The Panoche Valley is located just west of I-5, due west of Fresno. One of the few areas of the western San Joaquin Valley with both good access and intact habitat, it has long been a favorite destination of Bay Area birders seeking inland species. This sparsely-populated and remote region of California consists of vast, grassy ranches that extend up over chaparral and oak-covered ridges, interspersed with dry washes with intermittent water. Riparian habitat is limited, but Little Panoche Creek supports a corridor of cottonwood-willow-sycamore woodland. The dry scrub springs to life in April with spectacular wildflower displays after wet winters. A mix of BLM and private lands dominate, with the exception of 828-acre Little Panoche Reservoir Wildlife Area (DFG). Pinnacles National Monument, one of California's least-visited National Park Service properties, lies about 20 miles to the west.

{link:For IBA map, click here.|http://www.audubon.org/bird/iba/maps/CA/CA227m_Panoche_Valley.pdf}

Ornithological Summary

The broad Panoche Valley proper (San Benito Co.) is notable for its high concentrations of wintering raptors and enormous sparrow flocks, which join a resident population of Burrowing Owl and other grassland species. Grasshopper Sparrow and Short-eared Owl breed, both of which have been virtually eliminated as nesters elsewhere in the San Joaquin Valley. Winter brings Mountain Plover to the short-grass prairie on the valley floor, one of the few areas of the state where this species still winters in semi-natural habitat. Hundreds of Tricolored Blackbirds breed each year at Little Panoche Reservoir near I-5. The interior canescens race of Sage Sparrow breeds here, near the northern limit of its isolated San Joaquin Valley range. Several rare Central Valley endemics, including Blunt-nosed Leopard-Lizard and Giant Kangaroo-Rat, thrive here, as do several lowland riparian species nearly gone from the valley floor like Western Pond-Turtle and Red-legged Frog.

Help us learn more about the birds at this IBA! Enter your birding data online at Calfornia eBird! (http://ebird.org/california/)

Conservation Issues

Agricultural expansion within this IBA is becoming a serious threat, as improved water delivery systems are setting the stage for a shift from dryland farming and grazing to orchards and vineyards. The BLM has made this area a high priority for acquisitions and conservation easements and though exotic species such as tamarisk remain a threat, particularly along riparian areas (TNC 1998).

Ownership

A mix of BLM and private lands dominate, with the exception of 828-acre Little Panoche Reservoir Wildlife Area (DFG).

Habitat

This IBA consists of vast, grassy ranches that extend up over chaparral and oak-covered ridges, interspersed with dry washes with intermittent water. Riparian habitat is limited, but Little Panoche Creek supports a corridor of cottonwood-willow-sycamore woodland. The dry scrub springs to life in April with spectacular wildflower displays after wet winters. Little Panoche Reservoir Wildlife Area is also within this IBA.

Stay abreast of Audubon

Our email newsletter shares the latest programs and initiatives.