More than 225 species have been recorded at this refuge in the Central Valley.
By Jerry Uhlman | Published: 4/10/2018
Kern National Wildlife Refuge is a crown jewel in a thin chain of parks and refuges that stretch along California’s Central Valley like a dark green necklace. These tiny islands in an ocean of agriculture and urban development support more than 300 species of birds as they ply the Pacific Flyway.
The refuge is managed for waterfowl; as many as 80,000 ducks and geese overwinter on Kern’s pools, marshes, and scrub grasslands.
I particularly enjoy driving slowly along the refuge’s auto loops that meander among the pools. Before dawn, the refuge awakens to a cacophony of goose and duck calls from distant shapes in the twilight. Later, early morning flights of waterfowl can be spectacular sights, especially when raptors unexpectedly appear, sending ducks and geese exploding into the sky. I often have better luck finding raptors than songbirds here. Harriers and Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks are common, and sometimes a Peregrine Falcon or Golden Eagle will come into view.
Early spring, beginning in late March, brings passerine traffic. This is when I pay more attention to brushy riparian areas and remnant forest patches.
Jerry Uhlman is a writer and photographer who writes birding and travel articles for nature magazines and newspapers. He also wrote about Dutch Gap Conservation Area, Chester, Virginia, Hotspot Near You No. 66, Creston Valley WMA, Creston, British Columbia, No. 111, Bear Run Nature Reserve, Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania, No. 118, Garden Canyon, Fort Huachuca, Arizona, No. 136, Shenandoah River State Park, Bentonville, Virginia, No. 142, and Sterling Nature Center, Sterling, New York, No. 209.
At a Glance
Click on the coordinates below to view location:
Two large impoundments, surrounded by wetlands, marshes, and mudflats. Depending on the managed water level, grasslands and scrub brush may cover roughly 3,500 acres.
Mainly flat and level, perfect for walking portions of the auto loops.
More than 225 species, including over 20 duck species. Breeding: Gadwall, American Wigeon, Mallard, Blue-winged, Cinnamon, and Green-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Canvasback, Redhead, Ruddy Duck, White-tailed Kite, Northern Harrier, Red-tailed Hawk, Virginia Rail, Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, Black Tern, Anna’s Hummingbird, Blue Grosbeak, Song Sparrow, Red-winged, Tricolored, and Yellow-headed Blackbirds. Winter: Greater White-fronted Goose, Eurasian Wigeon, Common Merganser, Long-billed Curlew, Long-billed Dowitcher, Ferruginous Hawk.
When to go
October through February for waterfowl and raptors. February and March for shorebirds. April through June and late July through October for migrant songbirds.
Educational kiosks and viewing platforms located along auto routes. Restrooms at headquarters and along auto routes.
National wildlife refuge. Open daily from one-half hour before sunrise to one-half
hour after sunset. No fees. During waterfowl hunting season (October to January), auto loops closed on Wednesdays and Saturdays (call 661-725-2767 for details).
Best birding often along western side of the impoundments.
For more info
Pixley National Wildlife Refuge
26 miles northeast of Kern. 7,000-acre preserve that attracts Sandhill Cranes and waterfowl. 1.5-mile boardwalk passes through wetlands.
57 miles northeast of Kern on Hwy. 190, near Porterville. This 2,400-acre lake has opportunities for waterfowl viewing. Campground convenient to national wildlife refuges and Sequoia National Forest.