Though my survey sites often bring me to hidden pockets of lush vegetation, the vast majority of the Central Valley is like this: barren ground, quiet crop trees, and air tinted with the smell of sulfur spray and distant cows.
At my last site I walked the farthest northern edge of the valley. The past three days I walked the farthest southern plains. There was so little here 100 years ago that the best description the surveyors could give for their locality was “20 miles south and 8 miles west of Bakersfield.” Today there is still little to mark the area; the closest city, Wheeler Ridge, is some 15 miles to the southeast.
What’s here? Little Mandarin trees.
And big Mandarin trees.
And more Mandarin trees.
In fact, that’s all that’s here. Trees, and the smiling face of their familiar marketplace mascot.
The depauperate vegetation hosted an equally underwhelming community of birds. I was able to record only 17-20 species per day, shattering my previous record low of 24 species per day last summer in McKittrick.
Hopefully, it’s only up from here.
But nonetheless, sites like this show just how great an impact agriculture has had on the native bird communities. A century ago the border to cultivated land was much farther north; now it extends all the way to the base of the hills. That isn’t to say the loss is for naught: the fruits and nuts and alfalfa of the valley feed a vastly disproportionate percentage of the United States. It’s a tradeoff I’m far from finding resolution to in my own thoughts, but one California will be facing for many years to come.