occurs in small groups from December through April. Males exhibit a spectacular and complex courtship behavior that leads to pair formation and maintenance of the pair bond2.
After leaving the auto tour route I took the refuge staff’s advice and headed south on highway 115 a short distance to Pine Creek Boulevard which is actually just country road 59B. This road traverses the southern border of the refuge, mostly through agricultural fields, then joins highway 57 going north to the Dorris Reservoir Unit of the refuge . Here I found hundreds of Snow Geese (Chen caerulescens), some Ross’s Geese (Chen rossii) and Greater White-fronted Geese (Anser albifrons) in the pastures. Those are the Warner Mountains in the background.
There’s nothing like huge flocks of geese taking off to make a spectacle not soon forgotten.
The Dorris Reservoir unit of the refuge is closed to all public use during waterfowl hunting season, from October 1st through January 31st, to provide an additional sanctuary for wildlife. Walk-in access is allowed beginning on February 1st.
During my visit on February 24th the reservoir was accessible only on foot. I walked down into the lake bed from the south boat launch where I took this photo showing the low water level during this dry year. The Warner Mountains in the background would normally be covered with snow this time of year.
There are two boat launches and two other vehicle access points to the Reservoir that are open April 1st through September 30th. General access to most activities including fishing, horseback riding, hiking and biking are open during these times, however shoreline areas, islands, and peninsulas with nesting waterfowl are signed and closed to public access during waterfowl nesting season, March 1st through May 31st1. See the complete list of visitation regulations here.
In the meantime, enjoy this video I filmed of Greater Sandhill Cranes performing their mating dance.