Research: Raymond and Experimental Range

Never have I seen two sites so perfectly identical as the ones Logic and I surveyed over the past three days.

We brought back the same mystery plant sprigs to identify after our morning bird surveys. We labored over the same extensive lists of plant species at the obnoxiously diverse meadows in our habitat surveys.

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Hard at work identifying plants.

We even both complained about having to climb a hill to reach our survey points.

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That hill looked so much more gentle on Google Maps.

But my Blue Oak meadows just outside the town of Raymond were sprinkled with ranch houses, whereas Logic’s meadows were untouched, a part of the extensive San Joaquin Experimental Range. I wouldn’t have expected the very low level of development at my site to make much difference, but the proof was in the lists: though our core bird species were remarkably similar, my dominant species were (invasive) European Starlings and Eurasian Collared Doves, while Logic reported a more eclectic mix including Lazuli Bunting, Hermit Warbler, and even a MacGillivray’s Warbler, a species I’ve never had before on my Central Valley Surveys.

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The Raymond General Store; always nice to leave my car in a real parking lot.

Although I was commuting out to Raymond every morning, both Logic and I were staying at the Experimental Range. Field stations are always a blissful reprieve from camping. Having a roof above your head and a wall to keep the wind out does wonders for boosting morale. Internet and hot showers are a nice plus. But this field station was even more than that. I don’t know where the money is coming from, but hardwood floors, leather couches, and classy lamps are luxuries well beyond any field station I’ve stayed at before.

This field station was so nice, it almost made me angry. Almost.

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Way too classy for us.

Our first night, I was comfortably nestled at the dining table was I heard Logic call out tentatively from the back room, “Sarah . . . are you allergic to cats?”

I went to investigate, only to find Logic snuggling a tortoiseshell cat that had suddenly appeared in our room. She tried to return it to the outdoors, but it had spotted a sucker. It spent the rest of that afternoon (and those to follow) on my sleeping bag.

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New best friend.

Even if my bird list wasn’t quite as impressive, I still enjoyed my walk through blue oak country. The meadows were warm and beautiful, and I got to enjoy my fair share of tanagers and grosbeaks.

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Meadow full of Seep Monkeyflower.

I’m always surprised by how attached I can grow to a site in just three days. At point ten here in Raymond, there was a rock. It was fairly large, but nothing to write home about. Its base was swallowed in grass, and the post of a barbed wire fence was nailed into one side.

I grew very fond of that rock. It told me where my point was. It served as an anchor of comforting familiarity amidst an otherwise unfamiliar landscape, and every day when I stepped up onto it I beamed with accomplishment knowing I had completed another successful survey.

But after today, I’ll probably never see that rock again.

Recently, while driving through Los Banos, I came to a familiar intersection. I knew that, were I to turn right, one of last summer’s sites would be just a mile or so down the road. A part of me wanted to go see it. I’m not sure why; that site didn’t even have a cool rock. But it’s an odd feeling to leave little bits of your life scattered throughout a huge place like the Central Valley, never to be seen again.

Maybe one day I’ll come back to visit.

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The view from the rock.
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