DIRECTIONS: Take Yosemite Blvd. (State Route 132) going east out of downtown Modesto. Continue through Waterford and past Modesto Reservoir. About 11 miles past the reservoir, the old Basso Bridge will come up on your right. Continue on SR 132 over the Tuolumne River at the new Basso Bridge. There is a sign there for Lake Road immediately after the bridge, onto which you will make a sharp right turn. The only restroom is at the Basso Bridge parking lot. From spring through fall, you will see numerous Cliff Swallows at their nests, and occasionally Rough-winged Swallow. There is a fairly reliable Rock Wren among the boulders just beneath the bridge.
Drive for another two hundred feet past the Kiwanis Youth Camp, and park by the sign for the old Basso Bridge. The brown wooden gate to the Joe Domecq Wilderness Area is across the road below a sign.
HABITAT: Joe Domecq Wilderness Area is a section of the La Grange Regional Park. It is comprised of 270 acres of undeveloped oak woodlands habitat. There are stands of cottonwoods, willows, and eucalyptus trees there, as well. One of the attractions of this locale is a marsh of cattails, duckweed, and tules. This is one of the few remaining wetlands in Stanislaus County that is regularly accessible to the public.
A trail leads down to the marsh, and then it splits in two. If you go to the left, you will reach a eucalyptus grove where migrant passerines can be found. To the right, the trail dissolves into a stand of cottonwoods. The remainder of this wilderness area is rocky and difficult to walk through, but intrepid birders can find many good species here. The trick is finding a place to cross the marsh to a second field, which leads to another pond in the southwest corner of the property.
TARGET BIRDS: Because of its wetlands, Joe Domecq is the most reliable spot for Virginia and Sora Rails, both of which can be heard calling at daytime, especially in the spring. These rails may be seen if you sit at the picnic table at dusk, waiting for them to come out and forage. Other expected birds such as Song Sparrow, Common Yellowthroat, Marsh Wren, and Red-winged Blackbird can be found here.
SUMMER AND YEAR-ROUND BIRDS: Birds that come here to breed during the summer are Black-headed Grosbeak, Bullock’s Oriole, Ash-throated Flycatcher, and Phainopepla. During the year, the marsh will contain Pied-billed Grebe, Wood Duck, Mallard, Common Moorhen, and American Coot. Overhead, there will be Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks, as well as the occasional Osprey. Nuttall’s and Downy Woodpeckers are regulars, as are Oak Titmouse and Bushtit.
SPRING AND FALL MIGRANTS: Joe Domecq hosts virtually the same neotropical migrants that can be found at nearby Old La Grange Bridge Trail. The warblers that can be seen are Yellow, Wilson’s, Black-throated Gray, Hermit, and Townsend’s. Occasionally, a Nashville Warbler will come through. Warbling Vireo and Western Tanager will move through the willows and eucalyptus. Especially in the fall, the area that forks left of the trail can be good for flycatchers—not only Pacific-slope and Willow, but Dusky, too.
RARE AND UNCOMMON BIRDS: Great-tailed Grackle, White-throated Sparrow, American Bittern, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Swamp Sparrow, and even Long-eared Owl have been found in this area, which is often overlooked by local birders. Who knows what other species can be found here with a little more effort?