A Visit to the California Living Museum

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We saw the big horn sheep climb the hill and walk along the ridge, pausing along the way for a photo op.  Next to the big horn sheep were 5 bobcats looking for food and playing around.  The mountain lion was adjacent to the bobcats and was prowling around and staring right at us.  Was this an exotic location for a dream photo shoot?  No, it was the California Living Museum (CALM) in Bakersfield.   The CALM features native animals that can’t be released to the wild for one reason or the other.  The big horn sheep are part of a captive breeding program.

The CALM has a variety of birds such as owls, eagles, hawks, woodpeckers, jays and waterfowl.  There are also mammals such as foxes, bears, badgers and skunks.  It is the place to see native animals and reptiles in one setting.

Docents sometimes are on the grounds with birds of prey.  A docent had a screech owl on her hand the day we were there.  The owl had only one eye so it would not survive in the wild.  It was a very photogenic owl.

Chris and I went to the CALM one Sunday and took along our cameras.  Admission is $9 for adults and $7 for seniors.  They are open 9-4 most days, except for a few holidays.  There were few visitors the day we were there.  Mondays are senior discovery days and seniors receive an additional 50% discount on admission.

Most of the animals are in fenced enclosures and that can be a challenge for photographers.  The bobcats and mountain lion enclosures have glass windows.  The big horn sheep are visible above the fence in many areas.  So how does one deal with the fence?  Our eyes always see the fence, but the camera does not and there are techniques to make the fence disappear.  If the animal is next to the fence it is not going to disappear.  For the best results the animal should be far from the fence and the fence should be as close to the camera as possible.   If you shoot with a wide-open aperture and a long lens, then depth of field will make the fence disappear.  The fence also needs to be in the shade.  If the sun falls directly on the fence, it will show up anyway as a foggy haze.  Focus must be on the animal not the fence.  It was surprising to me how good a picture one can take even when a fence is present.

The glass enclosures present a different problem.  They need to be in the shade to minimize reflections.  They need to be clean as well, which they mostly were on our visit.  The bobcats and the mountain lion were more than willing to parade in front of the windows.

There is a petting zoo complete with Billy goats who climb.  Children can feed the animals. The toy train that takes children and parents around the property perimeter was in evidence but not running on the Sunday we visited. So there is also an opportunity for some photojournalism shots.

[image6_right]The CALM is a good place to see a lot of native animals that would be difficult to see in the wild.  They also have native plants, but in January nothing was in bloom.  The CALM is located at 10500 Alfred Harrell Highway, Bakersfield, CA 93306.  It is on the East side of Bakersfield near Ming Lake.  It is definitely worth a visit.

Chris says that the California Fruit Depot, down the road apiece, is also a lovely stop to get boxes of exceptionally sweet oranges.

David and Chris Wilkins

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