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.

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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.