Hotspots Near You

123. Soda Lake, Bakersfield, California

This ephemeral alkali lake within Carrizo Plain National Monument is superb for Long-billed Curlew, American Avocet, and Loggerhead Shrike, and critical foraging habitat for California Condor.
By Chuck Graham | Published: 8/26/2011

What drew me to the Carrizo Plain National Monument was its wide open space and a sweeping valley that is considered California’s Serengeti. It is the last of the state’s historic grasslands, where herds of pronghorn and Tule elk still roam. Plus, it’s a safe haven for endangered foxes and other animals, and it’s critical foraging habitat for the California Condor.

The monument’s centerpiece is 3,000-acre Soda Lake. It attracts 180 species of birds annually, including Sandhill Crane, Horned Lark, and Long-billed Curlew. Traffic is minimal, so it’s easy to pull over anywhere on Soda Lake Rd. and use a spotting scope or scan with binoculars. The boardwalk on the west side of the lake is ideal for finding birds. Old fence posts from long-gone cattle ranches make convenient perches for Ferruginous Hawk, Great Horned Owl, Merlin, Rough-legged Hawk, Western Meadowlark, Warbling Vireo, and Lark Sparrow.

Directly west of the boardwalk and on the other side of the road is a short trail up a knoll to an overlook, offering fantastic views of the lake and much of the Carrizo Plain. Don’t miss it. — Chuck Graham

Chuck Graham is a writer and photographer who writes often about birds in California. He also wrote about Carpinteria Salt Marsh, Carpinteria, Hotspot Near You No. 116, Oso Flaco Lake Natural Area, Guadalupe, No. 138, Cachuma Lake Recreation Area, Santa Barbara, No. 151, and Elkhorn Slough, Moss Landing, No. 154.

123. Soda Lake, Bakersfield, California

Directions

Soda Lake is an ephemeral alkali lake that lies within 250,000-acre Carrizo Plain National Monument. From north- or southbound I-5, exit at Hwy. 58 and drive west 16.2 miles to Hwy. 33. Turn left, go 2.6 miles, and turn right onto Hwy. 58. Continue for 27 miles and turn left on Soda Lake Rd. Follow it for 10 miles to reach the Soda Lake boardwalk.

At a Glance

Click on the coordinates below to view location: 35°14’29.72″N 119°54’9.88″W

Habitat

Grasslands, oak scrubland, mountains, alkali lake, and ponds.

Terrain

Mostly flat. Boardwalk is wheelchair-accessible.

Birds

180 species. American White Pelican, Green Heron, Tundra Swan, Snow Goose, Lesser Scaup, Loggerhead Shrike, Sage Thrasher, Cedar Waxwing, Bell’s Vireo, Orange-crowned Warbler, Dark-eyed Junco, Bullock’s Oriole, Purple Finch, Eared Grebe, Mountain Plover, Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, Red-necked Phalarope, Spotted Sandpiper, California Gull, Caspian Tern, Greater Roadrunner, Barn, Burrowing, Long-eared, and Short-eared Owls, Vaux’s Swift, Black-chinned, Costa’s, and Rufous Hummingbirds, Sora, Lazuli Bunting, Common Yellowthroat, Western Kingbird, Mountain Quail, California Condor, Prairie Falcon, Northern Harrier, Swainson’s Hawk.

When to go

Late October through May.

Amenities

The Goodwin Education Center has an exhibit, gift shop, map, checklist, and restrooms. Two free campgrounds, KCL and Selby Campgrounds, are first-come, first-served. Bring all provisions; closest facilities are 50 miles away.

Access

Bureau of Land Management area. Free admission. Open year-round. Goodwin Education Center open from beginning of December to end of May, Thursday through Sunday, 9-4.

Tips

South of education center, Soda Lake Rd. is dirt; be alert for unsigned curves, cattle guards, and loose gravel. Bring a spotting scope.

For more info

Carrizo Plain National Monument, (661) 391-6000
Goodwin Education Center, (805) 475-2131
Friends of the Carrizo Plain

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