Research: Bakersfield

Back here again. Fortunately, the view has improved.

What are these strange colors?

Bakersfield was not among my favorite locales from last summer – the hot, water-oblivious city bordering California’s largest oilfield is a curiosity at first, but a drain upon the spirit is an inevitable accompaniment to any accrual of time there. On top of this, my survey site sat squarely within what was described to me as “a super sketchy public park” by the former lab member who performed resurveys in the Sierra Nevada.

I arrived with very low expectations. But I was pleasantly surprised.

The “sketchy” park was, in fact, an impressively maintained preserve along the Kern River, jammed between the soaring bluffs of Panorama Hill that mark the northern edge of Bakersfield, and the impenetrable line of derricks marking the southern limit of Oildale. For miles around there is nothing but dirt and development, but here is a single surviving pocket of lush riparian vegetation.

Even fancy trail markers with GPS coordinates!

Turns out I didn’t even need my bodyguard. But the company was much appreciated.

Birds got counted like never before.

This is where the Kern River makes its final stand. About a mile upstream a diversion canal re-routes most of the water. A mile downstream, the riverbed is bone dry. But for the entire length of my transect, there was water.

Water means habitat. Water means well-camouflaged toads.

There’s a toad in this picture. I promise.

Water means friendly coyotes.

Just passing by on the trail about 30 feet away.

And, most importantly, water means birds. 47 bird species in a morning is a vast improvement over 14.

The Kern River.

Logic had less luck at her site, tying my low species record of 14 on her second day of surveys. The dry hills north of the oil field once had a meager representation of brush, sustaining a modest bird community including thrashers and sparrows. Now there is only dead grass, and a shocking lack of animal life.

The hills north of Oildale.

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