Winter (mid-November through mid-February)
If you arrive shortly before dawn and wait patiently in the right place, you will likely see and hear thousands of light geese milling around on the water. Right around sunrise, they take off en masse in search of fields to feed in for the day. In the late afternoon, they streak the sky in long wobbly skeins as they return to the water to roost for the night. Hundreds of sandhill cranes fly out in smaller groups after the geese have left the ponds. Check the sunrise time and stop in our visitor center to learn the most recent roosting sites, as they can change through the winter.
In addition to viewing cranes and geese and many species of ducks, you can drive the auto tour loop or hike the trails and see hawks, eagles, blackbirds, ravens, coots, and other birds along with occasional mammals, such as mule deer, coyotes, and jackrabbits. Check in with the visitor center staff for recent sightings.
Spring (mid-February through mid-May)
The wetlands that were home to thousands of ducks, geese, and cranes all winter are slowly emptied of water in the spring, providing prime feeding grounds for migrating sandpipers, stilts, plovers, dunlins, curlews, avocets, and twenty other shorebird species. Spring wildflowers add a bit more color to the landscape, and greater roadrunners dart across and alongside the auto tour loop and Highway 1 in search of sluggish lizards and snakes.
Spring is also when flycatchers, vireos, and a dozen species of warblers filter through, either as a rest stop on migration or as they determine the best locations for their nesting territories on the refuge.
Summer (mid-May through mid-September)
Summer is the time to see the colorful antics of black-chinned, calliope, broad-tailed, and rufous hummingbirds. The flowers of spring transition to the fruits of summer, especially in the desert arboretum. Also look for the many young birds moving around the refuge. Some, like the quail, scurry around in long lines of a dozen or more.
Mornings and evenings are good times to view wildlife in the heat of the summer – most creatures will seek shade in the middle of the day. Near waterways are good places to search for wildlife and signs of wildlife (such as tracks).
Fall (mid-September through mid-November)
Late season sunflowers are a colorful contrast to the red-winged blackbirds that swoop and dart through the grasses. The first cranes and geese typically show up at the end of October, during which time coyotes, mule deer, and javelina are moving through open fields as well. Wild turkeys begin moving to the northern part of the refuge to join up with other family groups in separate male and female roosting flocks.
The Dabbler Deck or Willow Deck are good places to take a break and search for ducks dabbling in the water for food, especially the northern shovelers and northern pintails.
You can always call or stop in our visitor center for the most recent sightings. Take a look at our webpage, as Visitor Center hours can change seasonally.